Millennial Lawmakers: Now Is the Time to Run for Office

Millennial Lawmakers: Now Is the Time to Run for Office

Remember I’m the one 

that went from being 

pepper-sprayed and tear-gassed, 

to being sworn in, 

I remember needing capital for an office, 

now my office is in the capital—

Best thing about how we did it— 

Grassroots is all natural!

That’s Missouri State Representative Bruce Franks Jr.’s rap about his journey from protester to lawmaker. A new report by Generation Progress found that young people like Franks are severely underrepresented among legislators, even though young people are the largest voting bloc in America: 34 percent of the country’s eligible voters are 35 or younger but only 6 percent of legislators are 35 years old or younger.

He shared his experiences at a late-September Generation Progress/Center for American Progress forum. Explaining that he knows what it feels like to be underrepresented, Franks said he had only voted once before the 2016 election, for Barack Obama, simply because Obama was a candidate that looked like him. He participated in the Ferguson protests after Michael Brown’s death, and noted how that moment led him to become an activist in his community and run for office.

The panelists—State Representative Mark Cardenas of Arizona’s 19th Congressional District; Wendi Wallace, Planned Parenthood’s political outreach director; and Mayor Marita Garrett of Wilkinsburg, Pennsylvania—want to see young women, African Americans, Latinos, Asians, and LGBTQ people step up and run for office. They also stressed the importance of grassroots campaigning: knocking on people’s doors and having face-to-face conversations with voters. 

Carrie Wade, a member of the audience who is young and disabled, pointed out that the survey did not offer any statistics about disabled candidates and office-holders. She wanted to know how she and people like her could run for office. Wade got a warm response from panel members who suggested utilizing social media, holding town halls, and asking volunteers to canvass neighborhoods. 

Millennial office-holders have to fight misconceptions. According to the panelists, millennials are an “in-between generation,” with the baby boomers at one end of the spectrum and Generation Z coming of age at the other, and there’s typically an assumption that they don’t care. But the oldest millennials are nearly 40 years old: They’re buying houses, having kids, battling with student loan debt, and need representation at all levels of government. But it’s not enough to get a young and diverse group elected in 2018; the real challenge is getting them to run and stay in office years to come.  

Wallace noted that while people are riled up about the Trump administration, something else needs to happen: Young people need to vote, to run for their state legislatures, and not be intimidated or listen to anyone who says "wait your turn."