South Florida teens campaign in swing-state Ohio
With the presidency on the line for President Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney in pivotal swing-state Ohio, five South Florida teens canvassed neighborhoods in suburban Cleveland on Election Day.
The teens from Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Plantation and Boca Raton joined more than 80 teenagers from around the country for a real life civics lesson at the B'nai B'rith Youth Organization's first Voice Your Vote Summit.
"We wanted to be in a swing state and understand an election that really mattered," said Natalie Spring, director of the summit program and BBYO manager for service and leadership.
Asked why the summit wasn't held in Florida, the biggest swing state, Spring said, "We've done things in Florida but never in Cleveland or Ohio." She said the northeastern Ohio city is centrally located and easy for the 15 to17-year-old teens to get to from their homes in Chicago, Dallas, Houston, Oakland, Seattle and the Washington, D.C. area. And most of the teens had never been to Ohio, Spring added.
So that's how the Buckeye state got the nod over the Sunshine state.
The South Florida teens arrived at their Cleveland hotel at 4 p.m. on Nov. 5, the day before the election but with enough time to learn about the issues in the election. They canvassed neighborhoods on Election Day, watched the returns come in that evening and left for home on Nov.7.
Teen-led programming explored such issues as the economy, health care, marriage rights, issues of interest to women and seniors, the environment, immigration, Israel and Iran, Spring said.
On Election Night, the 88 teens got together around big screen TVs to watch the election returns come in and to track the vote not only in the presidential race but also in the U.S. House and Senate races and on ballot issues.
For some teens, the Voice Your Vote summit was their introduction to American politics.
"They encouraged everyone to keep an open mind about the political debate," said Aaron Salz of Fort Lauderdale who is a junior at Nova High School in Davie. "We got to go out into the community and canvas for whatever candidate we were supporting. I feel I got some real world experience.
"It's really our generation's responsibility to start being involved in politics," Salz said, admitting that he didn't know much about politics before the summit. He said he supported Obama before coming to the summit and left feeling stronger in his support of the incumbent.
Some teens broke with their parents in deciding which candidate to support.
"I ended up standing with Obama," said Andrea Djamal, a senior at the University School in Davie and a Plantation resident. Her parents, she said, favored Romney.
The summit convinced her to get involved and examine the issues, Djamal said, adding that she found Israel and marriage equality to be of the greatest interest.
"I found the political spark inside me," said Justin Zimmerman, a senior at Spanish River High School in Boca Raton and BBYO Gold Coast Region president.
Zimmerman said he and his canvassing partner knocked on 250 doors and spoke to people in about half of the homes. "A lot of people said 'My vote doesn't count,'" he said. "I think they were wrong about that. Every vote really does count in the election. I think we saw that in Ohio, the state that pushed Obama over the edge in victory."