The Disconnect Between the Youth Movement, Young Staff, and the Democratic Party

Cross-posted on Future Majority.

Mike’s analysis of the failure of the Youth Ball highlights an issue that is often overlooked regarding the youth movement: the disconnect with young political staffers.

To add insult to injury, many of us who have worked to engage youth for 4 years or more were scrounging to receive ANY tickets to this event, while many young Obama interns and staffers apparently received as many as ten tickets apiece. That was a huge slap in the face for dozens of people whose work laid the ground for Obama’s youth surge.

There is a big difference between those of us that consider ourselves part of the youth movement, whose goal is to increase the role of young people in elections and governance, and campaign/government staff who happen to be young.

During my time running the internet/technology program for the Arizona Democratic Party I witnessed this disconnect first-hand. Our staff was overwhelmingly composed of youth, even at the senior level, yet for the most part was not-at-all part of the youth movement. At the end of my time with the party only two of us on the staff were involved with the Young Democrats. This in itself wasn’t the most dramatic disconnect, but the fact was that most of the young staff were dismissive or even hostile towards the youth movement.

There are many young campaign and government staffers whose primary concern is to get to the “adult table” themselves, and could care less if others are relegated to the “kids table.” It seems that some of those youth that make it show the same attitudes towards the “kids” table as the traditionally dismissive party elders. Sadly some of the opponents of the youth movement are youth themselves.

Not even all people that identify with a youth organization would necessarily qualify as part of the youth movement. There have been many heated debates at the local level of youth organizations as to what the role of youth should be in campaigns and whether or not young voters should be targeted. There are members of youth organizations such as the Young Democrats that prefer to fill the traditional youth campaign role of cheap volunteer labor instead of working to engage their Millennial peers and bring them into the process as new Democrats. These internal debates led me to write my Youth Targeted Voter Mobilization report.

While we should celebrate that some Millennials are rising in the political ranks, both at the elected and staff level, we must remember that their rise is not a panacea. It is important that people rising in the ranks share our belief in the importance of the youth movement, and just because someone is young does not necessarily mean that they do.

Bridging this disconnect is one of the challenges that we in the youth movement must face. As Craig wrote yesterday, the Youth Ball failure is about more than just the Youth Ball. As long as there is a lack of respect for the youth movement by those that sit at the “adult table,” there will be a stigma on being involved in youth organizations. The Youth Ball was a manifestation of that lack of respect. These situations reinforce the attitudes of those young political staffers that we aren’t to be taken all that seriously.

One of the reasons that progress is so difficult in advocating for youth is that each incident of oversight and disrespect on its own may seem small, petty, or unimportant. However, when all of these incidents are viewed together as a narrative it reveals a systemic problem. The 2008 election showed that we have been right this entire time: young voters do swing elections, they will vote when they are asked, and they do give the Democratic Party the potential to be the dominant force in American politics for a generation. We delivered, and it’s time that we make sure that the Obama administration and the Democratic National Committee return the favor.

If the youth movement is taken for granted by the left we run the risk of losing the opportunities that dominance among young voters brings. The Republican Party just got the crap kicked out of it, which is exactly the motivation they needed to reinvent themselves and change their game plan. They are already working hard to bridge the technology gap as well as the youth gap. The Democratic Party needs to fight to hold on to the Millennial Generation, because the Republican Party is certainly going to fight to take it.