Why Millennials Are Running for Office in Droves
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because protests alone don’t change policy.
By Daniel Malloy
The son of a steelworker and a hairdresser, both emigrants from Mexico, he grew up watching C-SPAN and became a union leader for the film industry in Los Angeles. Today he’s running for Congress in the suburbs north of Atlanta as a Christian, working-class Independent fed up with both parties.
Alexander Hernandez, 30, is a member of a label-averse generation alternately inspired and appalled by the 2016 election — and a growing number of them are throwing their hats in the ring to run for themselves. On Crowdpac, a millennial leaning crowdfunding site,
Twice as many candidates signed up in the first 40 days of 2017 as in all of 2016.
The website Crowdpac launched a Kickstarter project for politicians in late 2015 with the goal of helping nontraditional candidates run for office by pooling small donations to provide them with an initial push. The money supported campaigns ranging from Donald Trump to Chris Rabb, an educator who defied a Democratic political machine in Philadelphia to snatch a state House seat. Crowdpac expected interest to drop off after the presidential election, but from the women’s marches to congressional town hall meetings, political fervor continues to burn — hence the explosion of new-generation candidates. More than 60 percent of those running for office on Crowdpac are millennials, says spokesman Mason Harrison.
In the wake of a disastrous election for Democrats, a former Hillary Clinton aide and a veteran of progressive issues and political campaigns formed Run for Something, a group designed to rebuild the party by recruiting, vetting and coaching candidates younger than 35. The plan was to target Virginia, which holds local elections this year, but the call went national. Since Run for Something’s Inauguration Day launch, 7,000 people have inquired about running, says co-founder and executive director Amanda Litman, who initially thought mobilizing 100 candidates would be a stretch. “We just didn’t expect to have to scale up this quickly,” says Litman, who was Clinton’s email director during the 2016 campaign. (“The other emails,” she quips in her online bio.) So far just 15 candidates have told the organization they have officially filed to appear on ballots — partly because few election seasons are under way and because Run for Something won’t accept just anyone. First they need to make sure newbie politicians are both rooted in their communities and can run a capable campaign; then they equip some of them with money and guidance.
The fresh-faced candidates are fueled by 2016’s astonishing election season — and the new Oval Office leaseholder — but that’s not all. Litman says about half of her inquiries come from people who watched a businessman and reality-show star become president and figure they have what it takes to pull off a local race. “And half said: ‘I’ve never really thought about it, or thought a little, but didn’t know who to ask for help,’” she adds. For his part, Alexander Hernandez credits Bernie Sanders, who paved the way for someone to run outside the party structure (even though the Independent senator registered as a Democrat to mount his populist bid).
But you needn’t be a veteran pol to know there’s a big difference between deciding to run and pulling off a win. Hernandez, taking a break from knocking on doors in Johns Creek, Georgia, tells OZY his message is catching on. But he hasn’t been a Georgia resident for long, and he’s running against established politicians with hefty financial backing. The odds for this longest of long shots can rattle even his millennial optimism: “Right now we’re maintaining, and we’re hoping to stay afloat.” As of two weeks ago, his Crowdpac page had raised $1,386.