Democracy Works: David Hogg on leaders we deserve

Gun Rights

The shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida happened around the same time Democracy Works launched in 2018. In fact, one of the first episodesfeatured students who organized a march event in State College, Pennsylvania. At the time, we thought it would be fantastic to get David Hogg on the show.

Six years latter, he’s finally here to talk about what his life has been like since that fateful day in February 2018 and his work to change gun policy at the state and federal level. Hogg also discusses his new project, Leaders We Deserve, which helps young people run for elected office.

Finally, we discuss youth voter turnout and waning enthusiasm for Donald Trump and Joe Biden among young people ahead of November’s election.

Episode Transcript

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Michael Berkman
From the McCourtney Institute for Democracy on the campus of Penn State University. I’m Michael Berkman.

Chris Beem
I’m Chris Beem.

Jenna Spinelle
I’m Jenna Spinelle and welcome to Democracy Works. This week, we are talking with David Hogg, who is one of the founders of the march for our lives, movements. And now the co founder of a project called leaders we deserve which helps young people run for elected office across the country. And you know, guys I was thinking about one of the very first episodes of this show that we did was about the march for our lives. We had some local high school students here in the State College Area who participated in organized a local March here and at the time, in a way back when we thought, wow, wouldn’t it be great if we could get David Hogg but we were but a lowly podcast back in those days and couldn’t get him at the time. But we’re lucky to have him now. And he’s doing work that is maybe even more closely related to democracy than he even was back in the height of the march for our lives days.

Chris Beem
First of all, you know, it’s probably appropriate to say that we’re less lowly, but I wouldn’t go much farther than that. But regardless, I mean, it is an impressive trajectory that David Hogg has, and that’s reflected on our own kind of history as well. I went to that march in State College and hundreds of 1000s came to DC that was, it was the biggest youth March since the Vietnam War. And, and there were marches all over the nation. And what’s striking is that that was just a few weeks after this event after the Parkland shooting, and when David was here, he recounted just kind of what that day was like, and, you know, you know, all these years later, it’s still just chilling here. It was just such a horrific event. And, you know, that moment changed his life forever. And he’s still trying to change society in a way that makes it more likely that that doesn’t happen again.

Michael Berkman
Yeah, I’m glad that said, I’m glad you reminded us that we spoke to the students about the march for our lives when back in the early days of the podcast, you know, I think we we had a sense, then a lot of observers of American politics did as well, that this was potentially a formative experience for this generation. Certainly brought into sharp relief, the way that school shootings and everything associated with them the horror of those days, the the drills, that students now have to do the lockdown drills that they now have to do on a regular basis, that potentially this was all formative for this generation, that may be a marked some sort of change. And it’s tricky when you’re trying to figure out, you know, what is it that really is there? What is there? And is there anything that really impacts a particular cohort of people that would lead them to some sort of common perspective on democracy or politics.

Chris Beem
And I actually think what this interview speaks to is, you know, the natural evolution of any political activist, they, you know, you start out with this kind of idealism, we’re going to change the world. And then you become more and more sophisticated about how this political animal really works. And what is required in order to effectuate meaningful change. And I really was struck in the interview of just how thoughtful and like I say, sophisticated his analysis is, he hasn’t lost his passion hasn’t lost his idealism. But he’s also become a lot more, you know, realistic about where the genuine levers are, that you can use to change politicians behavior.

Michael Berkman
I agree with you, he’s learning how to do things. But I was also talking about the generational impact or the cohort impact of the school shootings, and how that might affect this generation of, you know, citizens, people are going to be involved in our politics, people that are going to be voting in elections as they age. And I mean, what I wonder about, and whenever I’m thinking about generations and generational sort of analysis, is this an effect that we think of as a cohort effect mean, a these this group, this generation students, and some coming up behind them are permanently shaped in some way by this experience of constant school shootings or frequent school shootings? Or is it something they’ll grow out? And as they get older, and we think about this anytime we’re trying to understand differences across generations and the effect that they might have on politics. So the goals of leaders we deserve is to fund and support potential candidates that are under threat. 35 for Congress and under are 35 and older for Congress and 30 and older for state. So I mean, now he’s all about electing young people. And part of his argument is doing that I just wanted just to tie these two things together is his deep belief that there is something about generational politics that’s important that younger people will have a different agenda will have a different set of priorities. And so therefore, they should be more involved in politics.

Chris Beem
But also, David is one of many people of this generation who recognizes that their generation has extraordinary power potential that has not yet been mobilized. And so you know, his argument is, look, you want to change, then this is the way we do this. This is the only way we do this is by organizing and becoming a political force. And so yeah, I would argue that those points are related.

Michael Berkman
Yeah. And he’s riding a wave of, you know, higher than normal, younger people activism, or at least participation in elections. 2018 2020, the Harvard poll of college students is likely discouraging, in that way younger people see much less engaged in the 2024 election. I mean, certainly, I’ve sensed that myself on campus and in my classes. The Harvard poll, puts a finer brush on it, and shows that there really does seem to be something here. I mean, we’re way out from the election. So who knows? Whether or not that will be kept up. But But that is kind of what he’s reading.

Jenna Spinelle
The Harvard youth poll does come up in the interview, because David worked on the Harvard youth poll during his time at Harvard, we’ll talk about that we’ll talk about his thoughts on the media, which are also very interesting, the idea of incremental change. So lots to get to in this interview. So let’s get right to it. Here’s my conversation with David Hogg.

Jenna Spinelle
David Hogg, welcome to democracy works. Thanks for joining us today.

David Hogg
Thank you for having me.

Jenna Spinelle
So excited to have you here at Penn State giving a lecture later today. And, you know, I was thinking about, it’s been about six years since the shooting at your high school and the thing that I’m sure changed your life and and continues to change it. But I’m wondering how you’re thinking about that anniversary, and also about the fact that it’s the time since the shooting happened has now been like, a quarter of your life so far, it’s when you put it out, or I’m doing the math correctly. Just kind of wild to think about.

David Hogg
Yeah, it is. I mean, I’m in awe of how much we’ve been able to do. And it’s very inspiring, knowing that we, you know, after parkland, we had the largest youth protests in American history. At the time, what many consider to be the second largest protest in American history. We had nearly a million people with us in DC 800 marches around the world demanding action on gun violence. And in the time after that, in that election, we saw one of the highest youth voter turnouts and a non presidential midterm in American history. They weren’t and they weren’t voting 5050 for Democrats and Republicans, they were voting very clearly one direction for candidates who strongly support gun laws. And although all that’s amazing, and we’ve passed over 100 gun laws in the time since at the state level, unfortunately, it still hasn’t been enough. The reality is, the movement is it’s not that the movement is broken. What I’ve come to realize is that our government is broken in any other scenario, young people standing up like we did after Parkland with so many other young people around the country, in a functional democracy that would have actually moved the needle. And I think we did but not nearly not nearly enough, not nearly as much as it would have if we had a functional society that had its priorities straight, that put people before profits, for example, and people before politics. And in the time since Parkland gun deaths have gone up 5000 by over 5000 year. And I can’t say when that’s happening, that we’re succeeding, we aren’t the movement is failing. We whatever we’re doing right now is not enough. And even if that means that we need to focus on fixing the broken government that brought us here, that is just what we need to do to address this. And it’s hard knowing that living with that reality that gun does have gotten so much worse. But it’s also important to note that it’s not possible to prove the shooting that didn’t happen. After parkland, we passed a law that could disarm people that are risk to themselves or others with the right to counsel and due process. And one of those instances was for somebody that threatened to come out another an NRA supporter that said eff with the NRA and you’ll be DOA. We use the law that we passed after Parkland to disarm the very man that threatened to kill my mother. And that same law is now been used over 12,000 times in our state. sense,

Jenna Spinelle
There are several threads. You mentioned there that I want to kind of expand, organizing broken government voting. Let’s start with organizing. And I’m thinking about how social media has evolved over the past six years where it seems now, things are more about content consumption, right? Like watching Tic TOCs, to your eyes bleed, and all these kinds of things. I wonder how you think about social media as an organizing tool now versus then how things have changed and how it can be used effectively today to organize.

David Hogg
I think social media is a bit tricky. I think it can. It can do just as much harm as it can good for a movement. I think social media, in many ways, has the same problems that the the American left has in that it’s very, it’s very easy for people to rally around what is wrong with something and talk about all the ways something is wrong. But it’s very hard for everybody on that platform to be able to be for something necessarily. And it’s really difficult, because we can’t just be against things we have to be for them. When we’re trying to build a better society. Right? blowing everything up is the easy part. It’s about what are you going to build in its place in how are you going to actually lead and build something better than where you started with. And I think that’s one of the main challenges that comes with social media is because the platforms, people often who end up developing the largest platforms are the ones that are the best at pointing out everything that is wrong. And sometimes, they are also the ones that can talk about how to fix it. But that’s not always the case. And oftentimes, it’s not the case. And it’s really frustrating, because simply talking about how everything is wrong is just the first step, we need to actually lead and talk about how to fix it and make it better. And unfortunately, social media has has a very strong negativity bias, because of the profit motives and the outrage industrial complex that it has become part of where people are constantly focused on attacking each other. And talking about what is wrong, instead of really focusing on what we can agree on moving forward on that, and building coalitions and actually getting things done. And I think it’s, it’s only going to continue to get worse, so long as you know, we have local media die more with the deaths of local print journalism, or Yeah, I mean, that’s really what it is. And the massive amount of profit driven media consumption that has taken over our society, right, we don’t have the fair time rule like we used to. And we also are not funding public media enough at all. I did an experiment with myself in college one time where I just about how I was consuming content, where for like a week long period, I went from watching like MSNBC, and NBC and traditional, like profit driven private media, to watching PBS Frontline, for example. And when I started, and that was the only place that I got my news from, and when that happened, I actually got bored more than anything. And it’s not because they aren’t good at covering the news. It’s because the news is not supposed to be sensationalized. It’s supposed to just tell you the facts of what’s going on, and not be telling you that the world is constantly falling apart, and everything’s about to explode. And I think the changes in our media ecosystem have really hurt just as much as they’ve helped these social movements. Because democratization of media can be a good thing, because it gives so many people voices. But it also makes it really hard to talk about what we’re for when it only takes one or two people to derail something and just point out the flaws and something.

Jenna Spinelle
So you know, David, I’ve heard those points from previous guests we’ve had on the show, but they’re all like 30 years older than you are, they’re kind of nostalgic for twice studied history. So exist more, but I guess, you know, for in some ways, you know, you have grown up in a world where local news has always been on the decline. So do you look to your study of history to see kind of how things once were, even though it’s not necessarily your lived experience?

David Hogg
Absolutely. I mean, that’s why I studied history, I wanted to understand how we got here, I studied a lot of, you know, more contemporary American history, like the 20th century in the United States, and looking at what, you know, kind of what went right and what went wrong. And I think more than anything, what’s driving the polarization we have in our society today is the the capturing of our media ecosystem by news was not necessarily supposed to be a profit making thing. For my understanding. It used to be really, you know, when they had just broadcast television, and it was for three channels that somebody had growing up, news was only one very small component of that. And what actually ended up making the money was the different programs that they had on but with the invention of cable media, with the growth of the internet, we’ve now seen a commodification of the news media that is, in my view, extremely bad for our society. Because the truth of the matter is, I was talking to a pollster about what’s different about today from you know, a time like the Vietnam War. And what they said to me was really interesting. It’s that in their view, and that during the Vietnam War, our government was united, but the people were divided. Now increasingly, what we’re finding is that our government is divided. But the people are actually surprisingly united on most things, if you ask them about the issues that they care about, and it really worries me, it really worries me, because we’ve created a system where we’ve told people for decades now that government is the problem, that all politics is corrupt, that no politician is going to ever fix anything, and nothing’s ever going to get better. And it becomes a self fulfilling prophecy, where if you believe that, then nobody’s ever going to try in the first place. And that’s part of the reason why I’m doing the work now with, you know, leaders we deserve, which is more partisan effort. But, you know, our candidates that we support, were packed and super back, they don’t take corporate money, they have to align with progressive values. And we’re helping to empower that next generation so that they don’t have those perverse incentives of corporations funding them, for example, and hopefully showing young people that not all politicians, a are a you know, know what it was like being alive when when World War Two was going on. But be know that not all politicians are so corrupt, that all hope is lost, that there are good people out there that are putting up a good fight, that do represent you, and are not there just to represent special interests.

Jenna Spinelle
So talk a little bit more about leaders we deserve, what kinds of folks are you working with? How are you getting them involved? I imagine it might be a bit of an uphill battle to convince someone to run for office, given all the scrutiny they’re going to have to go through given all of the the gridlock and things that you were just talking Yeah.

David Hogg
Well, I think part of my evolution in focusing more on the inside game of politics is that, frankly, I got tired of seeing the same faces over and over again. You know, I was in Maine, I think it was in 2019. I was talking to high schoolers there around the state with a thing I was doing in March for our lives. And I also was doing some lobbying there trying to encourage them to pass a red flag laws similar to what we had in Parkland. And mind you this is a democratic state legislature, right. And I remember meeting with them and saying why it was so important that they passed this Red Flag Law and being told effectively, you know, oh, it’s really terrible what happened in Parkland. But this kind of thing doesn’t really happen here. This is Maine. And then Lewiston happened, and people died. As a result, that shooting could have been prevented Had there been a red flag law in place, there was so many signs, and it’s heartbreaking. You know that these politicians, they are only responding to whatever is an electoral threat to them. And part of what we’re trying to do with leaders we deserve is to empower candidates that understand the anxiety of what it’s like going through a school shooter drill, that understand the anxiety of not knowing whether or not the planet is going to be inhabitable for your children because of climate change, that struggle to get by because of their inability to pay off their student debts, just because the interest that’s accruing on them where they can’t even pay off the principal. So they’re going to die with that debt. And we’re leaders we deserve. It’s about investing in that next generation and showing younger voters that this is not just a party of Joe Biden, Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi, it’s also the party of you know, Maxwell Alejandro frost, the first member of March for our lives to be elected to Congress. It’s also the party of you know, people like Anna Thomas, who’s running here in Pennsylvania, in one of the most competitive districts, who has a great background that has been, you know, community advocate and a whole bunch more. And it looks like people like Nate Douglas, who’s running in a competitive race in Florida. He’s 23. He’s a climate activist, but he’s decided to actually step in and try to create change within the state instead of just protesting it in the first place. And the thing that I like about leaders we deserve is that, you know, when you’re running for office, you can’t just be against something, you have to be for it, at least if you’re a Democrat that’s running most of the time. And it helps to enforce the political realities of what’s going on in these movements, and show them that you really have to be for something. And that’s part of what we’re trying to do is take bold, courageous progressive movement leaders from the movements of March for our lives, the movement for black lives, and the environmental movement, and the feminist movement, and help bring them into office so that they’re able to lead the change there. So that we’re able to have the pressure on the outside from these movements to hold them accountable. But the good people on the inside of that are doing the work getting experience now. So that 1020 3040 years from now, they are able to know how to work the political system, how to play the game and actually get good legislation passed. And if they start the hope is if they started in a good place, but they’re not taking corporate money. Hopefully, they they won’t have to for the rest of their career.

Jenna Spinelle
There’s this, you know, sense of Congress doesn’t do anything. Maybe that’s true to a lesser extent, at the state level. But, you know, the focus is just, you know, whatever committee hearing you’re in getting off your question that’s gonna go viral on social media versus actually doing any kind of policy work and every young person I’ve ever met, they want to do things they don’t just wanna, you know, have that viral moment? So how do you have those conversations, when you’re trying to convince people to run for office?

David Hogg
Well, I think a lot of it is just that if we, you know, in politics, I had a good friend once say to me, if you know, if you want to get 100, to get 100%, of what you want, you need 100% of the power. But in democracy, that’s never going to be the case, obviously. But even if we want to get anything done, we still need a majority to be able to do that in the first place. And that’s part of what we do to help convince these candidates, the vast majority of the work that we’ve done this cycle, though, just because we started in August, after many people already announced is finding the candidates that are already running in the first place, and really working with them on a day to day basis. To the point that, you know, obviously we help fund their campaigns for grassroots funded, we don’t, as an organization, we don’t take corporate money. The vast majority of our funding comes from, like 86,000 people across the country that have given five or $10 to us. But we work with candidates on a day to day basis. Just last night, when right before I was going to bed, I got a call from one of our candidates at 1045 at night, talking about how his campaign manager had just, you know, stepped away from the campaign and how he needed help on finding a new one, I was like, it’s gonna be fine. You know, we’ll work on finding one. But that’s the kind of stuff that we work on on a day to day basis. But in terms of working on actually getting things done, one of the questions that we ask, for example, in our climate section is are you working? Are you willing to work across party lines to actually get, you know, Energy policy reform passed, to make sure that we have things as exciting as high voltage transmission lines, which are extremely important for dealing with the onboarding of renewables that are not going to be providing electricity 100% of the day, because, for example, the sun is not always shining, or the wind is not always blowing. But in order to be able to handle those higher electric loads, we’re going to need to have trillions of dollars, frankly, invested in our electric grid over the next couple of decades, to handle all the onboarding of new electric cars, heat pumps, and so much more stuff that is going to be taking electricity. But I think one of the more interesting things that I’ve seen in my experience so far is that it’s actually a lot easier to get boring stuff passed, which makes sense. But there’s so much stuff that we actually do agree on that we don’t even talk about, because it doesn’t make it into that, that media where that, you know, driven to just divide people and drive outrage as much as possible to get more attention, sell you more ads. And an example is like, you know, everybody wants Grant High school graduation rates to be higher. Right? Why aren’t we talking about that? Like, it’s something that I would, I would think that almost all Republicans could agree on, all Democrats could agree on. And it’s not anything crazy. But why aren’t we doing that more? Right? We’re protecting veterans health care, right, with things like the pact act that did get passed, it was the largest expansion pretty much from I understand, I’m not the expert here, but from my understanding was the largest expansion of veterans health care in modern American history, and impacted everybody from people like my dad, to the veterans that I met with outside of the Capitol after that bill was sung for the first time out of an act of spite that I’m not going to get into. But there’s a lot of things that actually can be done so long as they aren’t really seen as a win for either side. And, you know, I think that’s kind of what happened with the Safer Communities Act a little bit after you’ve all day, you know, Democrats are always talking about the need for universal background checks, red flag laws and more. Republicans are always talking about how they want to weaken gun laws effectively, because they believe that the answer to gun violence is more guns, which to me is a logical but you know, take that as you will. But after you’ve all day, one of the main messages that I had that other people had to was, you know, look, I can respect that you don’t agree with me on everything, or even most things. But I can’t accept the fact that none of us wants school shootings to continue or gun violence in general to continue and act as if there’s nothing that the most powerful and rich country in human history, that there’s this is the one problem we can’t solve. Right. And I think from that we ended up what ended up happening is they kind of just created a new policy, where they expanded background checks for people under the age of 21, which was not nearly enough, it wasn’t as much as I wanted, necessarily, certainly wasn’t anything that the right was going to be happy with.

Jenna Spinelle
Yeah, I mean, it seems like you are, what I hear is that you’re trying to embrace compromise where you can and take small victories when you can get them and it seems like that’s a place where the left gets itself into trouble. Sometimes, too, is wanting everything to be all or nothing. And if it’s not exactly the way we want it, we’re not going to be happy are those conversations that you’re having also about how to maybe try to bring people around to the idea of incremental change or compromise without of course compromising everything that you believe into.

David Hogg
I don’t even really see it as compromise so much as I see it as us making progress on what we can and agree on in the first place where both parties, you know, have some level of, even if it’s small, some small level of overlap in this kind of Venn diagram between left and right. And I don’t you know, I think what a compromise would be was just saying like, All right, we’re gonna massively weaken gun laws in X y&z areas just so we can get this tiny expansion of background checks for people under the age of 21 tempting to buy a gun from a federally licensed dealer, right, that would be compromised in my view. And that would not be tolerable. But what we did here is we said, Look, right now we have a majority in the House, we have a slim majority in the Senate, and we have the presidency, we’re going to get everything we can pass, given those circumstances and the fact that we need to get 10 Republicans on board to break through the filibuster. And when it comes down to it, we could have either stepped away from that table and gotten nothing done, people would have died, and nothing would have changed. Or we could actually pass that law saved some lives not nearly as many as I think we could have heard we pass something bigger, but it’s much better than the alternative of doing nothing. And more importantly, I think that people don’t understand this, that or, I don’t mean to sound rude saying this, but just aren’t politically experienced in like these policy negotiations. And on the inside of these debates that happen between senators are politicians is, so much of this is about trust and relationships. And if you can show somebody that you’re willing to work with them to pass something meaningful that you both agree on, even if it’s between a Democrat and a Republican, it helps to show like you’re not here to screw them over. Right, you’re here to help people, you’re here to focus on the principles that you say you care about. And when you do that, that’s kind of the way that I’ve come to see the Safer Communities Act is, you know, before the Civil Rights Act, there were smaller pieces of civil rights legislation that were passed that I am sure, leaders in the Civil Rights Movement thought were not enough. I certainly don’t think the Safer Communities Act was enough. But I think what it did is it showed those 10 Republicans that you can vote for something like this, and not lose your election because of it. It’s the same reason why we push through votes in the House, for example, on the assault weapons ban, even though we knew it wasn’t gonna get passed in the Senate, because we were able to show as a party that we could pass that I was able to show young voters that the party does want to prioritize that. And we were able to show even for that one of the republicans who voted on it that was still running for re election day, he didn’t lose his reelection, even though he voted for one of the most controversial pieces of, of gun legislation in the first place. And those things are part of the convoluted way of how you have to actually get legislation done. But it’s just building trust and changing the narrative on this issue. And showing that there are people who are, you know, frankly, if we need to wait until they’re 60, Democrats in the Senate to pass an assault weapons ban, even if we have that it’s not going to happen. Because what they’re going to say, and I know this, because I’ve had many conversations with the type of people that would be in charge of that, what they’ll say is, it’s really important. And we know that, you know, effectively that they’ve raised 10s of millions of dollars off of talking about the need to ban assault weapons, but that they want to preserve these 10 seats, because they’re in more moderate states that are more red, and they’re not going to pass that legislation. So they’re going to pass something smaller. So we have to wait until one party is fully empowered to address gun violence, we are fundamentally going to fail, we have to show that this was electorally popular and be in some ways pragmatic about how to just be laser focused on getting legislation done, building trust with people, especially on the inside of the beltway, frankly, where they know that these Republicans know that they can work across the aisle with Democrats and not be committing political suicide, doing so. And there’s been so much fear for decades around this issue, that it’s gonna take a long time to work through that. But the more pressure we put on, the more we keep doing this work. And coming at it from different angles, whether it’s youth advocacy, PACs and super PACs, you know, and running people for office, eventually, one of those ways or multiple of those ways are going to work and create that change.

Jenna Spinelle
So speaking of convincing young voters, the Harvard youth poll, which I’m sure you’re familiar with, or worked on, shows that as you know, enthusiasm for Joe Biden and Donald Trump is low across the board really singularly so among young voters. And, you know, we had someone here on campus earlier in the semester, who was advocating for for not enthused about the top of the ticket, don’t fill it in focus on down ballot races. I guess I wonder what you make of that. And, you know, maybe it’s as someone who is involved in down ballot races yourself how you’re thinking about that getting young people enthused to vote, even though they might not be enthused about the top of the ticket.

David Hogg
I mean, like, I think of voting, kind of like harm reduction, it is not the end all be all solution to everything. Because like I said, it doesn’t matter, even if we elected right now, say we elected Democrats for this issue entirely, you know, in the Senate and the House and kept the presidency, that would be great. But the reality is if we didn’t have an enormous amount of pressure on them to actually come through and this is not the Say this is a democratic exclusive thing, this is just a politician thing, in general, that is going to happen, because politicians are basically focused on reducing the number of ways that they can get electoral really screwed over as much as possible. And the bigger that you can make the stick of your movement, if you will, and have a bigger carrot as well, the more likely you are to get those politicians to act in the way that you want them to. And when it comes to voting down ballot, part of our theory is that even if you’re not excited about the presidential elections, many young people are not. The reality is states like Pennsylvania, you know, with very close legislatures, like if Republicans take the legislature here, they’re going to ban abortion, there’s no ifs, ands or buts about it there, it is just the truth, it is almost certainly going to happen. They’re going to restrict birth control, they’re going to weaken gun laws, and they’re going to cut taxes, not typically on working people, but on corporations, and the wealthiest of the wealthiest people. And what we’re trying to do with leaders we deserve is highlight that. The state legislatures are really where the most legislation can get passed. It’s where we’ve done gun laws, it’s where we’ve, you know, been able to have any real progress at all, even as the federal government stands on the sidelines, and is increasingly unproductive because of the filibuster, which, frankly, we need to abolish, if we ever want to give people faith in their government back, it actually needs to be able to do things besides just, you know, funding the Pentagon and funding different programs through reconciliation measures. But part of our hope is that with these younger candidates that imagine if every state, you know, after the covenant schools shooting in Tennessee, we saw the rise of Justin Jones and Justin Pearson, and the Tennessee three, imagine if every state had figures like that young people that understand the anxiety of what it’s like going to a school shooting, understand the anxiety, are going through school shooter drill, rather, or the anxiety of student debt, or any of the other multitude of problems that we’re facing, that are so eloquently out there speaking and building power and showing that all not all hope is lost, because that’s really the thing that keeps me up at night is I don’t I don’t think Donald Trump is the greatest threat to American democracy. I think he’s certainly a threat. But I think the greatest threat to American democracy is the hopelessness and apathy that helps to create somebody like Donald Trump, it’s the voters that I’ve talked to that say, you know, I’m just not going to vote in this election. Because I, I’ve just lost all faith that any politician is ever going to do the right thing. And my voice doesn’t matter. Because the entire system is so rotten and corrupt, that it’s never going to get better. Because who wins in that scenario? Are people like Donald Trump in the first place. And that’s part of what we’re trying to do as leaders, we deserve as build up the state candidates because I honestly I think over the next decade, and I hope I’m wrong on this, I hope that somebody will come to me 10 years from now and say, like, look at how wrong you were, you’re such an idiot. But I believe at this point that Congress is only going to become less productive. I think 10 years from now, the only legislation that Congress is going to be passing are probably trying to stop the government from shutting down every month because of these are crazy inability to even keep the government funded. And it will be focused on just reconciliation measures of funding different programs, and some basic foreign policy stuff. The real social legislation, in my view, though, is going to happen from the state level, especially as this Court stands where it stands at the moment, assuming nobody works to expand it or anything like that. And that means that we really need to build up our work on the state legislative level where we’re these races are way cheaper, and way more legislation can get passed, plus they draw the lines end up creating Congress in the first place. And we have another six years until that redistricting happens again.

Jenna Spinelle
So we often hear from students that about their mental health and the you know, the barriers that that creates for political engagement. If you’re already feeling anxious, depressed, perhaps traumatized, depending on what’s happened in your life. You’re not, you know, the idea of being civically engaged just seems like, almost insurmountable task. So I, I wonder how you balance those things in your own life and how you counsel others to strike that balance between maintaining mental health while still being civically engaged and being part of our democracy?

David Hogg
Well, I think a lot of it come from me what it looks like is realizing the most important thing that I had to learn, that took me a long time it took years was realizing that not all of this is on me, that they’re you know, taking a break is not antithetical to making progress. It is actually an it is a critical part of it. Because if the movement all movements are our people, if those people are not taking care of themselves, the movement is not taking care of itself. But the beautiful thing about it being a movement is that it’s a group of people, and it will still be a group of people. If you take a day off, a year off or a decade off, they will still be there. And then you can step in when you feel ready to and that signals to other people that they can step out when they need to. So that no matter what somebody is still there leading that charge, I know that I can take a break, because, you know, the organizers in March for our lives are doing the work every day to lead the fight on us. And some of those organizers know that they can take a break, because I’m out here doing the work when they can. And for those students that struggle with their mental health, that feel like it’s just so insurmountable to make any amount of change. Activism is not something, you know, civic engagement is not something that you need to be engaged in 24/7, all I want from people, the best thing that you can do, is literally take one day, every two years, and vote. It’s not that complicated. If you do that you’re doing more than 50% of people, certainly 50% of young people in this country. And I don’t care if you spend all those other days playing fortnight or anything else, so long as you’re voting, that is the bare minimum. And that is all I am asking of you. Now, if we can get even just 1% of people that go beyond that, and show up at their legislature, that’s more than 99% of people do. But if you show up there, and you meet with these politicians, you say that you really need this legislation. And if you don’t get it, that you’re going to work, do everything in your power to make sure they are not reelected. And they feel the cultural movement of that, that people are upset, but they haven’t lost faith in their government that the people expect a government by and for the people, not special interests, like the NRA, that they’re expecting you to protect kids and not organizations like the National Rifle Association, that they’re expecting you to pull it protect things like the planet, and not polluters, like Shell, Chevron and so many other of these corporations, those politicians need to know that you are showing up that you’re going and knocking doors and putting the pressure on them. Because when you don’t show up, you know who’s going to its shell, it’s the NRA, it’s different organizations like that, that have a massive profit incentive to effectively poison your water, threaten your life, and ensure that we live in an America where everybody is effectively forced to buy a firearm, because we failed so epically at creating and ensuring one of the main core tenants of our union, which is ensuring the domestic tranquility, and if just 1% of people can show up and just lobby or protest, you’re doing more than 99% of people. And that just means showing up, you know, one day every year, on top of the one day, I’m asking you to vote. And it’s really not that complicated. The important thing is realizing too, that this is not going to get solved in one election, this is not going to get solved by one person, it’s going to get solved by all of us. If we really want to change this, it requires all of us being not to sound cliche, but being the change that we want to see. And knowing having the long view that well, things are feel really stagnant right now as a young person, and can feel exhausting and like they’re never going to change, guess what? You’re going to outlive most of the people in your state legislature in Congress. Thank God. The question is, what are you going to do to make sure that future generations that our generation doesn’t become like those politicians that we fought that we are fighting so hard against right now, because in many ways, that’s actually what happened with the baby boomers, where they were a massive activist generation, and many of them did go on to serve as incredible leaders in our country. But unfortunately, we had far too few of them. Because many of them burnt out, many of them got exhausted. And it’s understandable. These movements are driven by trauma. But we have to know how to heal and still be activists and organizers at the same time, it doesn’t mean that you need to be on the road every single day doing this. Most people cannot do that. Most people should not do that. All you need to do is either vote, every chance that you get, and then anything beyond that. It’s just more added support there.

Jenna Spinelle
David, that is a fantastic place to leave things. Thank you so much for the work that you do. And thanks for joining us today.

Chris Beem
You know, Michael, I want to get your thoughts on this. Because I think you know, this issue better than I do. But I think it’s worth is kind of setting the table in terms of you know, what you were mentioning about kind of this generational moment in which we find ourselves, right. So for you know, you and I are both baby boomers, and for our entire life, we’ve been this, you know, bump in the demographics of the United States, where we were always the most important generation the most powerful, vertically, just in terms of numbers. And now you’re starting to see that decline because, you know, the baby boomers are starting to, you know, to reach the end of their lives. And so, you have this moment where younger generations can act See, and Gen Z two are just in terms of numbers, they represent a potential change in American politics. As of right now, they haven’t, you know, really manifested that power, they haven’t created a identifiable voting bloc. But if they were to do that, they could quite literally change American politics, right.

Michael Berkman
I don’t know. I think the, you know, I think we make a lot of assumptions about the politics of younger people. I mean, I’m old enough to remember when they supported Ronald Reagan. And so I think there’s a sense that, you know, we have this highly progressive generation that’s going to bring all this dramatic change to politics when they come in. I don’t know. I mean, there, there are various characteristics about this generation that suggests that might not be the case, right? I mean, they tend to identify as independents, they’re very much challenged and uncomfortable with partisan politics. You know, Ben, terrific work by Jennifer lawless at Virginia that has talked about how so many younger people have kind of refocused themselves away from elected political office and from partisan politics towards other ways of making a difference in the world. And certainly, you see that among our students who have done all kinds of service work and have all kinds of ideas to change the world, but it’s not necessarily through the political system. So to me, the interesting question is, as this generation replaces the current generation, as they themselves get older, and replace this older generation, and they get involved in politics, what will be different? Yeah, and I know, in our holy root of the Nation Poll, we see some differences and how they think about democracy, that they’re more participatory, that they are uncomfortable with a lot of the constraints that are put on majority rule in this country, that could lead to, you know, an impetus and power for change. And it can also lead to a frustration that says I’m out. Because majority is just don’t rule. So. So it really is open to me, but it is potentially, you know, a very exciting or interesting moments in politics.

Chris Beem
And this is, you know, this is part of this generational, you know, analysis or moment is you also have, you know, a genuine amount of anger among young people, right, anger about climate change, anger about gun violence, anger about student debt, anger about the fact that they can’t touch a mortgage in a lot of, you know, big cities, my knees said, you know, unless you have generational wealth, you’re not buying a condo in Manhattan, you know, and, you know, is that true or not? That’s not the point. The point is that this generation sees it, as the game is rigged against them. And so, you know, yeah, they could opt out and just say, you know, to hell with all Yeah, but anger is a really good political motivator.

Michael Berkman
And I’m into politics. And David’s goal is not to see this particular cohort of students take power, but to just continuously make sure there are young people there that younger voices are needed and legislature that’s hard to argue with, you know, you see what’s gone on in Tennessee, and these young legislators there, and the, their efforts to shake up the status quo have been really quite fascinating. I’m also really struck, then they run into the anti majoritarian institutional mechanisms that are in place throughout the American political system. And, and that’s where it becomes a very frustrating experience. It’s so hard to change, not only because, you know, old people don’t want to change anything, but because the American political system is set up not to change, right, and more so than any other democracy, based on our constitution of which are quite a few.

Chris Beem
But I would also say that, you know, he’s right, to say that, you know, if you’re looking for some kind of moral beacon in politics, you really need to stop. Because the whole system is that it the incentive structure just doesn’t work that way. I mean, you know, politicians come in and they’re usually idealistic, and they want to be public servants, but then they become, you know, part of this party structure and part of this, you know, committee work and all that and it’s, it’s just designed to, to make you concerned with holding on to your seat and that becomes your primary objective, and so on.

Michael Berkman
I don’t buy this. No, no, I mean, first of all, democracy is not possible without political parties. I can’t think of a democracy that does operate without political parties. They need some sort of organizations that finds candidates that runs candidates, and then that helps to cohere the candidates into a governable team. Otherwise, every single vote would be a floating coalition of this person and that person, and so parties aren’t necessary. And then, you know, the grueling work of committees and that kind of thing. I mean, legislators create committees for a reason they create them so that you can do multiple things at one time. Foreign Affairs Committee works on this, and the Agriculture Committee works on that. And you have a legislature that can, you know, chew gum and walk at the same time. I think what we’re really talking about at least what I’m talking about when I refer to the frustrations and things, it’s the institutional constraints on majority will. It’s the fact that the Senate is so powerfully constructed right now as a veto on almost any legislative activity. It’s the way that the courts have been really taken over, in many ways by the Federalist Society and a kind of say, No, kind of attitude. I don’t think we’ve seen the beginning of how many different kinds of laws are and potentially even rights are going to be withdrawn over the next 10 years or so with the way the courts are set up these days. Gerrymandering I could go on and on. So that’s the kind of thing that I’m referring to not the hard work of legislating, which is going to be the case for anybody of any age, when they get into the legislature, you know, I mean, look at AOC, who is an extremely productive and impressive legislator, because she does the hard work of legislating.

Chris Beem
No, that wasn’t my argument. I mean, because you’re right, that’s all true. But what I was arguing was that as an idealistic passionate person, right, someone who is out to change policy becomes confronted with the reality that politicians are looking for money and or votes. And if you can demonstrate that you can get that to them, then they will listen to you. I mean, there’s no disputing irrespective of how this shakes out, shakes down partisan wise, there’s no disputing that, you know, baby boomers have held the reins for a long time, you know, distinctively in American history. And there are worse people to think to you kind of hitched your wagon to then David Hogg as far as if you’re a young person and is interested in making a difference. So yeah, all right. Well, thanks again to David for joining us and Jennifer, the interview for democracy works. I’m Chris Beem.

Michael Berkman
I’m Michael Berkman. Thanks for listening.

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