Millennials and the Future of American Democracy: CCLP Tackles Political Localism in April Panel

Young people are taking over the news and the nation’s politics. From the wave of young women now running for office or contributing to campaigns to the organization of March for Our Lives following the tragic shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas high school in February, younger generations of American citizens are making waves at polling centers and in grassroots advocacy. On Tuesday, April 10, CCLP gathered five experts to discuss civic engagement among young people, whether or not youth activism has had an impact, and to what extent the moving and shaking of the current millennials is unique compared to generations past.

The event, moderated by CCLP Senior Fellow and millennial expert Morley Winograd, featured speakers Jen Tolentino, the Director of Policy and Civic Tech for Rock the Vote; Morris Levy, Assistant Professor of Political Science at USC; Angie Jean-Marie, Managing Director of #VoteTogether at Civic Nation; and Peter Hirshberg, Principal at the Maker City Project. It took place in the Geoffrey Cowan Forum in the USC Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism. The panel was attended by 40 guests that joined in on the debate about recent political movements, the revival of democratic localism, and the political behavior of millennials.

Winograd opened with an introduction of his new book, released in April, called Healing American Democracy: Going Local. In the book, which Winograd co-wrote with Doug Ross and Michael Hais, the authors argued for shifting the majority of public decisions to the community level. By focusing on the local level, the authors claimed, the U.S. would avoid insisting on a singular answer to every problem, decided by the federal government. Given the determination of millennials to bring about progressive political change on their own, as described by Winograd, the generation plays an essential role in shifting the dominant governing framework.

Hirshberg, in his first statement, built on Winograd’s comments by describing how cities have become hotspots for innovation and growth, making it seem only natural that city government make important decisions for its constituents. Jean-Marie took the conversation in another direction by talking about her work on college campuses to empower students and student organizations to get involved in policy-making and voting. Tolentino spoke similarly about the projects at Rock the Vote geared at building political power for the next generation. She mentioned that, shockingly, around 70% of millennials were not contacted at all by either political campaign during the last presidential election, yet those are the same millennials that had such a huge influence on the recent elections in Alabama and Virginia. Lastly, Levy brought a different perspective to the conversation. Whereas all four other speakers affirmed the ability and desire of millennials to completely change the opaque and inaccessible nature of American politics, Levy noted that very few millennials actually contact their local politicians. He also raised the fact that the millennial generation is full of contradictions on subjects such as free speech, leading to confusion and disorganization.

Q&A with the panel touched on themes such as generational theory, intersectionality, and millennial interaction with the tech community and with social media. The panel concluded by acknowledging the importance of re-building millennial faith in institutions; millennials remain one of the most optimistic generations, yet they are extremely jaded with their politicians and their governments. The April panel is the first of two CCLP events focused on localism, the second of which will take place in October of this year.