I was on Mindy Todd’s show The Point yesterday, for a program on “Strengthening our Representative Democracy.” The other two guests were David Daley, author of Ratf**ked: The True Story Behind the Secret Plan to Steal America’s Democracy,” and Judy Zaunbrecher, co-president of the Massachusetts League of Women Voters. The audio is here. If you start at 42:00, you can hear Mindy ask Judy whether Massachusetts has been gerrymandered; Judy accurately summarizes the research by my colleagues at Tisch College. (Spoiler alert: not really, although it would still be better to use a nonpartisan districting commission.) I join shortly after that to discuss why our state government is so dominated by white men.
(LaGuardia Airport) Michael Berkman, Chris Beem, and Jenna Spinelle from the McCourtney Institute for Democracy at Penn State recently interviewed me for their podcast series, “Democracy Works.” We talked about young people, the 2018 election, and social movements. Here’s the audio. (I enter at about the 5th minute.)
I was on WGBH’s “Under the Radar” today with host Callie Crossley and an excellent student activist named Victoria Massey, who is a senior at Charlestown High School and a member of the Hyde Square Task Force community organizing group. The segment is entitled “Is Student-Led Activism A Driving Force For Change In America?” It airs on Sunday but is officially available for listening and sharing now. Here it is.
And here’s how the conversation was framed:
Alexander Hamilton wrote his first political pamphlet as a student at King’s College, now known as Columbia University. He was 17 years old. On February 1, 1960, The lunch-counter sit-ins in Greensboro, North Carolina, were started by four college freshmen started the lunch-counter sit-ins in Greensboro, N.C. Three years later, the “Children’s Crusade” in Birmingham, Alabama, involved kids as young as 7 in peaceful protests against segregation. And this weekend, a group of high school students who got the nation to say “Never Again” will lead thousands at the March For Our Lives.
Student-led activism has always been a part of American culture. Could it be one of the country’s driving force for change?
While traveling to Orlando to talk about civic education, I’ll post two recent links.
First is today’s episode of “On Point” from NPR. The guests are three teenagers who are running for governor in Kansas (which imposes no age limit on candidates)–and me. I celebrate the young politicians but try to broaden the conversation to other forms of civic engagement that can involve a lot more kids.
And here is a piece by me on civic education in America and specifically in Connecticut “PERSPECTIVE: Republic Still at Risk; Connecticut Edges Forward.”
This is an online lecture (video, slides, and discussion questions) entitled “Civic Life and Health Research.” It’s offered by, and thanks to, the Tufts Clinical Translational Sciences Institute (CTSI), where I hold a research professorship. Dr. Thomas Concannon introduces the CTSI and the session. I then offer four frameworks for understanding civic life:
- social capital
- collective efficacy
- common pool resources
- the public sphere
For each one, I explain why there are important empirical and conceptual connections with public health that have implications for both research and practice. Public health really serves as an example to illustrate how to apply these concepts, so the talk might be of some use in other fields as well, such as education or economic development.
(You can find and register for other free CTSI courses here.)
This is the video from the “Civic State of the Union” on March 7 at Tisch College. The participants are Mara Liasson, National Political Correspondent for NPR and contributor to Fox News; Robert D. Putnam, political scientist, Professor of Public Policy at the Kennedy School of Government, and author of numerous works, including Bowling Alone; Shirley Sagawa, President and CEO of the Service Year Alliance and a Visiting Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress; and me. We talked about the civic condition of the United States and what to do about it.
I enjoyed a conversation with Dr. Matt Townsend yesterday on the topic of civic education. Here is the audio. Dr. Matt’s show has a national audience and is devoted to “talking about good.” We discussed the importance of learning to deliberate controversial current issues with people who disagree.
Civic Media: Technology, Design, Practice is a new book edited by Eric Gordon and Paul Mihailidis. I contributed the introductory chapter, “Democracy in the Digital Age.” On Nov. 16, I joined Eric, Paul, Ethan Zuckerman (MIT), Colin Rhinesmith (Simmons), Beth Coleman (University of Waterloo), and Ceasar McDowell (MIT) for a book-launch discussion that focused on the role of media in the 2016 election and the prospects for civic media in the near future. Here’s the video.
Here, starting at minute 39, is my recent conversation with Msgr. Kevin Sullivan, Executive Director of Catholic Charities, New York, on his SiriusXM Radio Show, “Just Love.” We talked about why Millennials volunteer so much (I named a combination of idealism and structured opportunities and expectations), why civic education seems to work well in Catholic schools, why the media is biased against Millennials, why Obama ’08 and Sanders ’12 drew youth support, the difference between service and social change, and the argument for expanding service opportunities.
(En route from NYC to DC) Early reports from the New Hampshire exit polls suggest that Sen. Sanders won about 8 in 10 voters under 30. Follow CIRCLE tomorrow for exclusive estimates of the size of the youth turnout. That will be important for helping to sort out whether Sen. Sanders’ dominance so far is a sign of his appeal–or of Hillary Clinton’s weakness.
I drew the latter conclusion while talking about Iowa last week on WGBH’s Greater Boston show with Jim Braude. Here’s the video clip. He and the other guests were very excited about Sen. Sanders’ large lead among young voters, both in the Iowa results and the Nrw Hampshire polls. Although I should try to avoid the role of the graying curmudgeon, I drew attention to Hillary Clinton’s poor showing in Iowa. Less than 5,000 young people caucused for her in the whole state, which seems to me an alarming sign both for Democrats in November and for anyone who cares about youth participation.
Just to put my comments in a broader context, I do think that Sanders’ youthful following is important. True, only about 35,000 youth voted for Sanders in Iowa. That is about one percent of the state’s population, and it was favorable terrain for him. Still, thousands of young people are having formative experiences as activists on the American left through his campaign (even as others come up through Black Lives Matter or the Dreamers’ or Marriage Equality campaigns). We know from extensive research that such experiences leave lasting imprints. A classic work is Doug McAdam’s Freedom Summer. It’s amazing how many leading figures of the left went to Mississippi in 1964, and McAdam shows how that summer shaped them for decades to come. I suspect when we read the biographies of leading progressive activists in 2030, many will say they worked for the Vermont senator in the winter and spring of 2016.
In the short term, the American left will struggle if Hillary Clinton is elected president (as I expect her to, unless a Republican beats her in November). While a centrist Democrat holds the ramparts against a Republican House, Republican statehouses, and a conservative judiciary, people to the president’s left will face constant pressure to pipe down. Concretely, the organized left may face a shortage of money, paid positions, media attention, technological innovation, and other forms of capacity–much as I recall from the Bill Clinton years, when I myself was young.
This is not ground for despair. Young activists can find solutions. For some of them, experiences with the Sanders Campaign will prepare them for the next four or eight years. Their activism will help President Hillary Clinton to do a good job, because (as FDR said) leadership is deciding who to cave to. She’ll need some pressure from that side.
All of which is to say that the youth support for Sanders is a real phenomenon that is worth following and caring about. But if one is interested in who will win the 2016 presidential election, I am afraid the Sanders phenomenon is likely to be something of a footnote as the primary campaign moves to larger and more diverse states. In that context, the important question is whether Senator Clinton can improve her showing with youth, whom she will absolutely need to win in November.