Story URL: http://news.medill.northwestern.edu/washington/news.aspx?id=130259
Story Retrieval Date: 5/21/2013 6:29:57 AM CST
Green member David Schwab can think of hundreds of reasons why young people would be attracted to the Green Party.
“The Green Party is the only party siding with the majority of Americans who want single-payer health care,” Schwab said. “We're the only ones with a sensible alternative to drug prohibition. We're the only ones calling for universal college education, which is the norm in Europe. We're the only ones against indefinite occupations in the Middle East. And Greens are the only ones ready to take needed measures to stop climate change and transition to a sustainable way of life.”
“These issues are important to my generation.”
And the Greens don’t relegate the younger members to door-knocking and phone-answering duties alone.
“I see the role of young people as integrated, full members of the party who are participating at all levels,” said Dan Jenkins, a 26-year-old member of the Maine Green Independent Party in Portland. “I don’t see young people having a vastly different role than any other demographic.”
The Green Party’s platform – emphasizing grassroots democracy, social justice, peace and ecological sustainability – crosses ethnic and social boundaries and draws in supporters from all walks of life.
“I’ve always been really passionate about justice and fairness,” said Joe Truss, an Oakland high school teacher who has been involved with the Greens since 2000. “I grew up very poor and in the inner city, I saw just how disparate everything was and I learned that the things I support aren’t articulated through the Democratic Party or the Republican Party.”
With younger members of the Green Party poised to take on a bigger role across the nation, organizers and activists are calling upon leaders under 30 to turn their passion into action. The creation of the Young Greens of America, an initiative meant to provide more networking and communication opportunities for young Greens across the country, is an attempt to expand and improve Green youth and college chapters.
WASHINGTON – The Green Party has a message it thinks will appeal to thousands of young voters.
But that message isn’t quite getting to its target.
“I think the largest barrier for young people getting active with the Greens is a lack of information,” said David Schwab, a recent college graduate and Green Party member. “The media doesn't help by treating politics as a horse race between the establishment parties, but Greens have to do a better job of reaching out, especially to the younger generation that's ready for some fresh thinking.”
Schwab and a group of other delegates at the Green Party’s National Convention last year formed the Young Greens of America in an effort to create a national network to bring together young Green activists and attract new members, particularly students.
“We felt that our generation is ready to hear the Green message, but not enough effort is being made to get it out there,” said Schwab, 23, who now works from Oslo, Norway as an online organizer for GreenChange.org.
A lack of communication appears to be at the heart of the problem in attracting young people.
“The Greens have definitely had a widespread presence, but they just didn’t have that communication across the nation,” said Edward Chow, a 22-year-old senior at the University of California, Berkeley and the chairman of his campus’s Greens.
“People want change and the Green Party offers a perspective that a lot of people care about and can relate to. But they don’t necessarily know that there’s a party out there that offers that,” Chow said.
What makes the Greens attractive to young people is the emphasis on social justice, grassroots democracy and sustainability, young party members say. And though the Young Greens of America has lost steam since the election, the principles that would appeal to Millennials remain intact.
“The party platform is forward-thinking, rational and practical,” Scwab said.
Chow, a San Jose, Calif. native, kick started his college’s dormant Green chapter almost on a fluke. He was looking to join Amnesty International when he stumbled upon information about the party and decided to get involved.
“Over the last eight years, the growth of young people in the party has increased,” Chow said. “Before the Young Greens came along, there was campus Greens which weren’t really officially affiliated with the party. Because of that, we weren’t able to organize with strong national views.”
That lack of widespread coordination left a void for strong groups of active students around the country looking to get involved with nationwide issues.
“The Green Party has the makings of being a young people’s party, once they understand how to reach them,” said Joe Truss, a 27-year-old high school teacher in Oakland who helps with outreach at his local Green chapter.
Truss said he rarely sees people his own age at Green Party events. He believes that’s because the party has failed to embrace the best ways to reach the younger generation.
“The pace they move at sometimes is really slow and not attractive to young people because they get fired up and they like to move fast,” said Truss.
Last election, Truss worked with a local hip-hop group, Some of All Parts, to create a song and video about Cynthia McKinney’s presidential run. He has also created multimedia and art for the Greens - and he debuted a documentary on Oakland area Greens and Independents last year.
“I’m involved with my local chapter, but it’s tough because older people don’t understand how to use this stuff. They don’t have the skill sets or even the drive sometimes,” he said. “Once they understand the principles, I think they’d be able to take on young people’s issues. It really comes down to being receptive and knowing how to take advantage when [young people] do show up.”
In Portland, Maine, young people are the Green Party chapter. Members in their 20s and 30s hold office in the county that has elected more Greens than any other in the U.S.
“Demographically, in Portland, it’s a young city. The largest age group is the 20- and 30-somethings,” said David A. Marshall, 31, a Portland City Councilor and the chairman of Portland Green Independent Committee.
Marshall was only 28 when he was elected to the city council in 2006. He was joined by Kevin Donoghue, who was 27 at the time. The duo was more than 10 years younger than the next oldest council member, and Marshall attributes the paradigm shift to the outspoken support of the local young voters.
“In a lot of ways, younger activists have seen the Portland Greens as an easy opportunity to get involved because, unlike national party structures, you’re not being told exactly what your platform is,” he said. “You’re able to shape and change the direction of the party.”
Greens in Portland are so successful in drawing in and keeping younger members because they keep it simple.
“We’re using the philosophy of the growth of the party from the local grassroots and growing from there,” Marshall said.
And even though Schwab has worked to achieve a national focus with the Young Greens of America, he’s taking a page from Portland’s book and shifting the emphasis to developing state-level chapters among students and young people.
“The No. 1 thing that will get young people involved with the Greens is local campaigns in their backyard,” Schwab said.”The Greens are less hierarchical than your typical party, so young people can jump right in and do important work.”
It’s not going to be easy to get the Young Greens organized, but it’s essential for the survival of the party, Schwab said.
“I see young people as the future of the Green Party,” he said. “Young voters aren’t resigned to choosing the lesser evil for the rest of their lives. Many of us have higher expectations for our country, and the establishment parties aren’t keeping up with that.”