The State of the Union Depends on Young Americans

Opinion: A newly established action fund is working to help more millennials who represent changing America — women, people of color, people from lower-income families, people who are disabled — run for office.

Poy Winichakul is co-founder and co-director of the LaunchProgress Action Fund.
National Journal
Poy Winichakul
Add to Briefcase
See more stories about...
Poy Winichakul
Jan. 29, 2014, 4:34 a.m.

At the State of the Uni­on, Pres­id­ent Obama told us, “Too many young people en­ter­ing the work­force today will see the Amer­ic­an Dream as an empty prom­ise.” If you looked at the audi­ence, you would have seen the pres­id­ent’s speech fell on the ears of a Con­gress that largely does not rep­res­ent the coun­try, par­tic­u­larly our young Amer­ic­ans.

Gigi Traore, 34, is cam­paiging to join the Ohio House. (Cour­tesy photo)Mil­len­ni­als — people born between 1982 and 2002 — are now Amer­ica’s largest gen­er­a­tion. Ten thou­sand mil­len­ni­als turn 21 every day, and our gen­er­a­tion is now 95 mil­lion strong.

And even though we vote (49 per­cent of cit­izens un­der 30 voted in 2012), law­makers con­tin­ue to ig­nore us.

By 2015, mil­len­ni­als will make up a ma­jor­ity of the Amer­ic­an work­force. But un­em­ploy­ment rates for work­ers 18 to 34 have topped double-di­gits for nearly six years in a row. Rates for young people of col­or are even worse. The Sen­ate re­spon­ded by killing a be­ne­fits ex­ten­sion. More young adults are liv­ing on the street as the res­ult of this re­ces­sion. Hard­est hit are young people of col­or: 32 per­cent of home­less youth are black. That’s more than double the pro­por­tion of young, black Amer­ic­ans in the whole coun­try.

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.

At Launch­Pro­gress, we be­lieve gov­ern­ment can work if the right people are work­ing in gov­ern­ment. If we want a gov­ern­ment of the people, by the people, and for the people, we need politi­cians who can rep­res­ent this chan­ging na­tion. Young Amer­ic­ans, the most di­verse, tol­er­ant, and self-em­powered gen­er­a­tion yet, are the an­swer.

Poy Winichak­ul, 24, is a 2011 gradu­ate of Ober­lin Col­lege, where she ma­jored in polit­ics, law, and so­ci­ety. She served as spe­cial as­sist­ant to the pres­id­ent of the Bren­nan Cen­ter for Justice for two years and in Oc­to­ber star­ted Launch­Pro­gress with Luke Squire, 25, a Sen­ate re­search man­ager.

The Next Amer­ica wel­comes op-ed pieces that ex­plore the polit­ic­al, eco­nom­ic and so­cial im­pacts of the pro­found ra­cial and cul­tur­al changes fa­cing our na­tion. Email us.

What We're Following See More »
Johnson on Ballot Everywhere, Followed by Stein, McMullin
1 hours ago
Is McMullin Building the GOP in Exile?
2 hours ago

Evan McMullin, the independent conservative candidate who may win his home state of Utah, is quietly planning to turn his candidacy into a broader movement for principled conservatism. He tells BuzzFeed he's "skeptical" that the Republican party can reform itself "within a generation" and that the party's internal "disease" can't be cured via "the existing infrastructure.” The ex-CIA employee and Capitol Hill staffer says, “I have seen and worked with a lot of very courageous people in my time [but] I have seen a remarkable display of cowardice over the last couple of months in our leaders.” McMullin's team has assembled organizations in the 11 states where he's on the ballot, and adviser Rick Wilson says "there’s actually a very vibrant market for our message in the urban northeast and in parts of the south."

Clinton Up 9 in USA Today Poll; Up 3 According to Fox
2 hours ago

A new USA Today/Suffolk University poll finds Clinton leads Trump by 9 points nationwide, 47% to 38%. A Fox News national poll has Clinton up just three points, 44% to 41% over Trump.

Too Many Potential Enrollees Paying Obamacare Penalties Instead
4 hours ago

One of the main reasons for the recent Obamacare premium hikes is that many potential enrollees have simply decided to pay the tax penalty for remaining uninsured, rather than pay for insurance. More than 8 million people paid the penalty in 2014, and preliminary numbers for 2015 suggest that the number approaches 6 million. "For the young and healthy who are badly needed to make the exchanges work, it is sometimes cheaper to pay the Internal Revenue Service than an insurance company charging large premiums, with huge deductibles."

Cruz: Eight Justices Could Be an Ongoing Situation
5 hours ago

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) said that "there was “precedent” for a Supreme Court with fewer than nine justices—appearing to suggest that the blockade on nominee Merrick Garland could last past the election." Speaking to reporters in Colorado, Cruz said: "I would note, just recently, that Justice Breyer observed that the vacancy is not impacting the ability of the court to do its job. That’s a debate that we are going to have.”


Welcome to National Journal!

You are currently accessing National Journal from IP access. Please login to access this feature. If you have any questions, please contact your Dedicated Advisor.