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'People are not sitting back': After Tennessee, young progressives say they want to run for office
1,228 people signed up with candidate recruitment organization Run For Something last week.
The youth-powered movement for gun safety and representative democracy in Tennessee is a strong example of the way young people are resisting efforts to curtail their rights across the country.
Already this year, young people have fought against restrictions on healthcare for transgender youth in places like Kentucky and West Virginia, a six-week abortion ban and permitless carry law in Florida, a restrictive voting law in Idaho, and a student voucher bill in Georgia.
But now, beyond advocacy and activism directed at elected state lawmakers, young progressives are indicating they want to run for office themselves.
Run For Something — the organization that recruits and supports young progressives running for state and local office — had its biggest week of sign ups this year, following the protests for gun safety and expulsions of Democratic state Reps. Justin Jones and Justin Pearson, the two youngest Black state lawmakers, in Tennessee last week.
Between April 3 and April 13, 1,228 people signed up with Run For Something, expressing their interest in running for office.
According to Run For Something, of the sign ups:
93 were people from Tennessee
Half were people from red states
21% were people born in 1995 or later — meaning they are young millennials or Gen Z
Based on those who shared more info when signing up:
Nearly 25% identified as LGBTQ
Nearly half identified as people of color
To make sense of these numbers, I spoke with Run For Something’s co-founder and executive director Amanda Litman.
“It’s been the biggest push for candidate sign ups and tells you what kind of response the GOP has woken up. People are not sitting back and waiting to be told what to do,” Litman told The Up and Up.
Asked precisely what kind of response she was referring to, Litman said:
“I think that we had seen a series of events across the country that have indicated that having some young people in the room willing to fight, willing to give voice to their values, matters,” she said, referencing Nebraska state Sen. Machaela Cavanaugh who is on her seventh straight week of filibustering over an anti-trans bill and Florida Democrats who fought against the state’s six-week abortion ban.
The recent surge in young progressives saying they want to throw their hat in the ring and run for office reminds Litman of the Trump-era, when Run For Something (which launched on the day of former President Trump’s inauguration in 2017) saw a spike in interest every time the then-president would sign or signal an inflammatory policy. For example, after the Muslim ban, Run For Something saw a wave of young Muslim people who wanted to run for office.
While this week’s numbers aren’t at the same scale, they are noteworthy for a non-presidential or non-midterm election year with a Democratic president in the White House.
Asked if she’s surprised by the energy from young people eager to get involved, Litman said she is not.
Trumpian policies and the former president’s response (or lack thereof) to tragedies like the Parkland school shooting in 2018 catalyzed a resistance movement for many young Americans. The culture wars Tump helped ignite have inspired continued opposition from this generation.
“Engaging in this kind of thing is a muscle, and a habit, and people have spent the past 6 years building it. The group chats you started when you went to the march or the rally have continued because now there is a new thing to engage around. Those ties that get built don’t go away overnight,” Litman said.
“Even if you were 16 or 17 in 2020, now you’re a college student, and you’ve got the skills.”
Young organizers are growing up
Through my reporting, I’ve witnessed the phenomenon Litman described.
Take, for example, Ezri Tyler, who cut her teeth in the gun safety movement by organizing a walkout at her middle school in Phoenix, Arizona in 2018.
Five years later, the 19-year-old freshman at Vanderbilt University, who’s now a staff member with gun safety organization March For Our Lives, helped lead student walkouts in Nashville last week.