Saatvik Ahluwalia, 24, is running for selectman in Lexington, Mass. (Courtesy photo)To be sure, Obama has certainly focused on young people's concerns. His candidacy was launched on the backs of millions of young volunteers, and many of his policies, from health care reform to student-loan changes, have done great things for millennials.
But a big part of the problem is the people listening to the president speak last night: Members of Congress are older, richer, and whiter than the electorates they represent. It's time to support a new generation of leaders who look like America and will stand for America's future.
Stephanie Chang, 30, wants to represent Detroit in the Michgan House.
LaunchProgress, an organization I cofounded, is trying to do that. We encourage young progressives — America's most diverse, tech-savvy, solution-oriented demographic — to run for office and change the conversation from talking about problems to solving them.
A key part of that goal is finding people who can represent our changing America — women, people of color, people from lower-income families, people who are disabled. Millennials make up 30 percent of the LGBT population. Forty percent are people of color. These voices are diverse, abundant, and educated, but they are not being represented in politics.
Many lack the funds necessary to mount a big campaign. They don't have connections to the big donors or power brokers needed to win elected office. That's why LaunchProgress is encouraging young people to run for state and local office. There, a few thousand dollars can win a race. Savvy social-media strategy can turn out young people in every district. And little by little, these young progressives can build a new generation of leaders to run for higher office.
We know investing in young candidates works. More than half the members of Congress were elected before the age of 35, but the median age has actually risen steadily since 1981, and our current Congress is one of the oldest in U.S. history. Our political infrastructure is risk averse, and it continues to reward politicians who maintain the status quo.
Fortunately, some young people of color are already running. For example:
- Saatvik Ahluwalia, the 24-year-old former campaign manager for Cambridge City Councillor Leland Cheung, is now running for selectman in Lexington, Mass.
- Gigi Traore, the 34-year-old lifelong resident of Cleveland and founder of a collegiate service-learning nonprofit, seeks a spot in the state House.
- Stephanie Chang, 30, is a community organizer, dual-degree graduate student at the University of Michigan, and cofounder and immediate past president of APIAVote-Michigan who is ready to serve Detroit as a state representative.
But change must also come from the inside, on a national level. Last month, we created an online petition to the leaders of the DNC and RNC, calling on them to champion young, progressive candidates, regardless of party identification.