Since the 2017 presidential election, grassroots organizations such as Run for America and Change.org have focused their efforts on bringing a larger number of millennial candidates into politics. The aim of these national efforts is to diversify our elected bodies, and to infuse them with the new ideas and perspectives of a generation that has grown up more connected than ever before.
Polls from outlets such as Bloomberg News indicate that millennials, as a voting block, could overwhelmingly influence the outcomes of elections on the local and national levels. The question is: why is there such a pervasive feeling of disenfranchisement among millennials? Is this a self-perpetuated myth? Are millennials actually running for office, and if so, where? Who are they?
IVY Magazine sat down with Josh Thompson, a millennial former candidate for Mayor of NYC, and the former Director of Policy outreach for the Paul Massey Campaign, to glean his insights on the issue.
What’s the greatest lesson you learned from running for the office of Mayor of New York City?
I would say: There is a lot of talk about apathy, especially on the part of millennials. But the last thing New Yorkers are is apathetic. I learned that people want to be involved, but there are two major roadblocks: first, there is a lack of trust. And second, the way our system is currently structured makes it difficult for people to get involved. There is a real desire by New Yorkers to be involved in our politics. Life is not a spectator sport.
We commonly hear that voters want to see new faces in politics, but when the time comes to vote, they are hesitant to support young candidates new to the scene. Did you feel the same way during your campaign?
I did not. Our support was tremendous. It has been months since I have campaigned, but as I sit, I have received more endorsements and have raised the second highest amount of funds among any Democrat running for Mayor of a city of 8.5+ million. We were welcomed into so many communities and events.
I know we hear this all the time, but I really do think these times are different. I would always laugh a bit when someone tried to tell me that I’m too young to be our mayor. I often answered back jokingly that, in my opinion, they may be too old to be our mayor. I say that because I believe in the importance of challenging perceptions. We need leadership that’s immersed in the future. One thing about technology is that it never moves backward. Expertise and age are not always directly correlated. Tenure on its own is not always impressive; it is what one has accomplished during his or her tenure that speaks.
By force or by nature, millennial public servants are here and will be making a big impact.
Is there a need for new blood in national and local politics? What key insights does a young generation aspiring to get involved in politics need to understand to succeed?
If not us, then who? If not now, then when? We need a new wave and generation of leadership. Our last Mayoral election saw the victor receive 260,000 votes in the primary. When you live in a city that has 8+ million people in it — that is a 3% return on investment. It is clear that the people of New York want new, innovative thinkers who will inspire participation.
My key insight is to understand that public service is a very, very serious profession. It is not a vanity project or a company. As public servants, we must define ourselves and our successes by our records. Have you left everywhere you have served a better place? Have you worked to balance budgets, rebuild housing communities, open schools, and create educational options for our youth that were not there before your service?
If you were part of the decision-making process at the White House, what would you try to change in the way policies are made and implemented?
The same way I always have — I would change the influence of lobbyists and the party politics that prevent people from doing what they know is right. I operate as Dr. King taught us: with “the urgency of now.” People are suffering every day, and it is immoral for D.C. not to act in real time.
I have always asked that, when policies or ideas are presented to me, to please refrain from letting me know who put them together, or from what political party they came. I have never read a poll on an issue, either. Whether it be the White House or State House, you have to remain plugged into community. I am not suggesting that we need action purely for the sake of it – but well thought-out action. What we need is action on eradicating student debt, immigration, income inequality, and protecting the environment.
How can young, engaged people change the currently divided, bipartisan status quo in this country? How can we restore a sense of trust and transparency to politics?
It has been exciting to be able to speak frankly with other millennials about the election and the current state of politics. Through these conversations, I have recognized we are on a path toward post-party politics. I have seen such an appetite for common sense and real solutions, as opposed to party lines or party politics. I think that our generation will be the first to embrace political change that does not put party first.
But, to be frank, data shows that millennials don’t show up significantly on election day; therefore, our influence is not taken seriously by traditional politicians. It is my mission to authentically engage and inspire our generation to show up and show the establishment that it’s our time.
What was your answer to people during your mayoral campaign who felt disenfranchised, and made it clear they didn’t trust politicians to create a tangible difference? How did you argue against that?
My answer was and still is that cynicism is a refuge for cowards. As President Obama reinforced, if you are disappointed with your elected officials, grab a clipboard, get some signatures, and run for office yourself.
As a young leader. what is the greatest hope and biggest fear that you hold on the state of politics in the US?
All we have is hope. My greatest hope is that we start taking better care of each other. “Love thy neighbor” is not something that can be defined by lines of difference or lines on a map.
My biggest fears would be if forward-thinking, smart, passionate people do not run for office, and also if the media continues not to be held accountable for obfuscating the truth.