The face of politics, as you know it, is changing: It is younger. It is faster. It is brighter … and it is broker!
But, hold up. Before you laugh or even dismiss this generation of political aspirers, consider that rose that grew from concrete and the siblings of necessity (invention), and that emerging from a broken environment can result in the stealthiest most amazing outcomes.
This is a case that is proved already with 25-year-old Bed-Stuy resident Poy Winichakul and 26-year-old Washington, DC resident Luke Squire, founders of LaunchProgress, a political action committee (PAC) that is getting 18- to 35-year-olds elected to local and state offices.
Founded in 2013, LaunchProgress, a non-profit organization encourages young progressives– women, people of color, people from lower-income families, people who are disabled— to run for electoral office in order to grow the base of future national leaders– leaders political parties may not traditionally recruit or support.
“This country tends to think so much about the things that divide us and the differences between people, but still, our generation is positive,” said Winichakul. “Maybe that’s naïve or whatever, but I still very positive and empowered about the future and that things are going to get better. And that’s what youth is: optimism… Which is why it is consistently important to allow this generation to give.”
When Winichakul was attending high school in Madison, WI, she admits, she wan’t very civically involved. In fact, she said, she refused to even pick up a newspaper. That would all change after she became a student at Oberlin College. Her freshman year happened to correspond with the 2008 economic crisis. Lorain County, Ohio, where Oberlin was located, was hit pretty hard. There were a vast amount of foreclosures, abandoned homes were popping up everywhere.
“So I got involved in that issue,” said Winichakul, “organzing with local groups, helping a number of families in their home, and realized that overall, we weren’t going to have as big of an impact unless we had some impact on policy and policymaking.”
Winichakul met fellow organizer Squire, also a freshman, during that time. Both were involved in an a student organization called Young People For, part of People for the American Way Foundation, which trains people how to be organizers and what it means to be progressive.
Unlike Winichakul, Squire, who grew up in San Diego, says he was pretty much always a progressive person with progressive values: “What really got me interested in politics was my uncle, a gay man living in San Francisco,” he said.
“In the 90s, the idea of marriage equality was still a concept that wasn’t supported, and that pushed me into the idea of being progressive like this is an issue I really care about and I want to do something about it.”
Squire said, through his involvement in Young People For, he learned there’s a difference between supporting a cause and being an ally of a cause: “To be an ally, you have to actually do something that has an impact,” said Squire. “That got me interested in electoral politics and civic engagement. I feel this is the best thing I can be doing to help those causes I care about.”
“We want to do something now; we want to contribute now,” said Winichakul, “and maybe that’s the just the pace we’re operating, thinking, moving and creating. I’m connected to the Internet 24 hours a day, 7 days a week; our lives are moving very rapidly, this is how I grew up.
“It’s just a different time and pace than it was before. But I also think government and the idea of democracy in general is incredibly fluid, which is exactly why it’s really important to have different generational perspectives and racial perspectives,” she said.
Both Winichakul and Squire quit their jobs to start LaunchProgress and work on it full-time. They raised money entirely different than traditional PACS: They culled a list of their friends, held two big kick-off events in DC and New York and asked everyone to give $20. They also went door-to-door and reached out to more established allies and their board members and then went back to their friends again, asking for another $20.
In 2014, they raised approximately $20,000, with an average donation of $85. The average state assembly race in the country is $20,000, and LaunchProgress gave an average of $1,000 to each person running.
“But the challenges aren’t not always necessarily big money,” said Squire, pointing out that while money is only the fuel to help provide resources. The most valuable asset for first-time candidates is guidance on how to successfully run. “We have a really great board of advisors that helps each candidate put together their campaigns and leads them through the whole campaign process.”
So far, LaunchProgress has endorsed 10 first-time candidates. Nine candidates– in Ohio, Michigan and North Carolina– got through to the general election, and five won, all under age 35. Each winning candidate then has to serve on the organization’s board to advise the next set of candidates through their process.
“For young people, we don’t expect to have social security waiting for us when we retire; we assume that we’re going to have a lot of these economic burdens,” said Squire. “The urgency of now is so important. Instead of going to Wall Street and spending the next ten years behind a [stock ticker] screen, we’re trying to figure out how we can impact our future right away.”
“We probably don’t have the same idea of democracy the [older generation] does,” said Winichakul. “But it doesn’t mean ours is wrong or that we cannot carry it out as well as they do… or better!”
Winichakul added, there’s a place for everyone in this movement, and they’re always looking for volunteers.
“The first thing everyone can do is send $20 to launchprogress.org,” said Winichakul. “But also, the best thing you can do is consider running or asking someone you know who would be a good candidate to please consider running. That’s how we change the face and direction of politics.”