Sarah Dowling isn’t even old enough to vote, but she understands the power of the upcoming Georgia Senate runoffs next month in determining the future direction of the country.
“Just because I can’t vote doesn’t mean I can’t have an impact,” said the 16-year-old junior at The Lovett School and a member of Temple Emanu-El.
Dowling has been involved in the Reform movement’s national non-partisan civic engagement campaign, “Every Voice, Every Vote,” which includes a focus on mobilizing young voters. It began during the general election as a national effort, but pivoted more recently to increase registration and participation among Georgia voters before the Jan. 5 runoff election.
As part of that effort, Dowling has been holding voter registration drives at her school, the last one Monday, and spreading the word among her family and community that they can make a big difference with their vote. She also developed a voter guide that was distributed to 400 to 500 people and reached more online, said the Dunwoody resident who is a leader in her school and Jewish community groups.
“Every Voice, Every Vote,” is led by the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism. It hosted a virtual program for Jewish teens in Georgia Nov. 22 called “Let My People Vote” with such partners as Georgia’s Reform synagogues, the Southern Area Region of NFTY Reform youth group and JumpSpark teen engagement program. The Let My People Vote event focused on holding voter registration drives, promoting the election, and sending postcards and letters encouraging voting in the Georgia Senate runoffs.
“This critical runoff election will decide the makeup of the U.S. Senate for the next two years, and it is critical that every one who can vote can cast a ballot and make their voice heard in this special election,” according to the registration information for last month’s virtual program.
Dowling is a peer leader in JumpSpark’s Strong Women Fellowship, a member of AJC’s Leaders for Tomorrow, and is a former BBYO board member. She said she learned about RAC at a social justice seminar in Washington, D.C., she attended with Emanu-El’s confirmation class.
From there, she participated in a course for Jewish teenagers run by the RAC. “I had such an amazing time,” she said. It taught her how Judaism intersects with social justice, a cause she is passionate about. “It pushed me to do two fellowships of the RAC: gun violence prevention and social justice.” The capstone of those fellowships was the “Every Voice, Every Vote” campaign.
Dowling shared that the Jewish values of tikkun olam (repairing the world) and tzedek, tzedek tirdof (justice you shall pursue) are intertwined with her interest in civic engagement. Creating a better government, a safer world, bringing about racial equity, environmental and civil justice “not only for yourself but for other people I think are guiding values for me.”
And those values “are reflected in the government we choose,” she said.
While Dowling admits her political convictions may be different from others, “every voice deserves to be heard and reflected in government.” And youth who register to vote early, when they are 17 ½ preparing to vote at 18, tend to have a higher turnout rate, Dowling has learned.
“The youth vote has historically been low. I think it is really vital for youth to vote, to come out and be heard. We are impacted by the decisions being made now.”