by Mike Connery, Sun Jul 22, 2007 at 04:41:33 PM EDT
So here's a question: Does the Millennial Generation needs a political manifesto? Would there be value in a new Port Huron statement? And is such a thing even possible in today's political, technological and cultural environments, which are all substantially different than the time during which P.H. Statement was written?
I ask these questions because this week I received a message on my FaceBook account from a group called Mobilize.org, an "all-partisan" organization that is intent on creating a new document, called Democracy 2.0, A Declaration of Our Generation, and use it as a jumping off point to engage Millennials in a campaign to "change our government" (whatever that ends up meaning).
This is something that tends to happen every decade or so in American youth politics. I'm by no means a scholar of these manifestos, but off the top of my head I can think of two recent attempts - Third Millennium in the early and mid 90s, and more recently the Principles Project in 2005. From what I can tell, Third Millennium took the fiscal conservatism of Gen Xers (balanced budget, fix social security), which was made safe by Clinton's economic policies, and tried to craft a statement that would drive a youth political movement around those issues. Comprised mostly of young white guys, with a statement of principles written by a smaller group of said white guys, it was not very representative of Late Gen-Xers or early Millennials. It didn't gain much traction in the cultural zeitgeist, and most people don't even know about it today. The Principles Project - an offshoot of the now defunct 2020 Democrats - tried something similar, though all drafts beyond the first draft were part of a group wiki, allowing a more collaborative, open creation process. Even with a more open process, and buy-in from a fairly diverse set (cultural and political) of the [dot]Org Boom youth organizations that were created in 2004, that too gained little traction.
As far as I can tell, Mobilize.org's plan runs something like this. For the next four months, they will propose a series of questions on their website, the answers to which will be incorporated into a draft statement. Sample questions include:
- What currently works and what doesn't work in our democracy, and specifically, what should the role of government be?
- What characteristics define our generation and how can these traits help us redefine our democratic process?
- What should Democracy 2.0 look like and what action items must we take now to help create a more citizen-centered approach to democracy?
Added to this statement will be some quantitative research obtained through an online survey. This document will be considered a first draft, which will then be used to provoke discussions at a number of conferences, the final of which will be The Party for the Presidency - a gathering of 435 local activists, one from each Congressional District. As part of the Democracy 2.0 distribution strategy, it will be the job of these activists to produce some sort of final consensus which they will then push to other local activists and apolitical folks in their district.
I think the problems with these types of statements come down to this:
- They tend to be written by a small group of unrepresentative people.
- As a result they tend to be rather myopic, focusing on specific polity problems of the day of concern to a select few.
- This in turn leads them to appeal only other insiders, very rarely gaining real currency in the cultural zeitgeist they hope to embody.
Mobilize.org has made some nice steps to try to overcome some of these hurdles - of which they are well aware.