Deconstructing Progressive Youth Activism

Before I start, I want to thank Chris for giving me the opportunity to write here on MyDD, and congratulate my fellow weekend writers, who've thus far set a high bar with some incredible posts. It's good to be here and in such good company.

Some of you may already know my writings here at MyDD, and know that I focus primarily on the youth vote which, to quote a buddy of mine, I see as the keys to a future, long-term progressive majority.  Needless to say, that idea gets a lot of pushback, both in the blogosphere and in the political establishment.  A lot of activists feel (rightly or wrongly) like they got burned by the youth vote, whether that was in 1972 or in 2004, and a lot of campaign operatives view young voters as cheap campaign labor, but not as a viable voting bloc worth their time and limited campaign resources.

Seeing as the youth vote and the growing progressive youth movement will be my topic 9 times out of 10 here on MyDD, I thought I should use my first post to lay out what I see as the value, and current state of the youth vote and progressive youth infrastructure.  Rather than write out a narrative, I thought it'd be interesting to try something a little more modular and maleable.  A kind of 95 theses of the youth vote, if you will (a la The ClueTrain Manifesto).  

In light of the impulse every four years to create a new Port Huron Statement or youth manifesto, I'm tempted to throw this post up into a wiki and let it be a living document to be revised over time.  Maybe I'll do that, eventually.  But for now I think it'll be good for all of us to have a conversation about the many aspects of that commonly misunderstood entity, "The Youth Vote." I've linked to examples, reports, and polling as much as possible. To be sure there are more links to be made.  This turned into a bigger project than I'd anticipated for an afternoon (now evening) blog.  

These are the basic assumptions under which I'm operating in all of my writing, but I absolutely view this as a draft.  This is too huge a project for a single blog post.  If you've got better ideas, or more relevant links, please propose them.  Out of all the major progressive blogs, MyDD is the most youth-friendly, and the most strategic minded, so I can't think of a better place than here to start refining and sourcing this document.  

Introductions completed, I've tacked my scroll to the door (after the jump).  Let's debate.

  1. Young voters are not apathetic.
  2. The Millennial Generation is more engaged civically and politically than its recent predecessors, particularly Generation X.
  3. This is exemplified, in part, by their participation in community service organizations, and also by their rising turnout at the voting booth.
  4. Young voter turnout dramatically increased in 2004 (pdf).
  5. Rising turnout and engagement of young voters is a trend, not a fad.  Youth Vote turnout was also up in both 2005 (pdf), and 2006 (pdf)(and I predict will be up even more in 2008).
  6. Millennials are soon going to be the largest voting block in the country.  In 2008 they will be 50 million strong, and by the time the entire cohort is of voting age will comprise 36% of the electorate (pdf).
  7. Young voters already outnumber those over 65 as a share of the electorate, yet receive less attention from campaigns and the media.
  8. The 2004 election broke a two-cycle stalemate that saw the parties evenly split young voters.  
  9. In 2004, the youth vote chose Kerry over Bush by 10 points - the only age demographic to choose the Democrats.  
  10. This is also a trend.  In both 2005 and 2006, young voters continued to choose Democrats by increasing margins, topping out at almost 2-1 in 2006 (pdf).
  11. Young voters are the most tolerant, diverse generation in history.
  12. On a variety of issues - the environment/energy, the war in Iraq, health care, the economy, and most social issues - young voters are more progressive than they have been in years.
  13. Young voters are more likely than ever to identify with Democrats than with Republicans.  
  14. All of these facts taken together indicate that young voters could be the base of a long-term, progressive majority.
  15. The previous statement is not a given, and will not happen without action on the part of progressives and Democrats to secure the allegiance of Millennials.
  16. Young voters have primarily voted in reaction to President Bush, the war, and Republican corruption.  They have NOT voted FOR a Democratic vision.
  17. If the Democrats fail to sufficiently change the course of the country and offer a positive vision counter to that of Republicans, the youth vote can swing back the other way, much as it did during the 80s.  
  18. Young voters will participate if you ask them (pdf) . . .
  19. But the Democratic Party stopped asking with any seriousness years ago.
  20. This change occurred in the 80s, when young voters flipped on progressives and started voting for Reagan, and continued through Gen X, whose general disengagement from electoral politics and activism spawned the "apathetic youth" meme.
  21. As a result, for years, campaigns looked at young voters solely as free labor, not as a voting constituency.
  22. Most of the recent increases in young voter turnout and progressive partisanship was brought about by nonpartisan voter registration/GOTV organizations and new 527 organizations working outside the party structure.
  23. Groups like Young Voter Strategies and the Young/College Dems are pushing within the beltway and out among the state parties for the Party to take young voters seriously.
  24. This is slowly changing, but still needs to be internalized by many in the Democratic Establishment.  
  25. Some results of that change - and the possibilities they offer - were highly visible in 2006, when young voters were responsible for some key democratic victories, most notably Jon Tester, Jim Webb and Joe Courtney (data will be available at Young Voter Strategies on June 5th)
  26. Partisanship is a habit.(pdf)  If someone votes for the same party in three major elections before they turn 30, they are likely to stay with that party for the rest of their lives.
  27. We are approaching the first election where a portion of young voters will be casting that "third" ballot - making 2008 and especially important year for youth vote outreach.
  28. After November 2008, the job is not done.  Young voter outreach is a longterm project that never ends.  2008 is merely the first of many "thirds."
  29. Same Day registration and mail-in voting can significantly increase youth vote turnout (by as much as 14% (pdf).  
  30. Local progressive organizations and state parties should be pushing for legislation to enact those policies in all 50 states.
  31. The youth vote is not a monolithic voting bloc.  It contains multitudes.
  32. The many constituencies that comprise the youth vote include but should not be limited to: college students, high school students, commuter college students, non-college youth, young parents, single parents, active duty military, veterans, 1st and 2nd generation Americans.
  33. Each constituency will require slightly different tactics to reach it's members, and a slightly different message to convert its members.
  34. Cultural signifiers matter just as much - if not more - than race, religion, or ideology when reaching young people.  Young voters are first and foremost  punks, hip hop, skaters, hipsters, etc.
  35. Culture is a progressive's natural advantage.  We should use it.
  36. 95% of the people in these constituencies won't ever care about politics as much as you do.  
  37. Asking them to participate in hard core political actions (canvassing, phone banking, etc) as their first introduction to politics is doomed to failure and low conversion rates.
  38. Politics must be made relevant to the life of a person if you want them to participate and make civic participation a habit.
  39. This means there must be a ladder of participation providing substantive involvement for people at multiple levels of engagement.
  40. Those levels of engagement must take into account youth culture.
  41. Politics can and should be fun.
  42. Peer to peer outreach is the gold standard of youth outreach.
  43. Canvassing is only one form of peer outreach. (pdf)
  44. You must reach people where they are, and find a way to engage them through something they are already doing (ie concerts, FaceBook, bars, nightclubs, etc.)
  45. Non traditional outreach at these non traditional venues is an effective way to make politics fun, relevant, culturally acceptable.
  46. The surest, longterm way to increase youth vote turnout is to make political participation a cultural phenomenon.
  47. This will require an expansion of the memberships of traditional and new progressive youth institutions beyond "the usual suspects" - resume padders, aspiring politicos, Beltway insiders in waiting - as well as the creation of new organizations specializing in making politics a social and cultural phenomenon.
  48. Old organizations like the College Democrats and Young Democrats are struggling with this transition, but both groups - particularly the Young Democrats - are taking big strides to reach larger audiences and accommodate a wide variety of levels of participation.
  49. There is a movement building in the progressive youthroots.
  50. This movement is cognizant of many of the issues raised thus far and is specifically organizing to address those issues because the party has been negligent in addressing them.
  51. This movement started in 2002 and 2003 with the beginning of a [dot]org Boom in youth organizing that continues to this day.
  52. Many organizations - cultural and political - laid the groundwork for this [dot]org Boom and the incredible rise in turnout, but 2003/2004 are watershed years in youth vote activism.
  53. The [dot]org boom is the second instantiation of the civic mindedness and entrepreneurial spirit of the Millennial Generation, and 2004 was the election in which the leading edge of the Millennial Generation cut their political teeth.
  54. Operating primarily outside the party structure, [dot]org boom is filling a number of gaps in youth organizing infrastructure including: leadership training (Center for Progressive Leadership, Young People For), policy training (Roosevelt Institution, DMI Scholars), media (Campus Progress, Student Nation), local grassroots infrastructure (Oregon Bus Project, Forward Montana), and cultural communities (Living Liberally).
  55. A great deal of new programs (and funding resources) focus on leadership training and development.  This is important, but we must also be cognizant of what types of leaders we are creating.  It is entirely possible we'll end up producing a new class of insiders who replicate the practices the establishment that drove young voters away from politics in the first place.
  56. The progressive youth movement is divided along a spectrum. 
  57. On one end are those who view political participation as primarily an electoral activity and the Democratic Party as a vehicle for change.  
  58. On the other are those who view politics through a social justice movement lens that looks to community organizing and issue based activism to accomplish social change.
  59. This spectrum tracks along multiple race, class, and ideological lines.  
  60. Most of the entrepreneurial activity in the last 4 years has taken place in the electoral realm.
  61. There are a few exceptions, notably bridge organizations like the League of Young Voters and DMI scholars, and base organizations like Elementz and MyBLOC.
  62. We must build bridges between these organizations and sectors of the progressive youth movement.
  63. These bridges are not meant to erase the divide, which exist for good reasons (you must reach people where they are in the language and level at which they are comfortable), but to allow best practices to flow between groups, and allow each group to remain cognizant of the concerns of the other.  It is only with such bridges that we can have a strong, united progressive movement that works towards common goals for all members of our coalition.
  64. Funding is a barrier to creating those bridges, and represents a huge problem for young voter outreach in general.
  65. Young voters cannot and for the most part do not financially support the political organizations of which they are members.
  66. Young voters are donating to the Democratic Presidential campaigns, probably in the single millions of dollars by the end of the cycle.
  67. This money COULD help convince political hacks and party operatives that the youth vote is worth their time and resources - a worthy cause.
  68. However, it would probably be better spent investing in long-term youth outreach infrastructure that can give young voters a bigger place at the political table.
  69. There is a cadre of mega-funders who are taking notice of the youth vote, and working to create a progressive youth movement, but it is not enough.
  70. Conservatives outspend progressives on young voter outreach and leadership development by almost 5 to 1.  
  71. Conservative organizations donate upwards of $48 million dollars per year to their youth vote outreach and leadership programs - just as much as the Democracy Alliance gave out to ALL progressive organizations in its first year.
  72. That means that many progressive organizations, who should be working together, are competing for resources from the same, small pool of money.
  73. Some progressive organizations - notably the Generational Alliance - are working together to create a coherent core to progressive youth organizing.
  74. These groups do not step on each other's core competencies, and so work together to secure funding and handle specific pieces of youth infrastructure.
  75. Many of the youth organizations that sit on the Social Justice/Racial Justice/Community Organizing side of the political spectrum are the ones with the least resources.
  76. Many groups on the electoral side work hard to create diversity in their memberships (including covering all costs for leadership training events).
  77. But their models are still exclusionary in that the pools from which they draw applicants (politically savvy, college students) are unavailable to the most under-served members of our society.
  78. Far too often, progressive youth groups - especially on campus - are playing defense against their more aggressive conservative counterparts.  
  79. This conservative advantage is amplified by the Republican Noise Machine.
  80. Conservative youth programs, while at times outrageous, are frequently much more fun and much more media savvy than programs by progressive youth outfits.
  81. Progressive youth groups need to turn the tables - stop playing defense, get creative, and go on the attack.
  82. Protest is dead.
  83. Yet many younger voters know of no other forms of activism, and have a knee jerk reaction that protest is the response to any issue.  
  84. This plays into the campus conservative battle plan, which relies on "typical liberal responses" - protests, PC complaints - as a foil.
  85. Many young progressive activists do not know where the levers of power are on campus, in their town, in their state, or nationally.  
  86. We must create ways to educate young voters/political entrepreneurs on how to build power, move power, and navigate the bureaucratic levers of our democracy to create change.
  87. The advantage that progressives hold online over their conservative counterparts is also present at the youth vote level.
  88. More progressive youth are on social networks than conservatives, and more progressive youth activists are taking advantage of those tools.
  89. Social Networks are the new public spaces - or "third places" - where young people spend their time.  
  90. So progressive organizations and Democratic campaigns looking to harness the growing power of the youth vote must find new ways create a dynamic presence in these online communities.
  91. Widgets and new developments in open APIs like FaceBook may or may not be the solution we're looking for.  This should be one of the most highly monitored and tested strategies of the 2008 election cycle.
  92. The progressive youth movement is still siloed online, disconnected from each other and from the progressive blogosphere.
  93. The Executive Directors of these groups are in contact with each other, and personal networks connect these organizations, but the progressive youth movement is bigger than 20 - 30 Executive Directors.
  94. Progressive youth organizations should start linking, and keep their members apprised of the activities of other organizations, and break down those silos.
  95. Progressive youth organizations need to learn to move FaceBook, YouTube, and MySpace activism offline and into local blogospheres to build power and counteract the Republican Noise Machine.

Tags: progressive movement, youth vote (all tags)



Re: Deconstructing Progressive Youth Activism


It's great to see someone focused on youth activism and the netroots.  I'd like to relate a specific anecdote in reference to one of your points about off-line events.

I worked as an "intern" on a congressional primary campaign that ultimately failed.  One idea I had involved reaching out to young voters.  Specifically, I wanted to work with several college groups and local youth democratic groups and organize a bowling night.  My idea was to package a 15-20 dollar night that would pay for two games of bowling and some food (through packaged deals and so forth).  During the night, the candidate would mingle with and meet the different individuals there.  I wanted to further plan the idea, but it was basically canned by the organization.

Anyway, nice to have you aboard and I'd love to hear more from you about moving our activism off-line.

by circlesnshadows 2007-06-03 05:50PM | 0 recs
Re: Deconstructing Progressive Youth Activism

I think that in general, it's a good idea.  Bowling's not all that hip here where I am (except in an ironic way or when dressed up as a character from the Big Lebowski), but you'd know better than I what would constitute a suitable social/political event for younger constituents.

I think you've got an interesting dilemma with the money angle . . . on the one hand, that's a way to justify it to the campaign, and certainly many youth organizations do something like that (usually at bars - see this for an example happening next week in DC).  Money in the bank is something that campaign operatives skeptical of reaching out to young voters can understand.

But it's a handicap too.  If someone pays you for something like that, chances are they are already a supporter.  You're probably not getting new recruits or voters (though, that's just my opinion).   And some supporters might not be able to afford that - especially college students, or lower-income non-college young folk.  

One group that does a really good job of this sort of thing is Drinking Liberally (here in NYC).  In 2005, during the New York Mayor's race, they held an event called Mayoroake, where mayoral candidates and other officials were invited to come, sing to a crowd of dedicated activists, and in exchange deliver their stump speech.

Other chapters of Drinking Liberally invite local candidates to come speak, mingle, and just hang out with local activists.  Many of those activists are younger, and it can raise lots of support for those candidates, plus it's free for those who attend.

Personally, if I was in your shoes (not knowing your district at all, so grain of salt), I would get my younger volunteers to canvass outside local bars and music events, and have the candidate do handshakes on the door lines as a way to drum up interest among younger voters.

by Mike Connery 2007-06-03 06:06PM | 0 recs
are very good points; simply developing strategies than emphasize efficacy could generate alot more participation.
It's one thing to try to generate interest in issues important to young people, it's another thing to make people believe they can do something about it, and then to convince them that what they can do will have a substantive impact.
by anku 2007-06-03 06:19PM | 0 recs
Re: 82-84

Yes, I agree.  There are some efforts at this.  For instance, the Young People For Fellowship Program - which is essentially a year-long leadership development course and mini re-granting program.  

YP4 Fellows propose a plan of action for their campus.  YP4 funds this plan (a few hundred to a few thousand dollars), and provides training and assistance to the Fellow, if it fills in gaps in  progressive infrastructure on campus, and has a model of change that takes into account what type of change the student wants to see, and what levers need to be shifted to make that happen.

Part of that, of course, is teaching students how to build power on their campus and leverage change.  

But right now, YP4 only has a couple hundred fellows a year, and they are only on college campuses.  

There's nothing in place at scale to handle this problem for the larger movement, particularly those who most need additional resources (see #75).

I agree that in general, if more people saw positive change happening on their campus or in their communities, they would have a better grasp both on how to accomplish change outside of whatever tripe the media has fed them about what it means to be an activist, and they would be much more confident that the system can work and things  CAN change.  That in turn would lead to less cynicism and more participation across the board.

by Mike Connery 2007-06-03 07:41PM | 0 recs
Re: Deconstructing Progressive Youth Activism

This is a terrific post, great analysis and suggestions.  This is EXACTLY what we are doing at the Democratic Youth Strategy Council, trying to persuade the Democratic Party establishment to invest more time, money, and resources into young people.  We already have 12 state parties signed on to our "New Youth Strategy for the Democratic Party and Progressive Movement."  Check it out- .  

by scottforamerica 2007-06-03 06:24PM | 0 recs
Re: Deconstructing Progressive Youth Activism

Don't want to do a line-by-line analysis.  I've just finished a first draft of a book that has clues about these issues, but I can't point you to other things, so you'd just have to take me on faith.

"On faith" is meaningful here.  

We are moving into a time when people are looking to be a part of something greater than themselves, to take on faith.  Loyalty to a dream of greatness.

Conservatives have an advantage in these times, but it is also a time of working class organization and grassroots movements on their own behalf.  It is a time of populism.

Very little of what you have said above relates to content.  It is a very rational presentation of progressiveness.  But this coming time isn't about that.  It's about feeling.  There are grassroots elements to it, but the people who control the country are the people who appeal to working class interests.  That's why the Republicans aren't set up to do well right now --- they're too much owned by big business.  So this is a time when Democrats can become the party of the working class, but if they still picture their agenda as being about social justice as opposed to populist programs that expand the safety net for the working class and keep them in jobs and cheap entertainment, they're likely to lose.  If they don't address the need to stir their audience at gut level, if they don't embrace patriotism, they're likely to lose.  

So that's my advice.  Find the new Roosevelt.  Oh, and do we have to call this generation the millennials?  Don't we have enough millennialism going on right now with the Left Behind series?  (Not that we won't see more of it.)

by catherineD 2007-06-03 07:55PM | 0 recs
Re: Deconstructing Progressive Youth Activism

"So that's my advice.  Find the new Roosevelt."

That's, IMHO, exactly the opposite what we should do. We need to create a citizenry who demand change and reform. If we do that, change and reform-minded politicians get elected and enact those things. Think of some of the biggest, most monumental political changes in this country: the civil rights amendments, women's suffrage, the legalization of the strike, the 8-hour day. Who took the lead on these issues? The people, not the politicians. Massive, popular movements demanded these changes, and they got politicians who then would do it. Congress wasn't simply feeling generous one day and collectively said "hey, let's protect the right to form a union!"

On progressive issues, lawmakers have always been the ones playing catch-up. If we don't have large social movements to pressure politicians, we shouldn't expect an FDR-type candidate to pop up on the scene any time soon (let alone get elected).

by Liberaltarian 2007-06-03 11:42PM | 0 recs
Re: Deconstructing Progressive Youth Activism

Roosevelt was responsible for some of these massive political changes, but I suppose I meant Roosevelt as a shortcut to explaining the kind of issues that we need to work with.

Yes, popular grassroots movements are needed, but the idea that you can shape the citizenry to create these movements is....well, expecting a lot.  

Of course, I sound no less grandiose and manipulative when I insist that I have insider information that we will fail if we stress social justice instead of populist issues...

by catherineD 2007-06-05 09:12AM | 0 recs
Channeling Steven Colbert?

Maybe I'm missing your point, but it strikes me as fairly similar as this:

"We are divided between those who think with their heads and those who know with their heart. Consider Harriet Miers. If you think about Harriet Miers, of course her nomination is absurd. But the President didn't say he thought about his selection. He said this: "I know her heart." Notice how he said nothing about her brain? He didn't have to. He feels the truth about Harriet Miers." - Steven Colbert
That's Mike's problem- he simply doesn't get the fact that we should be thinking with our guts. After all, there are more nerves in our guts than in our brains, right?
Mr. President and first lady, my name is Stephen Colbert and it's my privilege tonight to celebrate our president. He's no so different, he and I. We get it. We're not brain backs on the nerd patrol. We're not members of the fact (police). We go straight from the gut, right sir? That's where the truth lies, right down here in the gut. Do you know you have more nerve endings in your gut than you have in your head? You can look it up. I know some of you are going to say I did look it up, and that's not true. That's 'cause you looked it up in a book.

Next time look it up in your gut. I did. My gut tells me that's how our nervous system works. Every night on my show, the Colbert Report, I speak straight from the gut, ok? I give people the truth, unfiltered by rational argument. I call it the no fact zone. Fox news, I own the copyright on that term.

And I find it somewhat hysterical that your "advice" is to find a new FDR, who is arguably one of the top presidents of our nation's history. Is that all we have to do? Damn. I'll get right on that.

by Alex Urevick 2007-06-04 04:56AM | 0 recs
Content is King

Content is king, but the emerging paradigm is less about "A Roosavelt" or "An Elvis" -- that being a singular figure or message which 50%+ of the population is tuned into -- and more about the long tail.

Emotionally resonant messaging is critical, and having some leadership is a requirement to push anything nationally, but it's most effective to reach people in their own ways in their own words. Also, decentralizing the cogeneration of message is a nice check against fascism.

The key for campaigns and content is creating a coherent core of ideas (a kernel, if you will) which can support any number of internally supportive policy planks, each of which can be explained (without being false) to different people in different ways.

This is a huge departure from the current gold-standard of message consistency, which is currently on display vis the Bush administration: stick to the talking points whether they're true, or make sense, or neither.

The 21st Century Roosavelt will be the one who:

A) Provides real political leadership by getting ahead of the public and the conventional wisdom, and by, you know, having the right ideas.
B) Communicates effectively through mass media channels, which is still important.
C) Is able to run a campaign that embraces a decentralized approach to communication rather than attempting to enforce "message discipline."

The real question, of course, is how someone runs the game once they're in-office. FDR started a trend of mass-media usage with the Fireside chats. Who will be the first president to embrace the internet as a part of governing? I hope it's a progressive, because this whole thing could go very wrong in a 1984 kind of way.

by Josh Koenig 2007-06-04 01:22PM | 0 recs
Re: Content is King

Yes, it could go very wrong.  Fascism will be more of a threat in the next three decades than it has been in the last six.  

I guess what I feel I've read here is a lot of terrific stuff about the process of organizing, but without acknowledging that, as you say, "content is king."

What Democrats are ABOUT is what is going to determine whether we do well in these coming decades.  

Reagan and company decided to be about big business and social conservatism and that alliance put them over the top for all but the Clinton years.  Clinton was able to emerge because of his "It's the economy, stupid," mantra and his moderation.

The most important decisions we can make right now aren't about the process of organizing, but about the banner under which we are organizing.

Who are Democrats?  What do they stand for?  Why should you join us?

Nobody's going to join us because we have a good organization.  At least, I hope they won't.  It's going to be about the ideas that we have.  The alliances we make now.  The things we choose to emphasize and the things we choose to let fall by the wayside for the time being.  

It is no longer about "the economy, stupid."

It's about a populist agenda.  

Will the Republicans or the Democrats be the first to understand that and re-structure alliances?  

Our future may depend on the answer.

by catherineD 2007-06-05 09:24AM | 0 recs

thats all i got. this is all right on.

by Ozymandias 2007-06-03 09:59PM | 0 recs
forward-thinkin, cohesive, and pretty nice to see

as the communications strategist behind a number of popular music acts that have reached tens-of-millions of young people across the world, as well as an experienced youth organizer, I'd just like to say that this blog offers a very forward-looking and cohesive outline of what it will take to organize America's young progressives to win elections and leverage power towards changing progressive issues.

While it may seem like a lot of factors to wrap your head around, everyone should realize that a successful attempt at organizing around young people will require a larger investment of time than of money. We should all saddle up and invest in the needed infrastructure now, because once it's in place, this infrastructure will have within it the potential to deliver election after election to democrats for the next 20 years and beyond.

This is why the addition of Mike's voice to the MyDD community is very important to all of us. Bring your backpacks, folks, this kid's handing out gold.

and yeah, that was a lot of theseseses...

by Mark Ristaino 2007-06-03 10:43PM | 0 recs
Re: Deconstructing Progressive Youth Activism

I'm really astonished you didn't mention the refounding of SDS, which is arguably the biggest development in youth activism over the past decade.

I'm a firm believer that if we want to see more progressives, we need to organize first where they are, and the issues that affect them the most. For youth, we should start instilling democratic values in our organizational structures and help students organize to get more democracy on their own campuses. Once people get a taste of empowerment, they're going to want more. Once they participate (meaningfully - not just phonebanking or canvassing, but involved in important decisions) in a progressive fight and win, they're going to want to keep on fighting and winning. A passive populace, even if a they have generally liberal ideas, are sitting ducks for conservatives and authoritarians (in Cheney's case, they're sitting quails).

Campus Democracy is widely considered the second most important aspect of the new SDS (the first being, at the moment, ending the Iraq War). As the saying goes, if you want more big D Democrats, start making more small d democrats. It'll be interesting to see what comes of their national conference this summer, to say the least...

by Liberaltarian 2007-06-03 11:30PM | 0 recs
Re: Deconstructing Progressive Youth Activism

I'll be interested as well, Liberaltarian, to see what they do.

IMHO, the [dot]org Boom is the most important thing to happen to youth politics in years.  I think in part it is responsible for rising turnout, and that it is going to be a contributing force (along with the netroots) to a new progressive majority. The new SDS is a part of that, but how significant a part of that, but how significant remains to be seen.

I've been following the new SDS, reading lots of articles, but have not yet made a judgement.  This article in particular has been particularly influential in my thinking about the new SDS.

I have to say, my thoughts run towards skepticism.  The number of articles I've read paints a picture of an anarchic (as in chaotic, not philosophically) group that once again is moving towards protest as a knee jerk reaction.

I've written a little (very little) about it here.    I'll be glad to be proven wrong, but haven't seen anything to indicate that as of yet.

by Mike Connery 2007-06-04 04:53AM | 0 recs
Re: Deconstructing Progressive Youth Activism

If you have the chance, you should head over to the national meeting this July, at the least as a reporter. :)

by Liberaltarian 2007-06-04 05:53AM | 0 recs
Diving in

Well it seems you're really diving in here. Welcome, and thanks. I think there's a lot worthy of discussion here, so I'm going to do the same:

85. Many young progressive activists do not know where the levers of power are on campus, in their town, in their state, or nationally.  
86. We must create ways to educate young voters/political entrepreneurs on how to build power, move power, and navigate the bureaucratic levers of our democracy to create change.

Good. I think this is a really good place to do some thinking, and it ties in nicely with your point about campaigns and party organizers treating youth as cheap labour, as well as the point about "what kind of leaders" we're training.

Instead of making little leaders as apprentices to the D.C. types who already run the party, we should be encouraging kids to find problems they have some real agency to solve on their own or by applying leverage to their elected representatives, instead of just serving as cogs in the pre-existing machine. The real "leaders" of tomorrow should get their activist training identifying problems and the levers of power that can tackle them, finding, motivating, and mobilizing peers, and following through.

They might end up tackling "smaller" issues, but they'll get used to being big fish in small ponds -- they'll get used to feeling, and being empowered, doing their own work and knowing that the results are their own.

This sort of activism would see Democratic establishment types not as overlords, but facilitators and guides.

by msnook 2007-06-04 12:20AM | 0 recs
Re: Diving in

Instead of making little leaders as apprentices to the D.C. types who already run the party, we should be encouraging kids to find problems they have some real agency to solve on their own or by applying leverage to their elected representatives, instead of just serving as cogs in the pre-existing machine. The real "leaders" of tomorrow should get their activist training identifying problems and the levers of power that can tackle them, finding, motivating, and mobilizing peers, and following through.

I think this is right, but it doesn't have to all be "small potatoes."  For instance, recent student loan scandals are a pretty huge deal.  That's a national issue.  It's also an issue with both a legislative solution and a local solution.  Schools can opt out of the FFEL program in favor of the governent Direct Loan program, and students on campus can pressure their universities to do so through a variety of means.  

But even if the issue they work on is highly local in scope - there's nothing wrong with that.  There's a world of difference between actually changing something and making a showy attempt.  I worry that too often youth activism amounts to a showy attempt.  Programs like YP4 are looking to change that, but we need to scale their solution outward.

With such a huge reach, and major party connections, maybe Young and College Dems could tackle that challenge.  I don't know, but I like your  vision of the Democratic establishment as mentors and facilitator, not overlords driving the slave labor of young activists.

by Mike Connery 2007-06-04 05:36AM | 0 recs
an example

UVa sells students information to marketing firms. I think that sucks. There's a privacy policy with my free gmail account, but not with the ("Publicly funded") college education I'm now multi-tens-of-thousands of dollars in debt for.

Once I found out it was the University signing me up for all these mailing lists, I was too caught up working for a (losing) congressional race to actually do anything about it, but I think this is a good example precisely because of its "small potatoes" nature.

Tons of people would have signed a petition, written a letter/email to their dean/the president of the U, letters to the editor of the school papers, etc. -- small amounts of work done by thousands of people. It's practice in activism.

As Al Gore says, "Political will is a renewable resource." I would go a step further and say that if you use it it is self-renewing. The activist muscles grow stronger when they are flexed and excercised, the appetite is wetted and grows stronger.

I'd never exclude things like volunteering for campaigns for the few who are comfortable doing so, or doing something about the student loan scandal for those who already feel empowered enough to invest time for it, but this is about finding something -- anything -- to make a little movement out of and making kids (many of whom have had their parents take care of everything till they left for college) feel empowered to do something slightly bigger than themselves with a tangible payoff (everyone hates junk mail). Anyway, good post, and good points. Just thought I'd add tack my dimension on. And then nail it down.

by msnook 2007-06-04 06:11AM | 0 recs
a contradiction?

Mike, your intro and your style seem to probe for disagreement (which I like), and you seem to welcome a bit of a debate, so I'll give you one -- if you'll forgive me for getting a bit picky.

Points 12 (Youth voters are progressive) and 16 (Youth turnout in 2006 was anti-Bush, not pro-Dem) seem contradictory. I can sort of cock my head sideways and read them flexibly and come out with a non-contradictory reading of them, but I neither want nor need to, for reasons which should become clear momentarily.

Your wording of point 16 isn't wrong per se, but it uses a framing package ("proof of disapproval for Bush renders claims of approval for Democrats mere partisan speculation") designed by Republican strategists precisely so that its repitition would contradict and innoculate against points like no. 12.

You could just as easily have said "Voters were pissed off at Bush so they decided to give Democrats a chance, now we have to keep them happy," or something of the sort. It's the same point, but can't be contorted to support all the untruths Republicans would like people to believe, it leaves no chance of being seen as contradictory with point 12.

Whenever we notice ourselves saying exactly what Republican strategists want us to be saying, we should think twice, and try to remove whatever implications their framing is designed to embed in what is otherwise a correct statement.
See rule 6 of Progressive Realpolitik.

(All that said, you're right. We need to make sure the youth vote doesn't turn fickle.)

by msnook 2007-06-04 06:34AM | 0 recs
Re: a contradiction?

It's a totally fair question.  

My retort is this - young voters are more progressive than in the recent past, but are the Democrats?  This sort of gets to the "the parties are the same" meme . . . I don't buy that meme, but if Democrats don't draw distinctions between themselves and Republicans or if they fail to follow through an enact the policies for which they were given a mandate by the 2006 elections, that produces a mismatch between the views of Millennials and the  actions of Democrats.  So in that sense, I don't think the two are analogous (which you suggest), which is why I see a distinction, not a contradiction.

Your point about framing is a very interesting one.  My thinking is this - young voters have been ignored by the Democratic Party.  So from my point of view, the Democratic establishment must be goaded into action in keeping young voters in the fold.  I think my framing is more likely to produce action on the part of Democrats, where as your formulation "We've got them, let's keep them happy" makes a false assumption about the loyalty of young voters to a party and might allow some Dems to fall into that lazy attitude that takes young voters as a given.

Also, many studies suggest that young voters are still up for grabs - especially the younger ones coming into their first election cycle.  I'm very confident that we can and will win those voters, but again, I don't want to enable a laziness on the part of Democrats.  They need to work for it and I want to make sure they do.

by Mike Connery 2007-06-04 07:13AM | 0 recs
Re: Deconstructing Progressive Youth Activism

  I am 21, and I can tell you that the fact is, the vote under 30 is liberal, but Democrats are not liberal. They are conservative compared to my peers. Thats why our vote is anti-Bush, not pro-Dem. Look. My generation is a redux of the GIs; we are pro-government, meaning we are big government liberals. For us, liberalism means the New Deal, the Great Society, getting stuff done. We are not the liberals which currently inhabit the Democratic Party. Those liberals are more into process and policy than ideas and action. Thats why there is a huge gap between the party and youth. We want a president like FDR, JFK, and LBJ. Not like Walter Mondale. Not like Jimmy Carter. Not like Gary Hart. Not like Bill Clinton. Get the picture?

by liberal2012 2007-06-04 11:34AM | 0 recs
Re: Deconstructing Progressive Youth Activism


I think you're correct here, but we've got to figure out how to tune-up the language, because throwing yourself into the frame of "we're big-government Liberals" might not be a great strategy.

On the other hand, reclaiming the word...

For me, I think it's much more about "Getting things done" as you said. It's about effective government. It's also about transparent government too. I think we've got a real chance to break the Econ 101 stranglehold (The Market Is God) and drive the idea of Public Services and the Public Good.

by Josh Koenig 2007-06-04 01:28PM | 0 recs
Re: Deconstructing Progressive Youth Activism

Mike, i continue to be impressed with your insight and focus on writing about youth voting.  I think overall many of us who are in the youth voting bloc (18-35 year olds) at times neglect reading or worrying about it because we either think we are too old or that we (i.e. young people) don't vote so we focus on other issues and other platforms.  That is where we have done our generation a huge disservice.  For me the bottom line is we finally, in 2004, turned around the decline of young people voting...better yet young people voted for Dems in record margins in the 2004, 2005 and 2006 elections.  Its not a fluke--and I think its a combination of the groups that target young people have gotten smarter about how we target our peers (both on and off campus), groups finally got some resources from a small group of committed donors and many groups got partisan for the first time.  Add these factors on top of the fact that the "millennials" think differently than Gen X about politics, and we have a bloc of voters that are prime to be Dems for life.  I agree we can't take that for granted that simply because young people voted for Dems in 2004, 05 and 06 that they will identify as Dems...but they are.  Before 2004 young people were voting pretty much 50/50 and with party id they were pretty much split evenly among Dems, repubs and Indys.  Now, 43% of us are saying we are Democrats, only 31% Republican and a shrinking 26% of young people are identifying as Independents.  That is a HUGE shift that State Parties, candidates, the Party Committees, etc all have to take into serious consideration as they create plans for 2007 and 2008.  I think it will take at least 2 more major election cycles to have young people fully integrated into campaigns as voters, not just free labor...but I think it will happen.  

by janefleming 2007-06-04 06:31PM | 0 recs
Re: Deconstructing Progressive Youth Activism

Mike I read your article but found it to be a re-hash of what my generation was proclaiming in the 1960s.
It is true that technologies have altered the political landscape and the approach to the election  process. However, young Democrats today are as cause driven now as they were forty years ago, but, now as then, the enthusiasm for the cause lacks historicial perspective.

Under Democrat President Lyndon Johnson my generation fought for, "The Great Society" social program which lead directly to the disintergration of the black family in America  and the economic enslavement of black Americans as well as beginning the destruction of our education system.

Under President Clinton we witnessed the full scale assault on the middle class with his signing of NAFTA into law.

Now we are being ask to endorse an economically ruinous Universal Health Care scheme that will provide a much lower level of care than is now available to Americans.

To what nation that now has Universal Health Care can we turn for assurance that such a scheme is viable?  With some research you will find that no such nation exists. Universal Health Care is a universal failure. Furthermore, when has the federal government shown such efficiency that we should trust it to properly administer 1/7th of our economy?  

The elites of the Democratic party are as jaded and self-serving as are the Republicans. Neither group must live with their decisions. They live above their decisions and above us.

If you are going to be a foot soldier for the Democratic party, do so for the working men and women of America, not for the leaders who promise you much but seldom deliver to anyone but themselves.

Knowing that if a poliltician's lips are moving he is lying, use your energy to fight for the historical middle class values of the party,jobs, family and security, not the lies of our current crop of grasping opportunists who grow rich from free trade and the destruction of the middle class.

Forge something new again from the old. Do  your own thing. Lead, don't follow.        

by zevgoldman 2007-06-16 04:18PM | 0 recs


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