The difficulties of getting young people engaged in political activism

Answering the question that has been circulating lately:

As Women's March organizers prepare for another round of events on Jan. 20 and 21, research shows that few young people share Hahn's excitement for political activism and public protests. Americans ages 15 to 24 are still figuring out their preferred approach to politics, according to the PRRI/MTV 2017 National Youth Survey, released this week.

"A majority of young people describe recent protests and marches negatively, as 'pointless' (16 percent), 'counterproductive' (16 percent), 'divisive' (12 percent), or 'violent' (11 percent.) Only about one-third ascribe positive value to them, saying they are 'inspiring' (16 percent), 'powerful' (16 percent), or 'effective' (4 percent)," the survey reported.

Some of these findings are not really surprising. As much as I hate to use the term "woke," that transformation did not really happen to me until I was in my forties. I may have voted regularly since my late teens, but my knowledge of what I was voting for (or against) was pretty thin, to say the least. At our County Party meeting last night, aside from a couple of small children, the youngest people there were in their thirties, and they were a distinct minority. But before we launch into a "What are we doing wrong?" exercise, it may be them and not us:

In general, Americans between the ages of 15 and 24 are struggling to find their voice when it comes to politics, according to the survey. Few have ventured out to in-person political events and many worry about everything they have yet to learn.

Only around one in five Americans ages 15 to 24 have attended a public rally or contacted an elected official, and nearly half (48 percent) say they choose not to get involved in campaigns or causes because they don't know enough about the issues, researchers noted.

The new survey highlights a number of factors holding young people back. Beyond worrying about what they do and don't know, Americans ages 15 to 24 are concerned about whether they can make a difference and about facing criticism. Around one in four say there aren't any issues or causes they really care about.

Young women are particularly sensitive to misunderstandings and criticism, although they are still more politically active than young males. "Twenty-nine percent say avoiding criticism is a reason to abstain (from political engagement), while only 16 percent of young men say the same, the survey reported.

"They feel constrained by the belief they don't have the right information to be active," Cox said.

Okay, that last part may be (probably is) one area where we are doing something wrong. From what little youth engagement I have seen (be they boys or girls), older activists have a tendency to lecture, to demonstrate to everybody in attendance just how "woke" they are. I am guilty of this, maybe more than the average progressive. So, when a young person finally does sum up the courage to voice his or her opinion, there are usually five or six "Elders" just itching to correct them. Even if they're not wrong. That young person may be on the ball, but if they failed to mention even one marginal aspect of the situation? Well. They need to be "advised" of what they are lacking.

We need to know when to shut up and listen. It's not easy to do, because political activism magnetically draws a whole lot of Alpha personalities. It's a tough crowd. But if we genuinely do want to engage more with the 16-30 demographic, that's going to require compromise, and not a small amount of humility.

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Comments

I generally feel the same way about protests

... even though Jane drags me out to participate on occasion. But I don't see that protests are key. VOTING is key.

My message to young people is this:

1. Older generations are leaving you with a freaking mess, not to mention fucking up the present beyond comprehension.

2. You're going to live with that mess unless and until you decide to do something about it. What are you waiting for?

3. The best way to do something about it is to make sure people are elected who align with your own vision for our society.

4. You have the power to say how the future is going to unfold. You have the numbers, too. There are now enough of you to change things.

5. Get registered to vote. Choose candidates who support the values you support, and vote for them this fall.

The same logic applies to women and people of color. Along with younger people, they are marginalized and disenfranchised populations, populations that should be sick to death of being subjugated by white, old rich men.

The only caveat I offer is this: there is a sizeable minority of young people whose vision for society is one of white supremacy, in other words, racist assholes. Let's try to keep them from crawling out from under their rocks.

Some good stuff in this video

I do think older Dems need to do better at educating young potential activists, but I also think we need to better educate ourselves on what challenges face young people these days. I mean, we might be well-versed in inequality and economic problems, but we have a lifetime of "averages" that may keep us from fully grasping what stepping out of college and facing a monthly $350 student loan payment plus $900 in rent is like. Most of us eased into that level of burden over several years, and not immediately.

My generation told my parents

My generation told my parents' generation that they were leaving us a screwed up world.....
I bet they told their parents the same thing.

The reason to participate in protests has changed.
At least, for me it has.

Participating in a protest is an opportunity for me to reaffirm my values as an American. It is the way I make a public statement on what I believe, and in the process, tell those currently in charge of our state and federal governments that I do not agree with their decisions or their values.

Whenever possible we must all constantly reaffirm our values in this manner. Not to participate allows the voices of racism, greed, and selfishness to hold a place of primacy in our society. And we cannot allow their sentiments to echo through the corridors of our lives without challenge. To let it go without challenge is to let it win.

We've all been told that 90% of life is just showing up.
Don't let them win.
Show up.

I'll be in Raleigh at the Women's March next Saturday. I'll be wearing black, in honor of #MeToo, and a pink hat with cat ears. When you see me, say hello.