The Politics of Young America
Speech by Thomas Bryer, Executive Director, Reform America, Inc.
Maryland Reform Party Convention, March 2000
Thank you for having me here with you today. It is an honor to address the largest and strongest alternative political party in the United States in one of the finest States in the Union our wonderful Maryland, with our remarkable history.
I'll tell you the last time I spoke before a party convention on the subject of the young voter in America, I finished my speech, stepped away from the podium and back into the gallery. Several people came up to me, offering comments of all kinds, but there was one comment that stuck out and has stuck in my mind. A fellow came up to me and said, "so, let me get this right. You think third parties should focus on young people." "Yes," I said, "young people are more and more independent minded nowadays, and willing to step outside the Democrat-Republican box. Generation X and younger are really the natural constituency today for third parties." "You know there are a lot of members of Generation X in prison"? "Yes, I suppose there are." "Do you know what they are in prison for"? "Well ... sir, all kinds of things, I'd imagine. What do you have in mind"? "There are a lot of Generation X people in prison for marijuana ... marijuana possession". "Yes, I suppose there is a fair..." "And they will be out of prison at some point and they will be voting for somebody." "Yes, they will ..." "So, don't you think a natural constituency for third parties would be these prison inmates? . . . I think we should be sending not only priests and rabbis into prisons to rehabilitate the inmates; we should be sending representatives from political parties, and let the parties recruit supporters!" "... .... .... That's worth considering ...." That's my stock answer for the "unique" ideas that are told to me so often .... "that's worth considering ..." of course I can't use that today now, but....
In retrospect, I think that gentleman's idea had some merit, though . . . . send all the Democrat and Republican politicians to prison, throw away the key, and bring in Reform!! That's what I'm going to talk with you about today . . . bringing in Reform. Bringing in Reform through the minds and through the efforts of a group of Americans that are often dismissed as "cynical" and "apathetic". A group of Americans that are paid lip service, if any service by the prominent politicians of the day. A group of Americans that are part of what many have called the "issue-less generation" a generation without any great wars to fight or causes to champion. A group of Americans that don't vote, and appear disconnected from the political and civic life of today. This group of Americans is Generation X those born between 1969 and 1989; those that cannot answer the question "where were you when JFK was shot"?
I am the director of a new non-profit organization called Reform America Inc. We have been formed with the purpose of engaging young Americans in an effort to improve our democracy which is suffering and lift up our democratic institutions which are failing. You all know that when our democracy is suffering and our democratic institutions are failing it is we the people that lose the most. Reform America is actively defying the so-called wisdom of the establishment, and showing that young Americans are anything but apathetic.
So I am here today to talk about the young people of America, and how they are really the natural constituency for an alternative party such as the Reform Party. More and more young people are describing themselves as political independents. They are not willing to commit themselves to a party label that doesn't necessarily support their views, or a party that represents an establishment that does not get the job of running our country done.
Young people look around everyday and see a homeless family on a street corner or under a bridge; see waste and garbage overrunning our natural environment; see guns and fear striking the hearts of themselves and their peers inside our school yards; see their mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, unable to get adequate medical care when they are sick, despite working hard everyday; see Social Security taking a fatal dive; see illegal and dangerous drugs debilitating their friends . . .
We see problems all around us, and we see Government unable to provide the answer, or act on a solution. We are seeing these problems, and we are skipping past the Government, leaping over the elected politicians, and we are solving these problems ourselves. In every community you will see young people forming new institutions to tackle poverty issues, pollution problems, and all things else. We are a Do-It-Yourself Generation! This generation of young people is proving to be the generation of community service. We want to help; we can help. We want to lead; we will lead. We wan to get the job done; we will get the job done. For some very good examples of these new institutions and organizations that young people are forming, I encourage you to read Michelle Mitchell's A New Kind of Party Animal. Also visit the web site for organizations such as Third Millennium, the 2030 Center, X-Pac, and the Foundation for Individual Responsibility and Social Trust, to name only a few.
As I noted before, young people are increasingly describing themselves as political independents. They are willing to break away from the establishment, and openly consider third party candidates and others. This is exemplified by the support shown by young people for Bill Bradley and John McCain. Young people are willing to reject the Party, because of the Person.
Not long my dear friend Katie was at my home for dinner. Katie told me a story. She packed her bags and drove from Chevy Chase, Maryland down to Southern Virginia to help run a campaign for an incumbent Democrat State Senator. She was ready to give her all for the Democratic party, a partisan to the bone. Then she met the candidate. Out of touch. More than a wee bit of an egotist. She couldn't bring herself to support, let alone work for, this candidate. She was willing to forget the Party and think about the Person. Most older members of a major party, even in their home town, would not readily make such a move of rejection.
Katie became for a brief time disenchanted with the whole process, as many young people are, but she, also like many young people, took the disenchantment as a sign that something must be done! Her disenchantment was a call to action she could make a difference! She could help solve her community's problems; she will help solve her community's problems; she is helping to solve her community's problems!
Young people today recognize, I believe, a basic tenet about civic life and civic improvement. We can all learn something from this.
Young people realize that what we need is not one man or woman with a vision to true peace and far reaching prosperity. What we need is a strength in a collective human spirit to make a difference. Leaders and visions are born and die everyday; it is out job as citizens of this country, citizens of this world, members of the human race to support those with a vision, and to never let the human spirit die. The moment we grow dependent on one person, or grow tired waiting for one perfect vision, is the moment our spirit fades into darkness.
Young people have a untapped energy to do good in our State, in our Communities, and in our Country. I call on the Maryland Reform Party to look towards young people in our state to run under the banner of the Reform Party for he next round of county and city council elections, State Assembly elections, and for US Congressional elections. Give young people the opportunity, and they will run with it, and they will win for all of us!
Reform America, Inc.