Millennials, Democrats, and Issue Advocacy

Michael’s post on voter registration modernization made me think about Millennials, the Democratic Party, and the relationship between the two regarding issue advocacy and legislative priorities.

I see three distinct dynamics based on the legislative priorities of young progressives and the Democratic Party.

1) Youth asked to support Democratic legislation that is not a youth priority

This is the dynamic that has been dominant in the past for young Democrats and progressives. An example would be legislation on social security or medicare. While these issues are important, they are not a legislative priority for youth nor do they immediately impact most young voters. Young activists and youth organizations tend to jump on to the Party’s action campaign to basically just add numbers.

2) Action on shared legislative priorities

This dynamic occurs when the Democratic Party’s legislative priority is also a youth priority. An example would be higher education policy or the current stimulus package. However, I see two variations of this dynamic. In the first, young activists sign on to an existing action similar to Dynamic 1. In the second, youth activists create their own campaigns and coalitions, often for a broader agenda. An example of this would be the Energy Action Coalition and their approach to global warming and environmental issues.

3) Youth press for issue that is not a current legislative priority for the DNC

This dynamic brings me back to Michael’s post mentioned earlier. Voter registration modernization is a very high legislative priority for youth activists, but is often pushed aside for the DNC’s priorities. Advocacy campaigns for such issues have to be created on their own and must be directed at the DNC as well to try to convince them of adopting the issue/legislation as a priority.

What does this mean?

The power of the youth vote in 2008 has moved us a lot closer to getting a seat at the table and puts us in our strongest advocacy position ever. In the past we were most often relegated to jumping on board all of the DNC’s legislative priorities while our own were ignored unless they were shared.

It is also important to note that youth-led campaigns such as the Energy Action Coalition build the strength of the youth movement more than bandwagon advocacy.

The question remains whether our legislative priorities will finally see the light of day in the wake of 2008 or whether it is going to be business as usual. We need to continue to really push for our issues in order to sustain our strength and make sure that the DNC respects our priorities the same as other constituency groups.