How Young People Can Change Our Perception of Politics

When I need an infusion of hope, this is exactly the kind of thing that does the trick:

The organization Run for Something has been doing great work over the last 20 months. But what gives me hope are those 18,000 young people who have stepped up and engaged in the political process. The line that grabbed me from that video is the one about how they are challenging the idea of what it means to be a politician. That is something that young people, without the baggage of tradition, are uniquely capable of doing.

One of the things that happens when we change the idea of what it means to be a politician is that we open the door to more diverse candidates who represent the totality of what it means to be American. Take a look at how Ayana Pressley, a candidate in Massachusetts’ 7th congressional district, describes why that is important.

Pressley is exactly right to say that representation matters because “it informs the issues that are spotlighted and emphasized and it leads to more innovative and enduring solutions.” I thought of that when I saw this wonderful ad from Kaniela Ing, who is running in Hawaii’s 1st congressional district.

My reaction wasn’t to focus on the fact that Ing is one of the Democratic Socialist candidates running this year. Frankly, that feels an awful lot like the way we’ve always talked about politicians—putting them on a linear scale of left to right. Instead, it was Ing’s Native-Hawaiian perspective that brought me hope. There he is, sitting on the beach, playing the ukulele and contemplating what gives human beings dignity. In doing so, he challenged the notion that we “live to work” and that we have no choice but to “grind, grind, grind.”

I’ve often thought that one of the ways we’ve short-changed young people is that we haven’t talked enough about the spiritual and moral values that undergird both our lives and politics. I need to immediately qualify that I’m not suggesting that we don’t talk enough about religion. We probably do that too much. But discussions about religious differences don’t tend to focus on questions like: What elevates human dignity? Is the ability to pursue our dreams important? What is it that makes life valuable and worthwhile? How would our politics change if that was part of the conversation? Native-Hawaiian culture has a lot to teach us about those questions and that is what someone like Kaniela Ing brings to the table.

As the Run for Something video suggests, Ing is just one of many young people who have the potential to change the way we not only think about politicians, but the way we talk about politics. That gives this old lady a lot of hope.

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly.