A panel of politicians and political scientists spoke at the Jack Morton Auditorium Wednesday about the importance of youth political engagement.
U.S. Reps. Deb Haaland, D-N.M., and Will Hurd, R-Texas, joined Graduate School of Political Management Director Lara Brown on a panel moderated by Alexi McCammond, a political reporter for Axios. At the event, sponsored by the GSPM, the School of Media and Public Affairs, Axios and the AT&T Center for Indigenous Politics and Policy, panelists discussed the need to include young voices in political debate.
Brown said young people should make an effort to involve themselves in politics outside of voting in elections. She said social movements like Black Lives Matter and March for Our Lives are examples of masses of young people creating “continuous,” year-round opportunities for political engagement through protests, grassroots organization and outreach to members of Congress.
“All of these were young people who experienced something that affected them, and through social media, they started to connect through their peers, but then they started to look at ways to make that go from hashtag activism into, in fact, real political change,” she said.
Hurd, the congressman from Texas, said young people should not shy away from working on campaigns because they assume that they must know everything about politics to get involved. He said young people can make a difference in campaigns by helping with everyday tasks like knocking on doors, making phone calls and fundraising.
“In my opinion, elections aren’t necessarily sexy,” he said. “It’s not about giving some big speech where everybody’s like, ‘Hurrah.’ It’s going and knocking on doors and talking to people and having those individual contacts.”
Hurd recounted a story of high school students in his Congressional district who engaged themselves in local politics after their friend died in a car accident. The students visited Hurd’s office and asked him to sign a pledge against texting and driving, he said.
“Now, every time I’m in the car and I have that urge, I’m like, ‘Man, if those girls pulled up next to me and they saw me texting and driving, I would be horrified,’” he said.
Haaland, the congresswoman from New Mexico, pointed to another example of young activists making a difference in local politics. She recalled a group of young people who visited her office with members of Moms Clean Air Force, an anti-air pollution organization, who inspired her to stop using straws and support efforts to ban plastic bags in Albuquerque.
“We should just be willing to protect our kids,” she said. “We should just do what they ask us to the first time so they don’t have to spend all of their extracurricular activity fighting for the things that they need, like defending our environment.”