Aleesha Bhatti, 17, joined the 18by Vote Civic Leadership program with organizing experience but little leadership experience. Throughout the twenty-week program, she organized voter outreach events in her local community, connected to thousands of voters, and became a source of empowerment to those around her. Bhatti made a direct impact on her community and the organization.
18by Vote’s Civic Leadership Program provided leadership training, resources, and payment to 15 young people in six states, Georgia, Florida, Arizona, Nevada, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania. The Civic Leadership Program supported leaders in their relational voter registration and education efforts. Civic Leaders planned and executed voter engagement events and outreach, including in-person voter registration drives, educational canvassing events, online relational voter outreach campaigns, and localized virtual text banking events.
Bhatti became interested in political and civic engagement work because she saw a growing disinterest in voting among her peers. Fueled by issues like public policy, education policy, equity in educational institutions and gun violence, the young Georgian began organizing in 2020 during the pandemic. Through these experiences, she recognized the importance of making your voice heard through your vote.
“I got started with different campaigns and canvassing,” Bhatti said. “I just got into the work of talking to and understanding people. It really resonated with me because I feel like that’s a big family value of mine. I feel like it’s important for people to raise their voices when they’re not feeling heard.”
During her time in the Civic Leadership Program, Bhatti hosted 19 Voter Outreach Events which allowed her to connect with people with varying degrees of civic engagement experience, from active voters to people who never learned about their right to vote.
Aleesha found that when young people reach out to their community, they can bridge the gap when it comes to civic engagement. Bhatti was able to educate voters in her neighborhood, speak with teachers and peers in school, and register people who might not have thought about voting before.
“I had my religious and cultural communities, in which I honestly didn’t know anyone who was interested in civic engagement, politics, policies, and stuff like that. So I felt I was able to introduce that in a space where a lot of people weren’t thinking about it” Bhatti said.
Building relationships and community along the way, Bhatti showed a unique dedication to organizing as she continued her work into the Georgia runoff election. Whether it was canvassing with her mom and sisters or with the 18by Vote Team, Aleesha led on-the-ground efforts with her unique expertise in her local community
While working to activate her peers, she discovered many people were willing to partake in meaningful conversations, receive resources from her and take action.
“[When hosting events] I loved seeing the intention to vote or even register when talking to certain people. I think equipping them with the information they need to vote had the biggest impact on me while I was working” Bhatti said.
In the world of civic engagement and public policy there are many opportunities to get involved, but Bhatti feels that many of them are not actively targeting young people. While there may be opportunities for people with college degrees, Aleesha believes young people in high school or not in college have experience, connections to their communities, and passion that gives them a unique perspective. According to Aleesha, “young people are interested in the same work” and deserve the opportunity to become change-makers.
To her peers, Aleesha says, “I think it’s important to take the opportunity and do the thing! Even though it’s hard, even if you have to fill out an application, do it because it matters. Your voice matters. Your passion matters. That opportunity can lead to something so much bigger.”
Despite being nervous at first, Aleesha stepped wholeheartedly into her position as an 18by Vote Civic Leader and was able to empower young people in her community to get election ready and civically engaged. Bhatti thrived in an environment that centered and supported the growth of young people which allowed her to throw the restrictions of her age out the window.
Aleesha Bhatti is a young leader who is making a difference within 18by Vote, developing meaningful relationships with her community, and deeply impacting those around her.