Film Calls the Young an Unheard Vote
MIKE PESCA, host:
And speaking of great segue, in between his senior year of high school and his freshman year of college, David Burstein tried to answer one of the most vexing problems in American democracy: Why don't more young people vote? The result is a documentary called "18 in '08" as in 18 years old in 2008. In it, he interviewed politicians about youths. The adults were mostly nice. And then he asked young people about politicians. Ouch.
(Soundbite of video, "18 in '08")
Unidentified Man #1: When I think of politicians, (unintelligible) people stereotypes like corrupted and things like that.
Unidentified Woman #1: Old, white males.
Unidentified Man #2: Bad hairdos.
Unidentified Man #3: Now you think of red, white and blue colors A just Propaganda.
Unidentified Man #4: Suits.
Unidentified Woman #2: When I think of politicians, I think of people who were generally pandering to their constituencies.
Unidentified Man #5: I don't think politicians are really connected to the youth. I don't think they can relate to what we youth go through now.
PESCA: David Burstein is here in studio. He's the director of "18 in '08." He interviewed Sam Donaldson among others. He's a freshman at Haverford College
How are you doing, David?
Mr. DAVID BURSTEIN (Director, "18 in '08"): Good. Good to be here.
PESCA: So I'm going to guess you are motivated by civic commitment, moral outrage and maybe the belief that this documentary can help you get into college.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. BURSTEIN: Well, you know, it's sort of been for me because I've always been brought up with the sense that this sort of step was important and it's important to sort of make this commitment. And people around me sort of really encouraged me to do this. And when I was - the 2004 election - I sort of saw around me. I had a bunch of my peers over on what can I - and I was sort of thinking, gee, why aren't there more people who I could invite over here than the 20 friends I had over, and how can I really get all my peers really engaged and excited about these issues that are relevant to us?
PESCA: Where are you from? Where did you grow up?
Mr. BURSTEIN: Weston, Connecticut.
PESCA: Okay. So there you were in Weston, and you had your friends who were the political junkies. And when you talk to other kids in high school, they were like, Kerry, wait. Is that his first name or his last name - who's that?
Mr. BURSTEIN: Yeah. I mean, you know, that sort of, you know - I mean, I had a group of friends who were very involved and very engaged. But outside of that circle, you know, I just didn't see the level of involvement and commitment I thought should be there for issues that are really so important and so relevant to our lives.
ALISON STEWART, host:
Were they disengaged or where they ignorant? Which were and which one?
Mr. BURSTEIN: I think there's sort of tendency to sort of say disengaged or sort of say, ignorant. I think that really for young people and most of my peers were very involved in issues and causes. It's just not channeling it to the political process. It seems to be the way. I mean, I had tons of friends in high school who were very involved in campaigns for things like Darfur and things like gay rights and stuff like that. But they weren't necessarily channeling that energy to the political process.
PESCA: Getting connected to a politician.
Mr. BURSTEIN: Right.
PESCA: Well, here is my question. When I was in high school, I was, maybe a little like you. I was really into politics. But what I wasn't like you is I would never have thought that I could go out and do over a hundred interviews and put a documentary together. How did you get that in your head that that was even impossible?
Mr. BURSTEIN: I mean, it's sort of - I guess it may have something to do with sort of how I was brought up and, you know, it was something that I was just really encouraged. I'd run a film festival for a couple of years before I did this and, sort of, it was based on the idea that, you know, young people can run a great thing for young people. And I sort of saw this power that film had and sort of working with film before that, I thought it would be a really great medium to sort of get across the young people because it's accessible and it's familiar and it's comfortable. And it's a lot easier than reading a book or a newspaper article. So I was just really encouraged and supported by my parents…
Mr. BURSTEIN: …and my friends and my family that this is something that I could contribute.
PESCA: So you ran a film festival. I watched "Return of the Jedi" 16 times. We're similar that way.
(Soundbite of laughter)
PESCA: So, you know, of all the adults you talked to - I saw the documentary - most of them said the right things. Who wouldn't want kids voting? Who would - what politician would say that publicly? Which adult surprised you in what they said?
Mr. BURSTEIN: I mean, overall, I think one of the surprising things that I got from adult politicians was that they were saying - they didn't seem to be aware that youth voter turnout had actually gone up…
Mr. BURSTEIN: …in 2004 and 2006. And I think that they were sort of still living off the sort of the thing which has been true for a large part of the last 20 years - that young people haven't turned out in high numbers. So until we start making bigger dense in that trend and until, you know, that, you know, the vote starts going up more and more, I think adult politicians are still going to be thinking that young people aren't really turning out.
STEWART: But would…
PESCA: But as you said - oh, go ahead.
STEWART: What were they just checked out about? What did you find the - to be the biggest disconnect?
Mr. BURSTEIN: I think they didn't really understand the issues that young people were concerned with. I think they sort of tended to say, well, they must be concerned with jobs, which, in a sense, they are. But I think that what they were sort of missing is that young people are concerned about every issue…
Mr. BURSTEIN: …that adults are concerned about.
PESCA: They are - I've read about these children…
Mr. BURSTEIN: Exactly.
PESCA: …that you speak of. It is kind of a sad commentary what you said that they - it seems like the politicians had the more of the attitude where, well, if they show me they're important, then I'll campaign for them, rather than the other way around - that we got to go grab them. One of the adults who said something I thought was pretty interesting is Chris Shayze(ph) of Connecticut. Let's hear what he had to say.
(Soundbite of video, "18 in '08")
Mr. CHRIS SHAYZE: Now, I think we made a mistake lowering the voting age to 18. I think it happened basically out of guilt. We were sending people out to war and we said, well, if they're old enough to die then they're old enough to vote.
PESCA: Why do you think he said that? I mean, we got his explanation but a mistake? Why does he think it's a mistake? Does anyone else think that?
Mr. BURSTEIN: I think the, you know, I think the - one of the ways - one of the reasons you might have think that is that - and what he said, after that to being - was that, you know, young people really haven't taken advantage of that. And I think there's a lot of frustration by politicians who, you know, did a lot of really hard work to get 18, 19 and 20-year-olds the right to vote. And there was sort of an expectation, I mean, they added a constitutional amendment to the Constitution. So there was - I think there was an expectation that young people would take a much greater advantage of that right than they have. So I think that sort of where he is coming from. I don't totally agree that it was a mistake, but I think that I can see how politicians who worked, you know, some people who knew people who worked very hard on that issue…
Mr. BURSTEIN: …couldn't see…
STEWART: If you watch "Girls Gone Wild," you can understand why it might be a mistake.
(Soundbite of laughter)
STEWART: I mean, you have a spring break women, you think about them voting and it's a little (unintelligible).
PESCA: Now we find that some of them weren't 18, which is why that guy is in jail. But it's true that a lot of the politicians themselves were probably like you, heavily into the political process, maybe they can't relate. But, you know, there is actually another expert in studio about the youth vote.
(Soundbite of laughter)
PESCA: She's seating to my right. Alison, you did "Choose or Lose" with MTV all those…
STEWART: Yeah. (Unintelligible) is their first coverage. (Unintelligible)
PESCA: That was like 16 years ago.
STEWART: Yup. Yup.
PESCA: So when you watch David's documentary here, do you say nothing has really changed? Do you think there's actually been - we saw the uptake in numbers, but what do you think of it?
STEWART: Well, the one thing I think is interesting that - it was exactly the same in '92. We went to cover the election, and people thought we were just insane to go out and do that…
STEWART: …was the issue of the youth - young people, we always had to struggle with the youth, young people.
STEWART: What do you call them - young Americans - interested in issues, not the political process because they saw the political process as so false and really being alienated to them the same way that it was all about, well, yeah, I'm going to sign up to campaign for the, you know, be in some campaign about environmental awareness. But I have no interest in these candidates - partially because they don't speak to issues that are important to me. It was - I don't know if it was - if the interest was as broad as you described. It was very focused because also in '92, there weren't a lot of jobs - that was the big issue. And - but they didn't want to talk about social security.
Mr. BURSTEIN: Right.
STEWART: They won't talk about tax cuts. That was just white noise.
PESCA: That's still true today, right?
Mr. BURSTEIN: Yeah. I think that - I just think it's so much easier to get excited about an issue than a lackluster candidate. I mean, you know, it's -what grabs you more if it's an issue or there's this injustice. And there are things that you really want to fix. It's much easier to gravitate towards that.
STEWART: You know, what's a big deal back then and I'm not sure if it as now. It was a big deal when Clinton came on MTV. It was a big deal if we could get a candidate to sit down. I don't know if that sort if new media or different media, different sources, outlets is as important now, or if it is (unintelligible)?
Mr. BURSTEIN: I think, you know, with like - with the stuff that MySpace and MTV is doing, I think that's really great because, you know, with all the new medias often with these candidate forms in the Facebook, you know, and ABC debates, it's like it's really bringing the candidates to the young people, and I think that that's really important. And I mean not that young people shouldn't be doing the work to get there, but I think it's just making that access so much easier as oppose to have making everything sort of resident on this sort of adult, political class world. And I think that's a really important step.
PESCA: Very quickly, David, where could people see "18 in '08?"
Mr. BURSTEIN: You can go to our Web site: www.18in08.com, and you can get a DVD, and let us now if you want to host a screening in your town campus, high school.
PESCA: David Burstein is the director of "18 in '08." He's a freshman at Haverford College.
Mr. BURSTEIN: Thanks so much.
STEWART: Congressman Burstein, I see the future. I don't know. Something tells me.
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