The power of hope

The Parkland generation, shaped by gun violence six years ago, is moving from activism to leadership

BRATTLEBORO — Ever since David Hogg, X González, and other high school student leaders began organizing against gun violence, when their Florida school experienced a massacre in 2018 that killed 17 people and injured 17 more, I've clung to the belief that if we could get to the Parkland generation as political leaders, we just might save our country.

I believe that now more than ever.

David Hogg is 23 now and a student at Harvard University. It should come as no surprise that he has reached a new level of political advocacy. Working with Kevin Lata, the 2022 campaign manager of Rep. Maxwell Frost (D-Fla.), the two activists have launched a new organization that seeks to put more young people in elected office at the state level and in Congress.

Leaders We Deserve has a PAC to coordinate with selected campaigns and a super PAC to raise funds for those campaigns. The organization has a diverse advisory group that includes U.S. Reps. Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.) and Lauren Underwood (D-Ill.) and Tennessee state Rep. Justin Jones (D-Nashville). It plans to hire staff.

"A big part of this," Lata told NBC's Meet the Press, "is electing young people that have the values of our generation [who] understand the anxiety of not knowing if you're going to be able to survive math class."

Hogg, who co-founded March for Our Lives, put it this way to CBS: "There [are] so many charismatic, brilliant young people that have come from March for Our Lives, and have now started running for office, like Maxwell, and there's so many more that I think can come. That's why I'm doing this, it's to help build that pathway."

Both Hogg and Lata take a long view of the work they have begun. They know it's more than an ideology-driven effort. It requires organizational skills, political savvy, resources, an experienced staff, and viable candidates. That's why they are starting with a plan that includes raising money, connecting 15 to 30 candidates at the state level to media, and supporting them in the "mechanics of a campaign."

Their goal is to help young people gain and remain in elected office with a view to running for higher office when the time is right. They are starting in states like Texas, Florida, Georgia, and North Carolina.

As Hogg told NBC, the aim is to "make inroads and start building the bench now."

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They have notable role models to look to as their work progresses.

Maxwell Frost (D-Fla.) was the first Gen Z member of Congress, and he's made a name for himself as he serves on the Committee on Oversight and Accountability, asking astute questions while standing up to Republican extremists who work hard to politicize committee work in Congress. He also represents a progressive view unfamiliar to many in Congress who are out of touch with youth, Black, and Latino constituents.

It's worth noting that Frost, a former organizer, activist, and special needs teacher, was inspired to activism when he was 15 years old because of the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012. He also witnessed and survived gun violence himself in Orlando, Florida in 2016.

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) is another example of effective leadership from younger members in Congress. She worked in the 2016 presidential election as a volunteer organizer for Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.). Inspired by demonstrations led by indigenous communities in South Dakota who opposed a new pipeline, she joined them, resolving after that experience to commit to public service. Shortly afterwards, she launched her first campaign for Congress and won against a longtime incumbent.

She became the youngest woman and youngest Latina to serve in Congress in 2019, and she quickly got to work.

During her first term, she introduced 23 pieces of legislation, one of which was the Green New Deal resolution, which envisioned a 10-year plan inspired by Franklin Delano Roosevelt's New Deal. It was designed to open work opportunities in construction and restoring infrastructure, reduce air and water pollution, and fight economic, social, racial, and climate crises.

She was also recognized for her skill as a questioner in committee hearings, effectively standing up to Big Pharma, defense contractors, and other power players.

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Leaders like Frost and Ocasio-Cortez reveal the possibilities inherent in the purpose of Leaders We Deserve. Along with Hogg et al. they offer an important and timely new vision of effective leadership at a time when we are worried about the aging of some current longtime legislators and leaders, many of whom have no real connection to or understanding of their constituencies or other Americans.

According to a Tufts University study, an estimated 8.3 million newly eligible voters emerged in the 2022 midterm elections, including white, Latino, Asian, Native American, and Black youth.

In the current Congress, 52 members of the House are millennials, aged 27 to 42, up from 31 in the last Congress. They represent 10% of all current voting House members and are divided equally between Democrats and Republicans. In next year's election, those numbers are likely to grow.

David Hogg sees this as "a second step for our generation and the people in power. We're not just voting, we're also running."

Activist Ariana Jasmine agrees. "Young people are the future. They are showing that they are fed up, and they are showing up even if they aren't old enough to vote. They understand that the direction we're going in is completely unsustainable."

Elayne Clift (elayne-clift.com) has written about women, politics, and social issues from the earliest days of this newspaper.

This Voices column was submitted to The Commons.

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