In 2006, University of Colorado Boulder graduates Steve Fenberg (who was named as a rising star on 5280‘s 2012 Power List), Lisa Kaufmann, Joe Neguse, and Leslie Herod set out with a simple goal: to bolster young voter engagement in Colorado.
Ten years later, their brainchild, New Era Colorado—a nonpartisan, grassroots voter registration and engagement group that has become a leader in millennial politics—boasts the same mission, but their reach has grown beyond anything the creators could have imagined. Since its inception, New Era has registered more than 100,000 young voters, helped pass online voter registration and 16- and 17-year-old preregistration, and trained hundreds of political leaders.
“I think our approach to mobilizing young voters is so successful because our work is peer-to-peer, face-to-face, and we do things in an unconventional way,” says Lizzy Stephan, New Era executive director. “We’re young people meeting other young people where they are, and having a conversation about why to vote and cast a ballot. Because it’s peer-to-peer, it’s different than what young people are used to with politics. We are able to break through the noise.”
Stephan says the New Era team visits bars, concerts, and festivals to strike up conversations with voters—sometimes using out-of-the-box tactics.
“We’re going in costumes, on roller skates, or dressed as Where’s Waldo. We give out ‘Vote, F*cker’ buttons. Our brand is appealing to young people because it’s a new brand of politics,” says Stephan.
Three core principles embody the New Era’s programs, which fuse the traditional classroom setting with hands-on, grassroots work to tackle topics like education, voter registration, volunteer recruitment, and get-out-the-vote strategies. Civic engagement, long-term leadership development, and advocacy comprise the organization’s internship and volunteer opportunities, which are available all year.
In addition to registering thousands of voters and raising the next generation of political leaders, New Era also informs the public about local and national policies. They have educated young people on the Affordable Care Act and campaigned for local power, a feat that led to Boulder becoming the first city in the country to create a municipal utility for the sole purpose of increasing renewable energy.
To commemorate their first 10 years and kick off the next decade, New Era is throwing a birthday bash at City Hall on July 9. The organization will welcome musical performers A. tom collins and the Strawberry Runners, with drinks from Avery Brewing Co. and tacos from Dos Santos. New Era will also present the winner of its 2016 Hands-On Democracy Award.
Their ideal birthday present? An influx of new voter registrations. “50,000 voters is our goal for the cycle between 2015 and 2016,” says Stephan.
To accomplish this, New Era plans to make more than 60,000 phone calls, send more than 30,000 text message reminders, knock on the doors of at least 20,000 young voters, and distribute between 200,000 and 250,000 voter guides.
“We want to make sure we stay with those young voters until they cast their ballot,” says Stephan.
The group’s interests lie in moving not right or left on the political spectrum, but forward, especially during this crucial election year, to ensure that young voters have a powerful say in the outcome.
“Colorado’s young voters have bucked the national trends,” says Stephan. “The number of young voters has increased even when turnout in general is decreasing.” And that is thanks, in part, to New Era’s work.