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October 16, 2008

Democracy 2.0

Mobilize.org--an organization of some 35,000 young Americans, founded and led by talented Millennials (who happen to be friends of mine)--has released its Democracy 2.0 report. They wrote it collaboratively and deliberatively--much in keeping with their philosophy of democracy.

They depict themselves as a generation that is tech-savvy, tolerant, and educated, but also sometimes lazy, selfish, and image-conscious. I'd say they understand college-educated Millennials but don't describe the one third of their cohort who drop out before completing high school, or their many peers who are quite baffled and intimidated by technology.

They are enthusiastic about democratic, deliberative, and participatory processes such as youth commissions. They call themselves "all partisan" and are notably non-ideological, in traditional terms. They decry the bad performance of government in cases like Katrina, but overall do not come across as angry or cynical.

It's kind of fun to compare Democracy 2.0 to another statement written by young people who had a strong sense of generational identity:

Maybe we could call the Port Huron Statement "Democracy 1.5." These two documents are similar, although there is much more angst in the former statement, and more ambivalence about technology. The Port Huron Statement mainly decries technology for putting people out of work, although the authors do see some potential: "How should technological advances be introduced into a society? By a public process, based on publicly-determined needs. Technological innovations should not be postponed from social use by private corporations in order to protect investment in older equipment."

October 16, 2008 11:33 AM | category: none


From Christina Gagnier, Chief Information Officer of Mobilize.org, by email:

    Dear Peter,

    Thank you for your mention of the Democracy 2.0 report upon your blog. We appreciate the support of our network and advisors in the launch of this inaugural report on a collective vision for our generation of an upgraded democracy.

    You are correct: a collective vision must indeed be collective. In your post, you noted that, in reference to our familiarity with the Millennial demographic: “I'd say they understand college-educated Millennials but don't describe the one-in-three of their peers who drop out before completing high school, or their many peers who are quite baffled and intimidated by technology.” While this may be partially true of our initial efforts to help provide a common vision for our generation, we are well aware of the millions of “Missed Millennials” who do not receive treatment in the press and are just now being engaged in their perceptions on the same issues in the same manner that much of the civic engagement community has focused on college youth. In November, Mobilize.org will release, And They We Are the Millennials, a brief report highlighting some of the misconceptions of the Millennial Generation, including the idea that we are all "tech-savvy.”

    We agree with your message. Generalizations can lead the institutions and organizations that reach out the Millennial Generation astray. It is true that much of the research that takes place regarding the Millennial Generation is conducted at our nation’s colleges and universities, and perhaps not venturing into the communities where other Millennials are located.

    Second, by couching all Millennials as the “Technology Generation,” this creates the illusion that a digital divide does not exist between members of the Millennial Generation, when in fact, especially in states like California, there are many Millennials in poor urban and rural areas who do not have the same access to computers, much less own cellphones or smartphones. A recent report of the Public Policy Institute of California, California’s Digital Divide, confirms that the largest segment of the state population, Latinos, have the least amount of access to computers and the Internet. This digital divide is merely one piece of evidence of one of the largest problems that will face Millennials: a gaping socioeconomic divide between the “haves” and “have nots.”

    The proliferation of social networking technology, especially that which is free, creates a “kid in a candy store” effect for non-profit organizations. Organizations run more of a chance of failing to effectively reach minorities and socioeconomically-disadvantaged groups due to the dangerous assumption that organizing can be moved fully online. As an organization dedicated to the Millennial Generation, we are currently taking steps to be an active voice for all Millennials, launching the second installment of our national survey, Democracy 2.0: An Annual Survey of the Millennial Generation. We will be targeting non-college youth, gaining rich insights and comparing the attitudes of a variety of issues that affect all of us.

    Part of being an organization of Millennials dedicated to Millennials is a willingness to represent and advocate for each and every member of the generation, not just those who may be our direct counterparts. Moving forward, we will continue to dedicate our efforts to issues, like economic inequality, that affect each and every member of our generation. As our declaration states, “We realize that as young people we are expected to be the leaders of tomorrow, but we understand that as citizens we are called to be the leaders of today.” Part of this conception of citizenship is to be global in our perspective and inclusive in our approach.

October 17, 2008 9:22 PM | Comments (1) | posted by Peter Levine

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