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.
Today, Philanthropy for Active Civic Engagement (PACE) hosted a webinar on “America’s Civic Renewal Movement.” I was a speaker along with:
- Eric Liu, Citizen University
- Kelly Born, Hewlett Foundation
- Joan Blades, Living Room Conversations
- Kristen Cambell, PACE
- Video: A recording of the discussion is available here. (Please note: recording began early and unfortunately cannot be clipped, so the discussion begins in earnest about 20 minutes in) [Fixed version here]
- Chat: Attendees were actively engaged in conversation and sharing links, resources and ideas in the “chat” box, so that transcript is also being made available.
Webinar Description: A recently released paper, “America’s Civic Renewal Movement,” explores current sentiments toward civic engagement and identifies opportunities and challenges to expanding our civic infrastructure. This webinar explored philanthropy’s role in supporting and engaging in this movement, and how practitioners perceive foundations’ willingness to partner on these efforts.