About Us: Progressive Turnout Project is the largest voter contact organization in the country, specifically dedicated to mobilizing the Democratic Party and defending democracy. Our mission: rally Democrats to vote.
Progressive Turnout Project launched Turnout Grants earlier this year to connect with voters our programming doesn’t cover and to fund key voter contact organizations across the country.
One grantee, Georgia Shift, tackles many of the roadblocks to voting that young people face, through campus-centered education and voter engagement opportunities. Focused on HBCU campuses, Georgia Shift is working across the state to ensure that the youth voice is heard this midterm cycle and for the years to come.
At the end of September we talked with Jordan Johnson, Executive Director of Georgia Shift. Jordan got involved with civic engagement work at a young age, as his godparents were community organizers and ran voter registration drives.
“I knew what was at stake,” he said. “And I’ve loved it ever since”.
If you could tell people one thing about Georgia Shift, what would it be?
Jordan: Georgia Shift is unique in that we are only focused on making sure that young people, ages 18 to 24, are engaged in this process and have a seat at the table in order to build youth power.
Because that’s what it’s about. Young people have always been responsible for saving the world. Whether that was a civil rights movement, Black Lives Matter, the LGBT rights movement, the women’s suffrage movement, it was always young people at the table. But even though it was a burden in some folks’ eyes, young people have always met the moment. We will always make room at the table for young people who want to change the world. And we do it while having fun! It’s one of our strategic goals.
Who does Georgia Shift work with?
Jordan: We work with voters 18-35. We work college campuses, like Morehouse, and across the state of Georgia. We have done events in apartment buildings, community centers, and more. Our priority is connecting with young people, anyone who wants to share their story with us.
This year we are focused on connecting with students through our HBCU program initiative. We have organizers at six of the colleges across the state who are connecting with and engaging students. We are getting the whole campus engaged!
What excites you the most about Georgia Shift’s work in the months ahead?
Jordan: I’m excited for the future of young people in our state. We see young people standing up on college campuses, speaking truth to power, and you are seeing young people take to the streets and marching. Young people and voters are showing up! Now more than ever. We saw this in 2020, and in 2021, so imagine what can be done this year, and two years later and another cycle after that. We are just getting started and we’ve seen nothing yet. The future’s bright.
What is your favorite part of your job?
Jordan: Talking with people! Georgia Shift recently launched a storytelling program talking to community members about issues they care about. We want to know what a day in someone else’s shoes is like so that we can take those conversations and turn them into opportunities to advocate for legislative change. We want to hear from you and listen so that we can help. Because having that personal relationship and making people feel comfortable is the first step to asking people to be civically engaged. And so getting to understand people’s values, speaking to them on their level, is always the most interesting part of this job.
What has been the most challenging part of the work?
Jordan: You have to always make sure that you’re looking at things from a bird’s eye view. We have to continue to fuel the operation, you have to continue to fuel the new movement. It’s not just as simple as you know, having fun, even though that’s what helps us raise dollars, but the most challenging part is always raising dollars.
Beyond that, convincing voters to turn out is often a challenge. We talk with people who often have real issues they face, the mom trying to put food on the table or the student just trying to graduate, who often don’t have the time or capacity to get involved. Everyone doesn’t think the same and their experiences are different. But we aren’t just trying to connect with people to get them to vote, we want them at the table making decisions. We want you at the table helping make decisions to make your life and everyone else around us lives better.
What has surprised you the most about this work?
Jordan: The number of other people and organizations who are committed to doing this work. I think about it like Gotham City, you know, when that bat symbol hits the sky, we all go to work! Everyday there’s a new villain, a new piece of legislation, a new roadblock. But there are so many of us out there answering the call everyday, trying to meet that call. We can’t operate in our own silo, we can’t do this alone. It’s kinda like the Avengers, we are all at the table simply trying to show up and get the job done. And it’s not just in Georgia, it’s across the country. It’s a very rewarding feeling to know that you’re not alone in this struggle. You’re not alone in the movement.
Why is the youth vote and youth voter contact work so important?
Jordan: Typically, the youth vote is not sought after. I mean, we typically look at folks who vote in large blocs, but we tend to not put a lot of effort energy into that 17 and a half year old, who just registered, or their 18 year old was off to college, and, you know, hadn’t really found their place in the movement yet, we don’t really go after that vote.
But they are so important, because they change everything! Look at culture, music, fashion, the way we talk even, young people are leading those trends. Even with technology and social media. At Georgia Shift we have always known this but now more people are seeing that this type of work is youth driven and needs to be more youth focused. Young folks are changing and evolving every day. Every day. There’s something new, it’s hard to keep up. But we do our best.