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Forward thinking at Millennial Action Project's 'Future Summit'
67 Gen Z and millennial lawmakers from across the country and political spectrum gathered in Indianapolis last week, and a look inside more than 200 first-time campaign staffers 2020 experiences.
What happens when 67 Gen Z and millennial lawmakers from across the country (and the political spectrum) gather for a summit in the midwest? Well, in 2023, a year that’s heavily focused on state legislatures, there’s an emphasis on issues like housing, climate, the future of work, AI and automation, karaoke, and lots of (50 cent) beer, wine, and whiskey.
To that last point, Kentucky state Rep. Daniel Grossberg, a Democrat, corralled a squad of lawmakers for shots of Bourbon at The Slippery Noodle Inn — Indianapolis’ oldest continuously operating bar where Milennial Action Project’s ‘Future Summit’ kicked off last week.
“What could happen if we brought the most promising and effective leaders of a generation into one room? And preferably could that one room be a bar?,” Millennial Action Project (MAP) president and CEO Layla Zaidane asked the crowd that evening, before previewing the focus on bipartisan conversation and community building that would shape the summit.
“There’s a saying in Indiana that young gets it done,” Indiana state Sen. Andrea Hunley, a Democrat, told the group of lawmakers on the summit’s opening evening, highlighting the political prowess and potential that filled the room.
Since 2013, Millennial Action Project (MAP) has grown into a convening body for young legislators with its Congressional Future Caucus and State Future Caucus Network (which has 33 chapters). The group’s mission is simple, but lofty: “Activate young leaders to bridge the partisan divide and transform American politics.” And the name ‘Future Summit’ aptly describes the forward thinking that colored the next few days.
The summit featured conversations including those on: “AI and the Future of Work,” “Criminal Justice Reform,” “Building the Democracy We Deserve,” and “Small Actions, Big Results,” which I had the pleasure of speaking on about youth in politics with North Dakota state Rep. Dawson Holle, a 19-year-old Republican, Executive Director of American University’s Sine Institute, Amy Dacey, and MAP’s founder and former CEO, Steven Olikara.
In a session on “Systems Thinking for Social Change,” MAP’s delegation from Hawaii approached the devastating Maui wildfires, examining “resiliency and recovery” in response to the tragedy. Their call to action demonstrated in-real-time analysis on behalf of the lawmakers, including three Hawaii state Representatives — Greggor Ilagan, Trish La Chica, and Troy Hashimoto, who represents parts of Maui.
On a flight out of Indianapolis after leaving the summit, I couldn’t help but think about the dueling narratives of skepticism and hope that surrounded conversations about how the state legislators seek to change politics and lawmaking from the inside out.
Trust in government is low (though data from the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning & Engagement at Tufts, CIRCLE, shows that young Americans trust state government more so than Congress). Meanwhile, as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic and the culture of remote work that has followed, along with other technological advances in the past couple of years, we’re witnessing major economic, workplace, and social disruption.
Recognizing these truths, the young leaders affiliated with MAP are thinking about how government can keep up with and help to prepare constituencies for the world our generation’s already inheriting.
“Young lawmakers have the difficult task of bringing their generation along into institutions that are already losing trust. And then they're asking to make change through those institutions at a time when our society is changing at a rapid pace. And so there's these compounding pressures on young people in politics,” Reed Howard, Vice President of Strategy and Public Affairs for MAP told The Up and Up.
“I think Gen Zers who don’t trust politics, their concerns are incredibly valid, and I think that the way we gain their trust is by talking to them and listening to them,” said West Virginia state Del. Kayla Young, a Democrat. “Talking to people, explaining the process because I think it’s convoluted and really, they don’t make it easy to understand. And I think that’s on purpose. So I think just meeting them where they are.”
Asked how he will gain the trust of young voters, Holle said, “I am a Gen Zer lawmaker, and I plan to gain the trust of Gen Z voters by not lying — something politicians do often, and I won’t do it.”
“I feel really grateful to be living in this moment of political realignment, all of the transitions that we're seeing, because it means that the choices that we make are going to write the future of this country, our democracy, of the way we operate in America,” Zaidane told The Up and Up. “It's not the people who are at the end of their career that are going to be deciding that, it's really the people who have 10, 20, 30 years to shape what that looks like.”
While Future Summit was not an issue-focused convening, asked if there were through lines coming through in her conversations with lawmakers, Zaidane emphasized an overarching interest in policy areas like housing and the impact of AI.
“Number one is housing and making both renting and owning a home more affordable for people across the country. That is true for people who represent urban districts and people who represent more rural districts, Democrats, Republicans, alike,” Zaidane said. “I think another thing that young people are thinking about in much more of a ‘How do we navigate uncertainty?’ sense is the impact of AI on lots of different industries — on medicine, education, work, jobs, the economy.”
In a conversation with The Up and Up, Oklahoma state Rep. Daniel Pae, a Republican, said: “Looking at economic mobility, and economic development opportunities, looking at affordable housing opportunities and what does the 21st century economy look like post-Covid, trying to answer that question, I think is on the top of people’s minds. If you look at the workforce itself, we have many more hybrid or remote jobs available, and I think think younger people are taking advantage of those, and so I think having those structural changes addressed as policy makers, that’s what young people want to see.”
In thinking big picture about the summit, Zaidane said a goal for MAP moving forward is to uplift legislators’ bipartisan work at a time when coverage of culture wars often dominates airwaves and headlines. But that doesn’t necessarily mean painting a rosy picture of compromise. In conversations throughout the conference, both MAP team members and lawmakers urged honest storytelling. They said it’s just as important to acknowledge how the sausage is made. More often than not, that doesn’t involve meeting in the middle, but rather requires focusing on issues both parties have a vested interest in from the start, like maternal health in Oklahoma or Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair with the CROWN Act in Arkansas — both priority issues MAP lawmakers were able to pass legislation around.
“I think that we need to humanize each other, come to these conversations with our full life experience, and move to a new playing field. It's not meeting on the 50-yard line. It's meeting on a new playing field,” Olikara, who founded the group 10 years ago with a mission to champion bipartisan legislation, told The Up and Up.
MAP’s 2023 Future Summit was supported by the Walton Family Foundation, who I’ve had the opportunity to work with on Gen Z initiatives for the past year, along with Arnold Ventures, the Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation, Ed Choice, Open Horizon, Iron Light Labs, and Heartland Forward.
‘One Year in Politics’
As conversations about the 2024 election cycle heat up, a new 216-page book examines the experiences of more than 200 staffers who worked on Democratic campaigns for the first time in 2020. ‘One Year in Politics’ includes data, charts, and interviews from the first-time staffers, compiled by Morgan Searcy, a former campaign staffer for Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Georgia Sen. Jon Ossoff. The book breaks down what motivated the staffers, representation and inclusion in spaces powering politics, and advantages and barriers to being a young staffer. Among a number of statistics from her interviews with first-time campaign staffers, Searcy found that women outnumbered men, despite more men serving in elected positions. She also found that while the Democratic Party touted messages of inclusion and equity as it worked to reach BIPOC voters in 2020, 78% of first-time staffers identified as white.
“We need more transparency, long-term strategies, and equity in campaign spaces,” Searcy writes in the book, shared with The Up and Up. “By inheriting and retaining knowledge we will create more efficient and sustainable systems for Party efforts.”
Searcy plans to continue documenting campaign staffer experiences heading into 2024. To learn more about her project, visit politicsproject.com.
Youth focused news — 👋🏻 Meet TNM
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Youth vote in the news 🗞
Politicians ‘not really representative of a new generation,’ Gen Z voters say, Savannah Sellers for NBC News Now
Exciting news, but need your help!
You may have seen online that panel proposals ahead of the 2024 South by Southwest (SXSW) conference in Austin, Texas are up for community voting consideration via the conferences’ PanelPicker® process. In exciting news, I am collaborating with Murmuration in hopes of hosting a panel on the youth vote, along with director of polling at the Harvard Kennedy School Institute of Politics and author of FIGHT: How Gen Z is Channeling Their Fear & Passion to Save America, John Della Volpe. Our submission, Will the Youth Turnout? The Power of the Youth Vote in 2024, has made it to the community voting round, but we need your help to increase the chances that our panel is considered to be part of the annual SXSW conference. Voting is open now and ends on August 20, 2023. Note that you will need to create a SXSW account to vote, which is easy and only takes a few seconds. You can vote here. Thank you so much for considering it!! 🙏🏻