August 19, 2021
This is the first in a series of profiles on organizations that involve youth in democracy and human rights advocacy. These profiles are intended to be a resource for youth looking to get involved in advocacy, and for groups looking to take inspiration from other groups doing similar work. Read part 1 and part 2 here.
What is the Washington Bus?
Based in Washington state, the Washington Bus is a youth-driven organization that “puts young Washingtonians in the driver’s seat” and equips them with the necessary skills and support to work towards a more equitable state. The Bus seeks to make civic engagement the norm and give young people an active role in public discourse.
Why does the Bus exist?
- Shifting demographics necessitate the inclusion of more diverse voices at the table.
- Differences in the political environments of Eastern, Central and Western Washington require statewide mobilization to ensure representative policies.
- An average voter age of 62 in Washington’s primary elections reveals the need for greater participation from young voters.
How does the Bus work?
- Fellowships: A 10-week paid summer program, Bus Fellows are trained to become community organizers and advocates for change. The fellowship is part-classroom training with experts in civic engagement and part-field work with local organizations and issue campaigns.
- Internships: Paid part-time internships are offered in the fall, with an emphasis on voter registration and political organization ahead of general elections; winter, with an emphasis on legislation and lobbying; and spring, with an emphasis on outreach and high school engagement.
- Volunteering: The Bus runs on volunteers who engage directly in the person-to-person work: registering voters, educating people on policy issues, and organizing community events and fairs .
What does the Bus do?
- Voter Mobilization: The Bus registers and educates thousands of voters every year and works to decrease voting barriers to increase voter turnout.
- Policy Advocacy: Through legislative advocacy and issue organizing, the Bus teaches youth how to fight for what they believe through the political process and educate the public about priority issues in the Bus Youth Agenda.
- High School Engagement: The Bus runs workshops at 12 partner high schools to teach students about the political process, social justice issues and skills to put what they learn into practice; many of the high schools the Bus partners with serve historically underrepresented groups.
How has the Bus succeeded?
- Wide-reaching impact: The Bus has connected with 426,000 voters, registered 71,700 new voters, trained 201 young leaders and engaged 2,900 volunteers.
- Rapid growth: In 2019, the Bus sent 20,830 text messages to young voters; in 2020, they sent 125,000 texts. In 2020, the Bus had around 400 Instagram followers; in 2021, they have over 1,700 followers.
- Successful partnerships: In August 2019, the Bus partnered with the Stranger and Neumos to host Seattle’s largest candidate forum for the Seattle City Council with over 400 youth in attendance.
What best practices can other groups take from the Bus’ model?
- Offering paid fellowships and internships allows youth with a passion for activism but concerns due to financial limitations the freedom to not have to choose either their passions or a paying job
(For organizations that cannot afford to pay interns, consider including a resource page with scholarships and grants on your website.)
- Matching communication platforms (e.g. Instagram, text) to the target demographic (young people) increases the reach and receptivity of messaging
- Intentionally targeting resources to reach underrepresented groups helps to foster more equitable representation and creates a more sustainable impact
How can I get involved?