The Generation Gap: Youth Organizing and the Blogosphere

On Tuesday I attended the Campus Progress National Student Conference.  One of the panels I attended was "Starting an Online Revolution." It was not a well-attended panel, perhaps because it was the end of the day, or perhaps because Millennials are so immersed in online media that most people felt their time was better spent elsewhere.  One thing that struck me, as I listened to the speakers and their student questioners, was that not a single person - panelist or student - mentioned the blogosphere.  

This wasn't entirely shocking.  According to the latest Blogads survey, 14-30 year olds make up just 16% of the blogosphere, and I've long noticed that most blogs run by youth organizations are disconnected both from each other and from the larger blogosphere.  Campus Progress and Young People For both operate their own internal blog communities, but the content on these blogs frequently runs days (sometimes weeks) behind the regular blogosphere chatter, and rarely responds to what the larger blogosphere is discussing or writes in any way that would indicate the users even read the major progressive blogs.  

In some respects, the lack of interest and effort is understandable.  More young people are politically engaged online through social networks than through blogs.  Students and other young organizers need to go where their peers gather, so much organizing takes place on those sites.  By working on and through social networks, youth organizers are building another branch of the netroots and bringing their fellow Millennials politics.  That is good, and nothing I'm writing here is meant to denigrate that or suggest that it is work that should not be done, or even made second horse to greater blogosphere participation.

On the other hand, the disadvantages are readily apparent.  Youth organizations are not adequately preparing their members for participation in the new political landscape.   There is a political literacy level that is not being met.  Local blogs are increasingly an important piece of progressive infrastructure, and if young organizers aren't reading the major blogs, I'm guessing they're even less likely to know about (let alone how to approach and partner with) local blogs that might be an information resource and outlet for their local activities.  These organizations are also losing the valuable echo chamber/media amplifier and (psychological, intellectual, monetary, volunteer) support network that blogs can provide.  

In short, the progressive youth movement is almost completely disconnected from the progressive blogosphere.  There is very little (it would be hyperbole to say "none") connective tissue between these two subsections of the netroots.

From my observations, the only youth group that seems to get this is the Young Democrats, whose individual chapters do seem to understand the utility and importance of integrating local blogs into their work.  Otherwise I can think of very few places where youth organizing and the blogosphere meet (Young Philly Politics, Future Majority, Forward Montana/Left in the West are the few that come to mind).  

At the "Starting an Online Revolution" panel, I was given the opportunity to ask the last question of the afternoon.  I asked how the blogosphere fit into youth organizing.  The panelists, who had mostly discussed social networks or website construction, didn't have an answer.   Here's my answer:  

Right now, the blogosphere really doesn't fit into progressive youth organizing.  But it should, as there are a number of holes it can fill:

  • Provide a stepping stone for young organizers into the larger blogosphere.

  • Hand in hand with that comes basic literacy about the new progressive political playing field: who the players are, how it operates, how you can integrate your work into what is already going on.

  • Tap into a vast array of resources - a local and national media echo chamber, a wealth of experience/ideas/mentorship, potential volunteers, new partnerships, potential financial support.

  • Not discussed in this post, but just as important, a healthy youth blogosphere can serve as connective tissue between youth organizations, offering reporting on what each sector of the progressive youth movement is doing.  Right now, many youth organizations (at the member level) are siloed from each other.  Blogs can help break those silos and educate members about the larger progressive youth movement. (I hope to explore this particular point more in a future diary)

I'm sure I left something out, so please post your own ideas as to how youth organizing could benefit from greater interaction with the blogosphere in the comments.

50 million Millennials (pdf) will be eligible to vote in 2008.  Our influence should be felt beyond the ballot box.  The blogosphere has invented new ways for regular people to leverage power in politics, and as a substantial and growing portion of the electorate, Millennials should help guide that power.

These are the things to be gained by engaging the blogosphere, but there's another (darker?) side to this as well.  In light of the rise of social networks and new tools like the FaceBook Causes application - and many new versions that are sure to follow - what if Millennials never engage the blogosphere to the degree that Xers and Boomers have?  Will the blogosphere age into obscurity over time, with Millennials and the next generation participating online through social networks or other outlets that have not yet fully emerged?  And what will those networks look like?  Online social networks offer ways to organize volunteers and collect donations, but they do not offer anything even closely resembling the robustness of Scoop or Drupal or even WordPress for deliberation and conversation.  Will such a shift inevitably be a further improvement in participatory politics, or might something be lost in the translation?

Tags: Blogosphere, netroots, progressive movement, Social networking, youth (all tags)

Comments

47 Comments

Re: The Generation Gap: Youth Organizing and the B

Maybe there's a UI matter to deal with here, blogs have a standard technology, and the different social networking sites that have bounced up, and which the youth use, have a very different feel. But it's just not as easy to start a social networking site as it is a blog. Look at Atrios, still the same after 5 years, and still getting 4 million or so page views a month.

The likelihood of engaging the blogosphere with young organizers will increase greatly after the Obama campaign, as the hundreds of thousands of young activists turn to get involved in politics deeper AND the blog itself adapts to a usage that appeals to younger people.

by Jerome Armstrong 2007-06-30 07:51AM | 0 recs
Blogging takes too damn long!

Seriously, I don't know how you people do it. I graduated from college two years ago, and I definitely remember that I did spend a lot of my "online political activism time" reading blogs (particularly the major ones), but I never, ever had any time to write my own or even engage in comments. Now as a working professional, I tried to set aside some time to blog, but that failed miserably, as evidenced by the date of the most recent post:

http://leftisphere.com/blog

Riffing off what Jerome said regarding the user interfaces of these, maybe the solution is the "tumblelog", which act much like Facebook Notes or MySpace Bulletins: quick updates about things you'd want to share with your network. I started my attempt this week, and so far I've been able to keep up:

http://tumblr.leftmostbit.com

by Luigi Montanez 2007-06-30 08:22AM | 0 recs
Re: Blogging takes too damn long!

I love tumblr, I think it's a great idea. But as far as I can see, it doesn't allow comments, which is annoying.

by afertig 2007-07-01 10:09AM | 0 recs
Re: The Generation Gap: Youth Organizing and the B

I actually disagree about ease of entry.  The Social Networks are there . . . and it's not about creating new social networks anymore (though I think niche networks will continue to arise that are either geographically oriented or topically oriented), it's really about getting your organizing platform onto one of those existing networks.  Which is what's so cool about Project Agape's Causes Application.  It's  rudimentary and buggy now, but think about when those apps are in their 5th and 6th generation.

Comparatively, starting a blog and building traffic is really hard. Atrios is Atrios in part because he got in the game so early.  Yeah, that he's smart as hell and funny is what keeps them coming, but there was much less competition when he got in the game.  

Believe me, I've been more successful than most in bootstrapping a blog or community into existence, and even with the advantage of an influential readership or a position like my weekend gig here at MyDD, it's tough work.  It is way easier for a college kid to just hop on FaceBook and energize his campus network.

In part what I'm arguing for is that progressive youth institutions should be creating their own blogs with national and regional and local staffers contributing content.  Their membership is a natural audience that they can leverage into traffic, and they can help their members start forging blogosphere connections.

W/r/t Obama - I think you may be right.  Eventually the campaign will end, and those folks are going to need to go somewhere to remain active.  First they will go to the Democratic Nominee (should it not be Obama).  AFter that, the blogosphere is one possibility.  But by then, we'll also be on the 3rd or 4th generation of "Cause-like" apps . . . maybe they won't come to the blogosphere . . .

by Mike Connery 2007-06-30 09:20AM | 0 recs
Re: The Generation Gap: Youth Organizing and the B

Believe me, I've been more successful than most in bootstrapping a blog or community into existence, and even with the advantage of an influential readership or a position like my weekend gig here at MyDD, it's tough work.  It is way easier for a college kid to just hop on FaceBook and energize his campus network.

Show me someone who has used the causes application to raise real money, versus Atrios who has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars with Actblue.  It's easy to communicate with your network on Facebook, but organizing them to do anything isn't simple.

Organizing is organizing.  Young people are not any different than any other group.  I'm reminded of Hip Hop activists talking about how awesome hip hop activism is or bloggers talking about blogging.  Who cares how you do your organizing?  Organizing is about listening and talking to a group of people, and persuading them to do stuff that's in their interest.  The medium isn't important, this is about coalition building.  

by Matt Stoller 2007-06-30 09:49AM | 0 recs
Re: The Generation Gap: Youth Organizing and the B

You're kinda misrepresenting my point here to make a different point of your own.

I don't think anyone has been successful yet with the Causes App.  At most some folks have raised $20,000 or so for Darfur.  But no one seems to be running coordinated campaigns through the Causes App either.  Folks are just throwing stuff against the wall to see what sticks.  And as I said, that's where the energy is going.  We'll have to wait for the 3rd or 4th generation of these Apps to see if they really take off as the new organizing platform for younger folks INSTEAD of the blogosphere.

Trying to organize via FaceBook (1 million strong for Barack) is a lot easier and the more natural venue to organize young folks than a blog is.  You can make way more headway - even if it is not yet comparable to or effective as what someone like Atrios can do - than you can starting a blog of your own and attempting to organize through that medium.  That was my point, and it wasn't even central to my thesis, it was just an observation in response to Jerome's comment.

Organizing is organizing.  Young people are not any different than any other group.  I'm reminded of Hip Hop activists talking about how awesome hip hop activism is or bloggers talking about blogging.  Who cares how you do your organizing?  Organizing is about listening and talking to a group of people, and persuading them to do stuff that's in their interest.  The medium isn't important, this is about coalition building.  

True enough, which is why I'm on the fence as to whether the trend I'm observing is a good thing, a bad thing, or a neutral thing in the long run (though maybe that didn't come through enough in my post).  

But I do see specific organizing advantages for young people and youth organizations to engage the blogospher and communicate with each other via blogs.  If it is all about coalition building, why wouldn't you want to use the most effective medium?  Or all mediums?  Why wouldn't you want to coalition build with the progressive blogosphere?

by Mike Connery 2007-06-30 10:12AM | 0 recs
Re: The Generation Gap: Youth Organizing and the B

If it is all about coalition building, why wouldn't you want to use the most effective medium?  Or all mediums?  Why wouldn't you want to coalition build with the progressive blogosphere?

The internet does not repeal very basic rules of politics, which involves votes, money, speaking truth to power, political pressure and community leaders taking leadership.

'The progressive blogosphere' is not one thing.  It is a network that interacts with Facebook, MySpace, all other networks on the internet, as well as books, academia, and other vehicles for organizing and idea dissemination.  It doesn't matter if young people are on the progressive blogosphere or not.  It just doesn't matter.  You also haven't proved that young leaders are isolated from liberal blogs, but that's a slightly different issue.

What does matter is whether we can build structures that allow progressive leaders to emerge and put pressure on the political system to effect social change.  It's obviously easier to get lots of people to join groups on Facebook, especially around Obama and Darfur.  But that's a reflection of a larger animating argument among young people, who tend to like Obama more and focus on causes like Darfur.  

I think what I'm really talking about is that Facebook and/or MySpace hasn't been turned into a center of power yet for progressive politics.  Maybe the fifth or sixth generation of the Causes app will do this, though I suspect that what we're really talking about is teaching younger leaders how to wield power, and how Causes is implemented is a spinoff of that overall movement.

So let's talk power.  Are there Facebook/MySpace candidates?  Are there candidates raising money off Facebook/MySpace?  I'm more interested in seeing what's going on with Actblue, where lower ticket candidates are beginning to use the internet to generate dollars from new groups.  That's where electoral power really is.  I'm curious about the new voting app coming out in July, to see if there's voting registration capacity there.

Anyway, I'm not sure we disagree on any of this.  I just think we're looking in different places.

by Matt Stoller 2007-06-30 10:45AM | 0 recs
The Gap
I'm curious about whether there might be other, cultural reasons behind the gap.  I don't mean to harp on the Edwards/Obama divide too much, but I think it is a genuine divide and in part a generational one.  Young people today are progressive but they also complain about partisanship:
Note, however, that Millennials, while clearly believing in the potential of government, are not satisfied with the ways politics is conducted today or with the politicians that currently represent them. In the same survey, 78 percent agreed that "elected officials seem to be motivated by selfish reasons;" 74 percent agreed that "politics has become too partisan;" 69 percent agreed that "the political tone in Washington is too negative;" and 75 percent agreed that "elected officials don't seem to have the same priorities that I have."

http://www.newpolitics.net/node/360?full _report=1
I wonder if young people have a different style, are more open to post-partisan rhetoric, and are turned off by certain aspects of the blogosphere.  I'd be curious if they merely seek out other sources of information.  
People in my generation, as far I can judge, like seeking out their own new venues and are reluctant to connect with venues that don't seem relevant to them: YouTube, Facebook, MySpace.  For an example, (I'm sorry that all my examples are of Obama, but that's where my experiences are) the Million Strong for Barack facebook discussion board is extraordinarily active.  And there are literally hundreds of Obama facebook groups that have been founded.  
by psericks 2007-06-30 08:14AM | 0 recs
Re: The Gap

This is an interesting take.  Certainly I can see it being true for some folks, but not all.  I really think we're talking about three classes of people here:

  1. Average Joes - not really involved in politics.  They'll maybe go to the ballot box.

  2. "New Recruits" - for lack of a better term, these are folks that Obama has energized and I think they fit what you are describing.  Maybe they'll stay active through social networking activism.

  3. Hardcore activists - these are the folks who populate many youth organizations, become staffers, work in non profits, etc.  I think these folks are ripe for blogosphere participation and partisanship, but I don't see it yet.

by Mike Connery 2007-06-30 09:24AM | 0 recs
Not That Complicated

I don't have stats and polls to back this up, I'm just basing this on what I am hearing and reading from Youth activists. They are similar to the Black Community in that they don't participate where they feel they are not welcome. Perhaps, if they were actually engaged with or talked to as opposed to being talked at and talked about, there would be a connection. But this generation is not one that likes to feel as though they are taking orders from someone else.

They would rather do things on their own. That's the message I'm getting from a lot of Youth activists. Again. I have no stats but it's a feeling that's out there nonetheless. They are a little less trusting after what happened in 2004 with the DNC where they were used to volunteer on the phones, knock on doors and asked to vote. But no one asked them for their opinions on the issues. No one asked them how they felt about the candidates. They were not invited into the Primaries and encouraged to Caucus. They were only asked to do labor for the Presidential Campaign while at the same time being told that their vote is not as important as OLD people.

So, I'm not surprised that they are not as connected to the larger Progressive Blogosphere. But, they are engaging in the political debate and doing it their own way without the consent and blessings of the "self-defined establishment blogosphere". It may be harder to track their progress and "movements", but I believe they are more involved than ever right now. The only real obvious evidence I can point to is the Barack Obama Campaign, but alas, even that is dismissed as "nothing" so the Youth are dismissed, yet, again.

by BlueDiamond 2007-06-30 08:18AM | 0 recs
Re: Not That Complicated

Blue Diamond, I believe you are right about the level of engagement (as I've written many times).  But I think that it's a shame that the "youth netroots" and "blogosphere netroots" don't work in concert more.

Your reason for why that is so may well be correct.  I'm asking what can youth institutions (YDA, YP4, Campus Progress, The League, etc) do to break down those barriers and get these two vital pieces of our movement to collaborate?

by Mike Connery 2007-06-30 09:26AM | 0 recs
Re: The Generation Gap
Unfortunately, some Obama supporters seem more interested in engaging in "politics" by creating and/or giving "high" ratings to Obama's smackdown videos
of Edwards. The smackdown is apparently more important than Edwards revealing Obama and Hillary had kept their last votes on war funding a "secret" - until they voted.
These actions seem more indicative of a "movement" based on a politician - rather than interest in Progressive policies - and integrity.
by annefrank 2007-06-30 09:12AM | 0 recs
Re: The Generation Gap: Youth Organizing and the B

Why is it that you blame youth organizations for not preparing their members for the blogosphere.  That is a weird way of looking at it.  Like I need to train my kids to watch TV.  No way.  If the TV is engaging and "good" they will watch it and don't need to be toilet trained in that regard.

Maybe a little introspection is called for.

I love the stuff on the blogs.  The ideas, the conflict, the critiques, the movement focus, the electoral focus.

But I can just as easily see that it is not something that is that interesting to young people who are engaging in politics, but for many of whom it is still a social and socializing experience.

The blogs are not social in the same way at all.
They are generally negative and conflict / accountability oriented.
They are predominantly electoral versus issue.
They are about talk and ideas versus action (on the whole, yes there are some great examples of action but it tends in the other direction).

All of these things are just less interesting certainly to the average young person, but probably even to the average young activist unless they have been brought up on an electoral conflict oriented diet.

Bottom line, maybe they are all doing something a little more interesting (at least to them) with their time, and the critique should not be of the youth movement, but of ourselves.

Maybe we are like 60 minutes and they don't even want to be watching TV.  They want to be building a network on face book.  "Training" them to watch 60 minutes is a little parental of us don't you think?

by Orlando 2007-06-30 09:12AM | 0 recs
Re: The Generation Gap: Youth Organizing and the B

Orlando,

I responded but forgot to hit the reply button to your post.  My response is lower down in the comments.

by Mike Connery 2007-06-30 09:40AM | 0 recs
Re: The Generation Gap: Youth Organizing and the B

It was not a well-attended panel, perhaps because it was the end of the day, or perhaps because Millennials are so immersed in online media that most people felt their time was better spent elsewhere.  One thing that struck me, as I listened to the speakers and their student questioners, was that not a single person - panelist or student - mentioned the blogosphere.  

You're leaving out the possibility that youth leaders aren't showing up at that conference.  I have never been convinced that the youth organizations pushing youth engagement are anything but ridiculous PR shops sucking up donor money.

by Matt Stoller 2007-06-30 09:31AM | 0 recs
Re: The Generation Gap: Youth Organizing and the B

The conference in general was well attended.  I sat in on a panel about corporate social responsibility earlier in the day in the same room as the Tech panel.  The room was packed. That seemed to be a trend - participants were more interested in social justice panels than anything else.  

I have never been convinced that the youth organizations pushing youth engagement are anything but ridiculous PR shops sucking up donor money.

That's a pretty big statement.  I'd be interested in hearing you elaborate on that more.

by Mike Connery 2007-06-30 09:39AM | 0 recs
Re: The Generation Gap: Youth Organizing and the B

That's a pretty big statement.  I'd be interested in hearing you elaborate on that more.

No, in fact your assumption that these groups do anything or represent youth activism - without proof to that effect - is a big statement.  I've never seen you distinguish between a group doing good work and one doing bad work.  It's always 'if it's youth organizing it's good'.

Not so.  And if you're serious about youth organizing, you'll start making these distinctions.

by Matt Stoller 2007-06-30 09:51AM | 0 recs
Re: The Generation Gap: Youth Organizing and the B

Well, actually I've criticized the College Democrats quite a bit. I've criticized Rock the Vote more times than I can count and started a whole organization whose mission and operation strategy was a rejection of what Rock the Vote stood for and "did."  And I've since hosted numerous sessions here on and on my personal blog deconstructing everything that was wrong with Music for America.  And many times I've come out against traditional protest as a tactic employed by youth organizers, which I think is not a successful tactic but rather an unfortunate knee-jerk reaction on the part of younger organizers.

The first piece I ever wrote that got a lot of attention in the blogosphere was specifically all about how Democratic youth programs sucked and needed to be reformed:

Living Liberally Part I
Living Liberally Part II

Just two weekends ago I wrote a post here calling on youth organizations to broaden their scope of what constitutes an acceptable mode of participation, and was subsequently lambasted in the comments by folks who thought that "everything was just fine" in the world of youth organizing and youth campaign participation.  Just four days ago I wrote a post that basically offered constructive criticism as to why the Campus Progress Conference sucked and how it could have been better.

To say that I never distinguish is a ridiculous statement.

To say that I could focus more on critiqueing bad practices may well be true.  However, young voters and youth organizing have had a rough time in the media and in the blogosphere.   And my project has been to change that.  So yeah, I do tend to focus on the good stuff so people will pay more attention and seriously consider the contributions of young people and youth organizations.  It's a strategic choice based on the media environment in which we operate where even ostensibly "friendly" progressives are outright hostile to the idea of an engaged and active youth electorate.

by Mike Connery 2007-06-30 10:36AM | 0 recs
Re: The Generation Gap: Youth Organizing and the B

I stand somewhat corrected, but I have to say, it's just nonsense to say that youth voters or issues have had a rough time in the blogosphere.

There is a lot of outright fraud in the youth organizing space, 'street teams' that just copy phone books instead of canvassing, fake numbers, enabling of bad habits by unaccountable groups.  This is enabled by bad funding choices.

For instance, you were upset about the League of Young Voters losing funding.  Why?  What exactly have they gotten done?  I don't know.  I can't figure it out, and I've talked to Billy a number of times.  This is not to say that they should have gotten more or less funding, only that there is an unhealthy dialogue around this.  

And let's talk more specifically about why youth organizing is fucked over in the political space.  It's the media consultants and the fact that field and community organizing doesn't make money.  Is Howard Dean dealing with this?  I don't think so.

I am encouraging you to dig deeper into the real power dynamics at work here.  Young people are organizing themselves in really interesting ways, though I imagine they are doing it against the existing establishment because a new group in politics means an older group is displaced.  Given that the emerging progressive America is non-white, young, or non-Christian, figuring out how to disempower those fighting against youth interests within both parties is core.

by Matt Stoller 2007-06-30 11:00AM | 0 recs
Re: The Generation Gap: Youth Organizing and the B

I am encouraging you to dig deeper into the real power dynamics at work here.

Fair enough. That is constructive criticism.

There is a lot of outright fraud in the youth organizing space, 'street teams' that just copy phone books instead of canvassing, fake numbers, enabling of bad habits by unaccountable groups.  
 

True enough.  I try to point this out when and I can, but - and I don't mean this as a cop-out - I work 3 jobs, of which blogging is 1.  I don't have a whole lot of time to do investigative reporting.  I wish I did.  So when I see this stuff or someone tips me I try to write about it.  When I can't, I try to create a space here on MyDD or over at Future Majority where these things can be discussed.  I succeed at times to a greater or lesser extent.  Sometimes I fail.

For instance, you were upset about the League of Young Voters losing funding.  Why?  What exactly have they gotten done?  I don't know.  I can't figure it out, and I've talked to Billy a number of times.  This is not to say that they should have gotten more or less funding, only that there is an unhealthy dialogue around this.  

Well, the League did just win a pretty big policy victory in Maine with the passage of the Opportunity Maine act.

Is the League as effective everywhere, frankly I don't know.  I do know that they seem very concerned with being effective and improving and learning from their mistakes, so where they are not as strong they can become more effective.

But as you say:

Young people are organizing themselves in really interesting ways, though I imagine they are doing it against the existing establishment because a new group in politics means an older group is displaced.  Given that the emerging progressive America is non-white, young, or non-Christian, figuring out how to disempower those fighting against youth interests within both parties is core.

This is very true.  And nowhere more so than in how communities of color are trying to organize (everywhere, but also at the youth level).  The reason I made such a ruckus about the League losing funding is that they are one of the only groups that bridge the "establishment" youth orgs and those orgs run by young people of color.  Through the League, lots of community organizations gain connections to funders, training, and networking opportunities because the League operates in both worlds.

Defunding the League seemed very much like an existing power base defunding an up and coming org that worked with and on behalf of these under-represented groups.  And I am still looking into exactly why they lost their funding.

by Mike Connery 2007-06-30 11:19AM | 0 recs
Re: The Generation Gap: Youth Organizing and the B

The reason I made such a ruckus about the League losing funding is that they are one of the only groups that bridge the "establishment" youth orgs and those orgs run by young people of color.

That is true.

Your work is very good, I don't want you to think I don't respect it.  I wouldn't be commenting here if I didn't think you were something special.

by Matt Stoller 2007-06-30 11:32AM | 0 recs
Re: The Generation Gap: Youth Organizing and the B

I appreciate the criticism.  It's good to be challenged.  It definitely helps sharpen my thoughts and makes my future stuff better.  So it's all appreciated.

by Mike Connery 2007-06-30 11:42AM | 0 recs
Re: The Generation Gap: Youth Organizing and the B

And let's talk more specifically about why youth organizing is fucked over in the political space.  It's the media consultants and the fact that field and community organizing doesn't make money.  Is Howard Dean dealing with this?  I don't think so.

Is anyone showing leadership on this? Is Barack Obama dealing with this? It looks like to me a typical '90's 15% commission shaping up for the presidential in '08.

by Jerome Armstrong 2007-06-30 04:12PM | 0 recs
Re: The Generation Gap: Youth Organizing and the B

Barack Obama show leadership?  Heh.

by Matt Stoller 2007-07-01 07:36AM | 0 recs
Re: The Generation Gap: Youth Organizing and the B

Whoa!!

Matt Matt Matt,

Well... you succeeded in baiting me to join the blogosphere by taking a little swipe at the League.  I guess your strategy of getting youth orgs to participate is working --at least it worked on me.  Yes, we've talked a bunch of times but I've never told you what the League does.

In short, we do the same thing you do.  We choose issues and candidates. We organize for or against them. We create smart messages. We recruit people. We win victories, and we are working to build a better, more effective, more inclusive progressive movement to create real and lasting change for ordinary people.

The main difference is that we start with local issues and work with young people mostly in low-income communities and communities of color who are not bought into the political system and who feel completely alienated and disempowered by electoral politics, blogging, etc. Some of the young people we work with had never heard of Barack Obama. I'm not kidding. We teach them to be  change agents in their communities. It is difficult, multi-layered, long term work.

Let's talk about how to partner and get more disempowered young people access to these skills and spaces --but in the meantime, don't knock our work. There are too few organizations even trying to do what we're doing with the people we're doing it with. Most of the others haven't succeeded or survived. It is necessary for the mission of the progressive movement that we do survive and succeed.

Billy

FYI --Since you asked, a few of the League's political accomplishments from 2004-2006:

*    Helped swing 14 elections (state and municipal --including electing four of our own members to city council and school board).
*    Helped pass or block 10 pieces of legislation (state or local or ballot initiatives --around health care, environment, electoral reform, LGBT rights, affordable housing, the war, policing, economic and racial justice).
*    Contacted more than 600,000 voters person-to-person for GOTV.
*    Mobilized more than 3000 volunteers.
*    Published 270+ local voter slates in 33 states.

We're just getting started. What we're building is long term.  We just passed the most sweeping statewide legislation in the country to get rid of student debt.  But that's just the tip of the iceberg. By the very nature of our work, most of its fruits may not be felt or seen politically for decades to come.

by Billy Wimsatt 2007-07-09 10:12PM | 0 recs
Re: The Generation Gap: Youth Organizing and the B

It's too bad you haven't been convinced that YP4, Campus Progress, or other youth-oriented organizations within the movement actually do any positive work.  Maybe you should talk with the people who run these organizations or, better yet, the young people who have gone through their programs before pondering aloud whether they are "ridiculous PR shops sucking up donor money."  

Matt, bloggers like yourself could certainly benefit from connecting more with the rest of the progressive movement. The blogosphere is but one small part of that movement.  You certainly cover the Democratic party and the people who run electoral blogs in many of your blog posts, but you seem to lack some understanding of how the advocacy groups and national nonprofits fit within the movement.  In the past, you have derided NARAL, People For the American Way (Young People For's parent organization), and other groups for being ineffective, but you don't really seem to get what they do or their missions.  And it's not just up to these organizations to publicize their work and reach out to prominent bloggers like yourself (although that is certainly part of it), but you and other leaders of the progressive movement should make a point to reach out to them as well and at the very least learn about what they do.  

As a disclosure, I have interned and/or volunteered with several nonprofits, including People For the American Way/Young People For, and I have gone through several of Young People For's programs, including the core one-year fellowship, the senior fellowship, and the Front Line Leaders Academy, which is co-sponsored by the Young Elected Officials Network.

To discuss all that advocacy and leadership development groups do within the movement would consist of much more than a comment or a full post, so I won't try to do that here.  I will attest that I personally have benefited much from Young People For's programs, and I have witnessed  directly how nonprofit groups can positively impact the movement through advocacy, leadership development, research, and messaging.  That said, of course I have some personal criticisms about nearly all the organizations I've been involved with, but it's important to note that many of these groups are underfunded, their staffs are underpaid, and many of these youth-led groups have been around for less than one presidential cycle.        

by TJ Helm 2007-06-30 11:12AM | 0 recs
Re: The Generation Gap: Youth Organizing and the B

Maybe you should talk with the people who run these organizations or, better yet, the young people who have gone through their programs before pondering aloud whether they are "ridiculous PR shops sucking up donor money."  

I have.  I have plenty of contacts at these organizations, and I actually work with several of them.  I've also been in the ridiculous meetings where donors think about how to allocate money to make themselves feel like players.

My claim is actually narrower than what you assume it is.  I'm not saying they don't do positive work, I'm saying that I haven't seen real accountability in the system.

I'm curious about your personal criticisms.

by Matt Stoller 2007-06-30 11:32AM | 0 recs
Re: The Generation Gap: Youth Organizing and the B

Well-- I think that accountability stems from the fact that when donors don't see results they tend to pull funding. We've seen this happen before with a number of organizations, we're seeing it now with several organizations (although this could also be just because it's an off-election year and donations go down at nearly all these kinds of places), and we'll keep seeing it.  I don't know what other accountability systems you would put into place.  Suggestions?

by TJ Helm 2007-06-30 11:42AM | 0 recs
Re: The Generation Gap: Youth Organizing and the B

A lot of these donors want numbers, they don't necessarily want accountability.

by Matt Stoller 2007-07-01 07:18AM | 0 recs
Re: The Generation Gap: Youth Organizing and the B

Matt, here is your actual quote:
"I have never been convinced that the youth organizations pushing youth engagement are anything but ridiculous PR shops sucking up donor money."

Somebody is gonna have to tell me how to do one of those red box things.  But anyway,

That is a really broad, negative statement that contradicts this:
"My claim is actually narrower than what you assume it is.  I'm not saying they don't do positive work, I'm saying that I haven't seen real accountability in the system."

You actually did say that you don't think they do any positive work, unless you think PR work that sucks up donor money is "positive."  

So, forgive me if I got confused.  :)

by TJ Helm 2007-06-30 11:54AM | 0 recs
Re: The Generation Gap: Youth Organizing and the B

This is not actually a contradiction, though it does seem that way.  I don't think these groups are all doing bad work in all cases.  That said, I do suspect that a lot of them are actively harmful and help create bad habits for young progressives.  Fraud in a youth organization is bad for young people's politics, period.

While there may positive work coming out of that space, it is entirely unclear whether their existence is a net positive or a negative for liberalism or this country.  

by Matt Stoller 2007-07-01 07:17AM | 0 recs
Re: The Generation Gap: Youth Organizing and the B

I 100% agree with you re: fraud.  That said, I haven't seen any in the 4 or 5 youth-focused orgs I've been directly involved with.  I suspect you may be thinking about a certain group that does canvassing, but none of the orgs I've worked with are in that business.

Give it time, and I think you will see that the leadership development work coming out of these groups, which has only developed as a major focus post-2004, will benefit the movement and the country.  Of course, there's always room for improvement.  And it's worth noting that all these groups shouldn't necessarily be bunched in together, and some may be a net-positive and some a net-negative.      

by TJ Helm 2007-07-01 04:15PM | 0 recs
Re: The Generation Gap: Youth Organizing and the B

As a young person with a blog myself I think there's kind of a learned helplessness going on here that comes along with

-Not knowing where there are opportunities to get involved and feel like you're making a real difference, and

-Feeling talked down to and insulted by a parade of mediocre candidates

The fact is that for a lot of candidates, garnering the youth vote is all about making a couple of appearances on MTV or, in Kerry's case, pretending that he likes hip-hop because "there's a lot of poetry to it." You're going to have to give us more credit than that. Most teenagers can tell when they're being talked down to. And they care about the same problems adults do, because we're the ones who are going to have to inherit all that shit a few years down the road.

I think as a result of lot of energy in youth activism is being moved towards stuff that isn't specific to any candidate. But that's where the problem of learned helplessness comes in, because it feels a lot of the time like there's not a whole lot to do short of volunteering for a campaign besides signing petitions or circulating YouTube videos.

by NedR 2007-06-30 09:32AM | 0 recs
Re: The Generation Gap: Youth Organizing and the B

Blogs are a lot of reading and writing and if your are a student it's a lot less to blog and comment in your free time because of all the papers and research you have to do for school. When you're out of school a bit blogging is like a giant open classroom with really smart funny classmates - but that's not something that you need to seek out you are a younger millenial.

Think about a sports fan that goes to Chicago White Sox games, reads the paper to see the scores, watches the evening news to see highlights - but doesn't read White Sox blogs. He text messages friends from the game, makes arrangements where to meet up for the game by mobile device. That person is still fully engaged from the point of view of the White Sox. Substitute a Democratic Party meeting or a town council hearing for the White Sox game and you can see where blogs aren't essential to organizing. There are plenty of ways to be engaged with things you care about without blogs.

I believe the low numbers of young blog readers is about the demographics of leisure reading, not anything particular about blogs not connecting with youth.

by joejoejoe 2007-06-30 09:34AM | 0 recs
Re: The Generation Gap: Youth Organizing and the B

Orlando,

Great points, all.  In particular I think you hit a number of nails on the head:

The blogs are not social in the same way at all.
They are generally negative and conflict / accountability oriented.
They are predominantly electoral versus issue.
They are about talk and ideas versus action (on the whole, yes there are some great examples of action but it tends in the other direction).

Perhaps my attempt at articulating this did come out too much against youth organizing (though in my defense, anyone who knows my writing knows I'm their biggest chearleader in the blogosphere).  The blogosphere certainly does need to be more receptive to younger voices.  Over at Daily Kos, the communities can be downright hostile to younger folks, and the partisanship and reactionary diaries over there can be very discouraging.

Nevertheless, the blogosphere is a tool that all young organizers should be familiar with.  I would love it if Millennials participated fully, but I would be content if they merely learned how to engage the blogs and how they can partner effectively with local and national blogs.  To me it is no different than training young organizers how to approach the media or write an op-ed.  It's about learning the ropes of the progressive movement and how to get all the pieces working in concert for your issue - whether that is electoral or policy based.

As I noted near the end, I also think there is an internal communication problem within the progressive youth movement.  (Exemplified by the fact that it's easier to go to a youth organization website and learn about The Right than it is to learn about the active left).  Robust blogs run by these orgs, or a community blog contributed to by all of these orgs seems a natural fit for solving that problem.  I'll be writing about that more tomorrow if I can, next weekend if not.

by Mike Connery 2007-06-30 09:35AM | 0 recs
Re: The Generation Gap: Youth Organizing and the B

Nevertheless, the blogosphere is a tool that all young organizers should be familiar with.

Why?

by Matt Stoller 2007-06-30 09:50AM | 0 recs
Re: The Generation Gap: Youth Organizing and the B

Because the blogosphere is increasingly a center of power in electoral politics and consequently in policymaking, and it has the ear of local and national legislators.

Look at what Young Philly Politics has been able to accomplish - city officials post on their site, and they have some amount of influence on local politics.  If YDA really did that for all of its chapters, I think that would be a net good for youth organizing.  It would make all those YDA chapters more effective at turning out the vote and influencing policy outcomes in their municipalities by keeping politicians more in contact with and more accountable to young constituents.

Can you say the same of some random FaceBook group?  Or a Campus Progress Speakers Bureau event?  Blogs and the local blogospheres can be more effective tools for organizing and I want youth organizations to take advantage of that.

by Mike Connery 2007-06-30 10:50AM | 0 recs
Re: The Generation Gap: Youth Organizing and the B

Can you say the same of some random FaceBook group?  Or a Campus Progress Speakers Bureau event?  Blogs and the local blogospheres can be more effective tools for organizing and I want youth organizations to take advantage of that.

One interesting question is why youth organizations aren't taking advantage of these power centers and what that means about these organizations.

by Matt Stoller 2007-06-30 11:01AM | 0 recs
Re: The Generation Gap: Youth Organizing and the B

The blogosphere certainly does need to be more receptive to younger voices.  Over at Daily Kos, the communities can be downright hostile to younger folks, and the partisanship and reactionary diaries over there can be very discouraging.

The blogosphere isn't any one thing, it is what people make of it.  It's a network of independent websites that link to each other.  If a young person comes out with a compelling voice that lots of people want to read, they will make a mark in the blogosphere.  The notion that 'the blogosphere needs to be more oriented to my pet position' is a disease that we need to work against.  I would encourage you to tighten up your thinking about this and really drill into your ideas and their consequences.

by Matt Stoller 2007-06-30 09:57AM | 0 recs
Re: The Generation Gap: Youth Organizing and the B

I take your point, though I don't mean it that way.  I dont' think "the nasty bloggers need to be nicer" to young people.  You are right that the blogosphere is what people make it, and if we want to the blogosphere to more faithfully represent us and welcome us, we need to carve out our own space, but a good chunk of my post is encouraging youth organizations to do just that.  To take the reins  and start participating.

by Mike Connery 2007-06-30 10:46AM | 0 recs
Re: The Generation Gap: Youth Organizing and the B

I'm a tweener (current grad student studying social networking) who has a foot in both worlds.

For this reason I've been watching the firedoglake and mydd entrance into facebook with a lot of interest.

Facebook seems to be a particularly good resource for strategic role slippage (i.e. a nonconfrontational way of letting your non-political friends know that you are indeed politically engaged). Take for example two friends, one politically engaged, the other not. The old models of communication would have the politically engaged person sending mass emails to  the non-political person (and if you were the non-politically engaged person these solitications and forwarded news stories would seem genuinely annoying). Instead now with newsfeeds, facebook allows friends to monitor each others political activity as just one more feature of a much larger flow of ambient information. Everytime you post something or join a cause etc facebook is facilitating a mini-context clash, putting your friends in a position of "I didn't know that so-and-so thought such-and-such"... much like those awkward conversational burps that occur when polite company realizes it has tread into dangerously heated political subject matter, EXCEPT that in this case the "burps" are non-confrontational, asynchronous, and potentially persistent. Maybe a month later the non-political friend is having a conversation with their uber-conservative family member and comes to a point in the discussion where details brought up by a news story their friend posted ealier suddenly seem relevant. A quick search and voila, all of a sudden, a politically unengaged person has become engaged in their personal life. This is how facebook newsfeeds makes the personal political and vice versa.

In this sense, I'm less interested in the new "causes" apps as something you invite your friends to and more interested in the way these new apps are integrated into facebook newsfeeds as a way of inducing a kind of slow-burn awkwardness which becomes a kind of personalized political action at the level of the public/private nexus in public discourse.

I've written about other aspects of role slippage and teaching/learning through peer interaction on firedoglake's discussion board:

http://berkeley.facebook.com/topic.php?u id=2438491285&topic=2598&post=71 17#post7117

...and my brother has talked about his own experiences with social networking sites as a kind of empowering tool that uses the awkwardness of context clash as a way of strategically making your friends aware of "who you really are":

http://www.zephoria.org/thoughts/archive s/2006/09/28/facebook_is_ope.html
http://usc.facebook.com/note.php?note_id =2375628311

by joshms 2007-06-30 11:19AM | 0 recs
Re: The Generation Gap: Youth Organizing and the B

Here's the comment that was posted on danah boyd's site (by my brother) a while back. I feel like it's relevant to this discussion (especially in the larger context of social networking sites and identity politics):

I agree with BHB I'm actually very excited about context clash, esp. how it occurs on facebook's newsfeed. Let me provide an example: I'm the type of social person that thrives in many diff. mutually exclusive social groups. ie in high school I might possess one persona/vocality within a preppy group and another one all together within an urban culture group. I was always interested in bringing my diff. groups of friends together to sort of "show everyone that they would actually get along well" but that sort of thing never really works like you imagine it. As a result, I was often put in situations where I would have to engage in say a conversation with the preps that subtley dissed urban culture or even worse the people in that group (my other friends) and in most cases I would agree or at least not openly disagree because announcing that kind of context clash openly, live and in the moment is an uncomfortable thing to do (esp. for a high schooler). Facebook on the other hand mediates these context clashes, so instead of having to stand up to my preppy friends and say, yeah I rap, and have them laugh expecting it to be a joke, I can simply post a video of me rapping and know that the context clash will eventually occur when they see the video, but that I won't have to be there in that one awkward moment when they discover this other side of me that maybe doesnt fit the image of who theyd like me to be. Conversely, they see a more honest, full picture of who I really am, and perhaps (after a moments hesitation) are able accept this new image of me and thus we can be more honest with each other in person as a result. Moreover, because I don't know when this personalized context clash will occur I proceed into real life social situations with a new confidence born from revealing myself to others, whether or not they've actually seen the conflicting artifacts I've offered up. Thus, I've opened up to everyone and no one at the same time, it's both anonymous and highly personal confession (taking the positive from both aspects in my mind).

This applies to the new adult population of facebook as well b/c, while I can limit certain context clashes with privacy features, in most cases I would rather know that context clashes will come eventually but without my knowledge and without that in the moment awkwardness. In this way I don't mind, say, my mom seeing a crude comment I've left on a friend's wall because as long as this crude side of me is mediated by the digital/temporal separation of facebook it lessens the offending awkwardness of the encounter and leaves my mother only discovering that perhaps, when not around her I possess a more vulgar vocality (ie getting caught cursing around my grandma is way worse then her discovering that I curse elsewhere-- facebook allows a context clash somewhere in between those two, and I believe in a lot of cases it's a desirable one). After all, at my core wouldn't I like my mom to KNOW that this other side of me exists. Wouldnt that benefit our relationship, if only in a tacit sense.

Anyway, sorry for the rant, just really interested by this stuff.... obviously, haha.

by joshms 2007-06-30 11:45AM | 0 recs
Re: The Generation Gap: Youth Organizing and the B

I get what you're saying about the blogs of these organizations, but I think that doesn't really speak to the point you're trying to make. I don't think its an accurate or fair to compare blogs run by nonprofit organizations as a communications-outlet of their work to blogs like Kos, MyDD, etc.  Young People For (where I've interned and gone through their programs) and Campus Progress (been to their conference) shouldn't be defined by their blogs; they should  be defined by the work they do as part of their key missions.  For now, a more accurate comparison might be found between those blogs and the PR blogs of small companies, although I certainly see potential for greater things coming out of the YP4 and Campus Progress blogs, etc.  

You say:  "In some respects, the lack of interest and effort is understandable. [...] Youth organizations are not adequately preparing their members for participation in the new political landscape.   There is a political literacy level that is not being met."  

The supposed lack of interest or effort doesn't have anything to do with the preparation or literacy levels of members of these organizations.  Here's why: these blogs are secondary features of these organizations. They're not the main attraction. The Young People For blog probably has low interest because the community is still tiny and growing, and because their members (like me and MyDDer Adam Conner and many others using their real names and pseudonyms) are busy reading and participating in larger blogs like MyDD, DailyKos, and others.      

by TJ Helm 2007-06-30 11:29AM | 0 recs
Re: The Generation Gap: Youth Organizing and the B

The Young People For blog probably has low interest because the community is still tiny and growing, and because their members (like me and MyDDer Adam Conner and many others using their real names and pseudonyms) are busy reading and participating in larger blogs like MyDD, DailyKos, and others.      

Perhaps there could be some systematic way of identifying yourself as an alum of one of these organizations.  That would be neat.

by Matt Stoller 2007-06-30 11:34AM | 0 recs
Re: The Generation Gap: Youth Organizing and the B

Well, we do have little metal pins to wear in public. Not sure how well that translates though.

by TJ Helm 2007-06-30 11:56AM | 0 recs
Re: The Generation Gap: Youth Organizing and the B

Comment settings? The links that appear below this (and on every post I make) are made by the system for me. Click on your name under "menu" on the right to do the same for yrself.

by Josh Koenig 2007-07-01 05:23PM | 0 recs
Huzzah!

According to my latest reader survey, 14-30 year-olds comprise 35% of my readership. Holla!

by Left in the West 2007-07-01 10:12AM | 0 recs

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