The fed up, disillusioned, we-won’t-take-it-anymore vibe that is sweeping the nation is seeping into local politics as well.
By now we’re all familiar with high-profile expressions of this sentiment, such as professional football players taking a knee during the national anthem and the thousands of women who have shared their own moving accounts of sexual assaults under the hashtag #MeToo.
Those actions are important. But there’s another, extremely necessary next step forming as well.
If people really want to see positive changes in American society, they must engage with the institutions and officials that affect our daily lives at the grass roots.
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It’s a trickle, but definitive countermeasures to our ugly political partisanship are forming. And Donald Trump shouldn’t receive all of the credit. The genesis of what is occurring was visible before his election. And to make any real impact, the activism must be sustained long after he leaves office.
Consider the organization Run For Something. Conceived as a way to harness the passion and advance the interests of millennials, it launched on the day Trump was inaugurated. The effort literally grew out of the embers of Hillary Clinton’s devastated campaign, through the disenchantment of one of her staff.
Amanda Litman, Clinton’s 27-year-old email director, co-founded it in an attempt to get those under 35 to run for office. Any office counts: the school board and the local library board, as well as county clerk or state representative.
By summer, more than 10,000 people had expressed an interest in running.
The organization endorsed another 37 candidates this week, adding to the nearly 100 it has already backed — all first- and second-time millennial candidates. Run For Something helps link people with groups such as Emily’s List and other organizations that help train people for political office.
Nearly half of the candidates supported are people of color and half are women.
If America is ever to have a Congress that mirrors the demographics of the nation, this is the route it must take.
A few salient points have repeatedly been made in the press coverage of Run for Something. Congress as an institution has been aging. Thirty years ago, the average age of members ranged from late 40s to early 50s. Now, it’s shifted upwards by a decade, to late 50s and early 60s.
Here’s a shocking statistic, pointed out by Time magazine: More than half of the Supreme Court was born before color televisions were available.
Certainly, some government officials remain engaged with younger generations as they enter their more senior years. But increasingly members of Congress are disconnected from the general public in more ways than they are connected. It’s a problem for both Democrats and Republicans.
A lot of groups are diving in to address the problem. Emerge America has been training women interested in running for political office. Brand New Congress is a similar candidate-recruitment effort formed by Bernie Sanders supporters.
And the Indivisible movement has taken root in cities nationwide by offering a down-loadable guidebook (www.IndivisibleGuide.com) that explains much about how members of Congress function and what makes them responsive to constituents. Indivisible groups have been pushing back against elected officials’ reluctance to hold town halls and dinging them on social media for how they vote. It’s also seeing some of its members begin to run for office.
In Kansas City, Indivisible activist Hillary Shields is making the shift, running in Missouri’s 8th Senate District in eastern Jackson County.
If you are thinking that most of these newbie candidates have no chance of winning, you’re probably right.
That’s one of the first lessons Litman emphasizes. Her book, “Run for Something: A Real-Talk Guide to Fixing the System Yourself,” was published in early October. Another message is: “We’ll take a chance on people who the usual ‘institutions’ might never encounter.” (Those institutions include editorial boards like the one that I write for, deep-pocketed funders and any number of political clubs.)
Most will likely take a pass on many of these candidates because they are unseasoned and underfunded. Many will get walloped on Election Day.
The test is if they come back for a second campaign. Or if serving on a school board eventually inspires someone to try a statewide office.
Apologies to moms everywhere, but the admonition to mind one’s elders is a little out of date. In case you haven’t heard, millennials (those born between 1982 and 2000) outnumber baby boomers. Those numbers could be leveraged as a political force, and that could make a huge impact on life in America.