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Young People, Power & Political Will

According to the dictionary, power is defined as the ability to do or act; the capability of doing something or accomplishing something. A noun, power has been a polarizing word in this day and age and often carries a negative connotation.

I’ve asked myself: why don’t we talk about power? Is it because Machiavelli selfishly refined it, or that it was used for evil conquests? Time and time again, history has proved that not only does absolute power corrupt absolutely, but that POWER REVEALS; it reveals the underlying ambition or intent of an elected official, dictator, or leader. Power presides on how any form of government operates, whether a democracy or dictatorship. I came across an incredible Ted Talk by Eric Liu; he talked about the need for ordinary people to understand power. This resonated with me, for a number of reasons (partly because I’m obsessed with Robert Caro’s books) including his speaking on the concept of making Civic Engagement “sexy again.” In the Ted Talk, Eric states succinctly:

The problem we face today, here in America in particular, but all around the world, is that far too many people are profoundly illiterate in power – what it is, who has it, how it operates, how it flows…

The few who do understand how power operates in civic life, weird disproportionate influence, and they’re perfectly happy to fill the vacuum created by the ignorance of the great majority.

Youth civic engagement is critical for a variety of reasons. Young people of color, (Millennials & Generation Z), share certain characteristics that have the potential to make them powerful civic actors, and their participation carries incentive. They have unique perspectives on local issues, often bring new ideas to the table; moreover, they can be an indefatigable source of energy and passion for social change.

We witnessed this recently with Election Day of 2020 – the culmination of an unprecedented election cycle shaped by the COVID-19 Pandemic, a nationwide movement for racial justice, and the boundless energy of young people who made their voices heard in the streets and at the ballot box. We know now that young people turned out at a higher rate in 2020 than in 2016, and their impact—especially the  youth of color’s overwhelming support for Biden—was decisive in key races across the country.

We are now nearing a year out from this historic moment. Unfortunately, we have not been able to achieve a $15 dollar minimum wage, elimination of 10k in student loan debt or the George Floyd police bill. Time has elapsed and the enthusiasm of such subject matters have disappointed with the passage of time. As a father, it is frightening to think we have yet to effectively address climate change, even worse to see how a democratic senator can effectively block progress.

This Tuesday, Nov. 2nd is our local elections. After a historic turnout of young people in the 2020 elections, we have less than 5 millennials of color running for office across Long Island. Our predecessors are offering a hand, providing access and understanding the need for generations to unite, but now more than ever we need bold young minds to drive equitable agendas. Investing in young people is crucial if we are to achieve gains in the social, economic and environmental realms, leaving no one behind. There are numerous nuances when it comes to Long Island and power, many of which prevent our region from progressing. Long Island was the first suburbia, the lens of the American Dream. I believe we may have left that in the rear view. Change is uncomfortable, but if we want our beautiful region to stay as it is, things will have to change.

In the upcoming weeks, I’ll be discussing the dynamics of power, and how we can take it back, and leverage it to our advantage. #NewMajority

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