After Sen. Bernie Sanders won more than 70 percent of young voters in the spring Democratic primary, many millennial Michigan progressives felt that the party gave little say to them. Student activists such as MSU junior Connor Berdy are working to increase the influence of young people within the party’s politics.
Berdy is an organizer of “Youth and Student Takeover of Michigan Democrats” scheduled to take place on Feb. 4. The event’s Facebook page says that “Millennials will no longer be silenced and our voices will be heard. We are now the largest sect in the American electorate—let’s show them.”
Earlier this year, Pew Research reported that millennials are now the biggest part of the American electorate. The Ingham group’s aim is to turn out as many young Democrats as possible to the party convention to swing the party’s policies and leaders in a more progressive direction.
“Everyone who registers has voting power,” said Berdy. “If you have 150 people show up, we will be one of the largest caucuses represented and will allow us to push through the changes we want to see.”
Detroit activist Lena Thompson, a 52-year-old lifelong Democrat, decided to get more involved in party politics last year. Thompson took a position on the Democratic National Convention Platform Committee, where several pieces of her language were voted into the national party platform. The Detroit resident also won a position as a precinct delegate, hoping to spur party activism in her own neighborhood. After Hillary Clinton’s loss in the general election, Thompson set her sights even higher.
“I’m going to run for a State Central Committee delegate position in the state party,” said Thompson, referring to the position Berdy hoped to help fill with the support of young progressives. “I skipped the general election as a Democrat … It’s only because Hillary Clinton is not the head of our party. If she were the head of the party, I wouldn’t be doing this, at all.”
Keying in February convention
Wesley Wilson, a freshman at Grand Valley State University, has taken activism a step further. He ran for Mona Shores Public Schools trustee, winning his race with more than 6,000 votes. Wilson believes other young progressives can do the same.
“Even if it’s an office you don’t think you can win at first, you can always win. You just have to get out there — knocking doors and getting that person-to-person contact is invaluable,” said Wilson. “If you can give them a reason that you’re the candidate to trust, they will be compelled to vote for you, despite your young age. I would encourage anyone young to flood into electoral politics and get involved, because you could very well win.”
Wilson also said it was vital to get involved in party politics and he plans to attend the Michigan Democratic Party convention this February.
“If you get involved in the party at a young age, you can shape the course the party goes – at the local, state and national levels,” said Wilson. “We are the future of the party and we’re not at the tables where the discussions are taking place with the party elites.”
Party veteran urges involvement
Former Michigan Senate Minority Leader Democrat Gretchen Whitmer said she understands.
“I understand the belief, because there’s a basis for it, that the leadership are the well-connected and that they do not reflect what the general population wants to see out of their government and their party,” said Whitmer. “Getting involved, whether on campus or in your county party or running for office, and trying to be that voice of change and making that change real, is so important.”
Whitmer also cautioned disappointed Democrats from leaving the party, suggesting that change could still occur through activism.
“I would understand if people were so angry that they just wanted to walk away for a bit,” said Whitmer. “The party structure has to be receptive to that and the people that want to see change must continue pushing for it from the inside.”