It’s Earth Day, and I’d like to give you a story:

Back when I was in elementary school, we learned that one good way to save the planet was to be mindful of running water. Especially things like turning off the faucet as you brushed your teeth, and taking shorter showers.

From the time I was born until I was about 6 or 7 years old, I had seizures (they thought I was epileptic, and I was medicated accordingly), so when I took a shower or bath, one of my parents had to be in the bathroom with me to make sure I didn’t have an episode and then drown. Constant vigilance.

Anyway, I digress. I would take these really long showers as a kid, and then we learned about “The Environment” in 2nd grade science class, and we learned to tell our parents how to save the planet, too.

Looking back at these lessons – take shorter showers, turn lights off when you leave the room, turn the A/C off and open a window – a lot of it was just common sense. It didn’t hurt that your parents were gonna save some money, too.

I think about the lessons that we “taught” to our parents. I was very fortunate to have parents who were willing to hear me out, even when I droned on about my favorite Transformers or the efficacy of certain superpowers.

I’m reminded of how important it is to listen to young people and take them seriously –– ESPECIALLY with regard to matters of good environmental stewardship.

So for today’s BIG IDEA it felt appropriate to incorporate both the idea of listening to young people and something that is more environmentally mindful:

On every campaign I’ve ever volunteered or worked for, there are always a couple of outreach items you’ll see without fail: yard/window signs, t-shirts, and of course, direct mail.

The last of these, direct mail, is constantly cited by campaign “insiders” as perhaps the most critical piece of voter outreach. It’s always vexed me, because I was confused by direct mail’s efficacy, not to mention, it always seems to annoy voters as we reach the end of the campaign cycle.

And here’s the kicker: it’s very expensive.

A 5-7 piece direct mail campaign to 10,000 voters might cost you upwards of $50,000.

It turns out that I was confused for good reason. According to a research paper released in 2016, political campaign direct mail doesn’t work. More than being ineffective, it’s expensive, and it’s not great for the environment (even if all of the materials that the printer uses are recycled, you can’t guarantee that the mail itself gets recycled by the end user).

Remember this, because I’m coming back to it in just a moment.

YouthWorks is a youth jobs program in Baltimore City developed by the Mayor’s Office of Employment Development (MOED).

It’s designed to offer young people summer jobs to keep them active and learning. As a result of working at a summer job, young people involved in YouthWorks are much less likely to get into trouble, too.

But the program is underfunded.

In 2017, approximately 13,000 young people applied to YouthWorks, but only about 8,000 were placed. In 2018, about 16,500 applied, but only about 8,500 were placed. On average, over the last two years, around 44% of applicants aren’t getting placed.

So how does it all tie together? Well, it turns out that it costs about $1500.00 to sponsor a YouthWorks worker for the 5-week program.

So when a local politician sends you a piece of mail, that person is sending you something that’s bad for the environment and costs money that could’ve been used to pay a young person.

It makes it difficult to take someone seriously when they say they want to reduce crime in Baltimore City, when they’re also spending loads of money on sending you pictures of their faceinstead of seeking out young men and women looking for work for the summer.

Lightbulbs with radiant light and blue sky background

“…Even if all of the materials that the printer uses are recycled, you can’t guarantee that the mail itself gets recycled by the end user.”

So that’s one of the Big Ideas for our campaign: We’re going to send one or two mass mailers. That’s it. And we’re going to take money we’ve saved by not sending literal trash to your mailbox to hire young people from Baltimore City who want to learn campaign skills.

And if we raise enough money we’ll hire more young people.

Because it’s not about having the handsomest campaign literature or the most creative brochure or even a 12-page treatise on crime in Baltimore City (yes, someone really sent one of those once upon a time) –– it’s about being accountable. If we say we have big ideas on how to reduce crime in our city, we need to prove it.

And we will do that by putting our money where our message is (not by just printing it on fancy flyers).

If you know someone between the ages of 16-24 who wants to apply for a job on our campaign, send them to this page.

If you’d like to help us out you can contribute to our campaign so that we have enough money to pay young Baltimoreans to work and learn on our campaign.

We belong in a city where our leaders are willing to try something new because it can lead to radical change for our city and our young people.

Stay tuned to this website, follow us on social media, and subscribe to our email list to stay up-to-date on more Big Ideas.

Happy Earth Day!