Right now, America’s government is run as a gerontocracy, and young people are wildly underrepresented.
The trends are undeniable at every level of government:
- In the 117th Congress, the average Senator is 63.9 years old and the average House member is 58.3 years old — a full half of the U.S. Senate is 65 years old or older.
- 30 of the 50 U.S. governors are 60 years old or older.
- The average U.S. mayor of a major city is 58 years old.
- Fewer than 5% of state legislators are under the age of 35.
- The median age of school board members is 59.
These stats compound on each other: School board members and state legislators are future members of Congress and governors. The older our local leadership is, the older our federal leadership is.
Meanwhile, the median American is 38 years old. More than half of all Americans are millennials or younger. Even if you take into account age restrictions, Congress alone still isn’t representative — if you’re striving for proportional representation, there should be at least 100 millennials currently serving. Right now, there are only 31.
Age is only one metric of diversity, but it is a shortcut to account for race, gender, class, and sexual orientation — the millennial generation is more diverse than those that came before, and gen-Z even more so. By any possible measurement, the U.S. government is not reflective of the American people.
The impact of that failure has meant the people predominantly in charge — Baby Boomers, most of whom are white men — have perpetuated a system that has privileged them. One only needs to watch a congressional hearing on technology to see exactly how the lack of young people in the room affects the tenor of debate; the same kind of baffling out-of-touch governing is happening in city councils around affordable housing or state legislatures on college costs, and on nearly any other issue.
Government’s failure to meaningfully act on issues directly affecting young Americans has led to a vicious feedback loop. As young voters continue not to see themselves or their lives reflected in our leadership, they feel cynical, disengaged, or like it doesn’t matter who wins, and then abstain from participating in the process entirely, as voters and as candidates.
There are countless reasons for why young people are not rising to the top in the American political system — structural barriers, legal hurdles, financial obstacles, and political realities are all at play.
Some of these problems can only be solved from within government, like changing the pay of our elected officials and reforming campaign finance law to better make space for working-class candidates. But not being able to fix every problem keeping young people out should not stop us from trying at all.
To truly solve the problem of American gerontocracy, we need to zoom out, cultivate an even bigger funnel, and bring in many more partners — we need more young leaders from any and all political parties who are committed to making change.
We need to broaden young Americans’ understanding of the levers of power and give space for them to see themselves in leadership.
To that end: Run for Something Civics (RFSC), a non-partisan non-profit (501c3) promotes youth leadership and encourages young people from diverse backgrounds to run for elected office at all levels in order to create a more reflective democracy.
RFSC will look for young leaders who share the following values:
Pro-democracy & pro-Constitution
The most basic promise of the American democracy is fair and free elections. RFSC seeks leaders who will protect and defend that promise, and all other rights and responsibilities enshrined in the Constitution.
RFSC seeks leaders who believe in the dignity of each person and see the humanity in every person. Our leaders will commit to the equal protection of every person’s rights under the law. Bigotry or discrimination in any form — against someone’s race, sexual orientation, gender identity, class, ability, religion or any other identity-marker — undermines our democracy and will not be tolerated.
Our leaders may often disagree about what to do about the facts — and in fact, our democracy thrives in robust participatory debate — but all participants must start from a place of shared reality, and commit to stay in that shared reality. That means trusting verified experts, incorporating the best science has to offer, and engaging with a free press.
Inclusive & diverse
RFSC empowers the next generation of diverse American leadership. We are seeking to broaden the definition of what a “public servant” means, and to embolden those who reflect their communities, especially when those communities are currently under-represented in leadership — especially young people, people of color, LGBTQIA+ folks, women, and folks who see the world through unique lenses — because democracy works best when more people are reflected it and feel like they have a stake in it.
RFSCivics will focus on four programmatic pillars:
- Research: We need to increase awareness of the lack of young people in elected office by getting clear stats on the problem, identifying the challenges young people face, and promoting them to the public.
- Education in service of inspiration: We need to inspire young people to begin their journey of civic engagement at the local level by explaining (without ever condescending) about what local government does, and bring those resources to them on the platforms they’re already on.
- Recruitment: In order to get young people from “citizen” to “interested” to “taking action,” we need to ask them!
- Support: We can’t ask people to run and then leave them hanging without a guide. We need to support folks in the lead up to their campaigns and facilitate their continued civic engagement no matter what happens.
Much more to come!