Rallying Teens for the Youth Vote

Eighteen-year-old talks to politicians and teens for vote-grabbing documentary.


July 23, 2007 — -- To David Burnstein, turning 18 was not just another candle on his birthday cake. It was a major milestone.

Sure, he could get behind the wheel of a car at 16 and would be able to pop a cold one at 21, but now, at 18, this high school senior has finally gained the right to vote, and has produced a film to encourage his peers to get just as excited about voting in the upcoming 2008 election as he is.

Despite the recent surge of support for candidates on the Internet — reflected on such online forums as YouTube, MySpace and Facebook — traditionally, young Americans do not vote.

Burnstein, however, hopes to reverse that trend in the upcoming presidential election. His documentary, "18 in '08," takes aim at young voters, attempting to get at the root of his peers' apparent uninterest in and disillusionment with all things political, to convince his generation that its voice matters.

"I think that I have a unique perspective, coming off as a young person, trying to figure out really what young people are engaged in and interested in," said Burnstein in an interview with ABC News. "I think this film has a lot of elements that really appeal to young people. It's very much on our level. It doesn't talk down to our generation."

His Own Campaign Trail

To create this documentary, Burnstein spent two years traveling the country while in high school, going to conventions and conferences, speaking with politicians, policymakers, presidential candidates, student activists and his peers.

Burnstein amassed more than 110 interviews with potential voters of all ages and political affiliations. His film also includes interviews with Sens. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., and Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., as well as former presidential candidates Sens. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., John Kerry, D-Mass., and Gen. Wesley Clark, and current presidential candidate Sen. Christopher Dodd, D-Conn.

"Right now, there is a really ripe debate in this country, and lots of people are getting engaged right now in the 2008 election," said Burnstein. "I think we've got, for the first time in a long time, a really exciting set of candidates on both sides of the aisle — people who are drawing passion among people of all ages, in particular, young people. It's not another choice between just two guys in suits."

Despite the growing energy and enthusiasm behind the 2008 election, there is still a need to reach out to younger and first-time voters, Burnstein insisted. "I think there are a lot of reasons why youth aren't voting," he said. "I think, overall, young people just don't see the connection to politics with our daily lives, and it doesn't look like something we'd want to be involved with."

In "18 in '08," even Kerry empathized with disillusioned and mistrusting voters. "I think people are just turned off by [politics]. They don't think that it's effective. They don't think it's going to do anything for them, and they're cynical and dismayed by it, and I don't blame them," he said.

However, Burnstein points out that his generation's aversion to politics is not for a lack of passion or interest in the world around them. Rather, he believes recent events, such as the Monica Lewinsky scandal, 9/11, Hurricane Katrina and the war in Iraq, have left his peers with a bad taste in their mouths.

"It's not that we're not passionate people," Burnstein said. "It's just that politics doesn't seem to be the way to be making a difference."

While many of his peers may feel helpless and disaffected in the current political climate, Burnstein tries to impress upon them that nonparticipation is not the answer. He believes that, while each individual may have only one vote, as a united voice, they can grab the ear of the most powerful policymakers and politicians in Washington and, together, make a difference.

"If people take one thing away from '18 in '08,' I would like it to be that politics is important and really relevant to our lives. It's something that we all need to engage in because there are things going on right now in our government that will affect our lives in the future.

"Being a U.S. citizen is a full-time job," Burnstein said. "So, we need to engage now, because if we speak up and we're heard as a generation, politicians will listen to us. We've just got to raise our voices and speak up."