Op-ed: The 2022 midterms proved it is Gen Z’s moment. It’s time to seize it.

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Mark Lannigan is the president of the Tufts Democrats.

Want real change? Run for office. I wrote back in May 2021 about why it was so important and increasingly possible for young people to run for office. With the 2022 midterms behind us and a wave of progressive Gen Z victories under our belt, I again want to stress the importance of running for office.

The old way of doing politics is what landed us in our current predicament. I’m excited by the fact that a wave of leaders chose to ignore the old ways of doing things and embrace strategies and issues that are new and bold: concentrating on issues like reproductive justice, student debt relief and the climate crisis, and running campaigns, which are all deeply focused on policy and community. 

I’m even more excited that these are the campaigns that won: compare the loss of Democratic titan and defender of the old guard Sean Patrick Maloney to the brilliant new campaigns of Gretchen Whitmer and John Fetterman and you’ll see my point. The new ways are working, the old ways are fading, and Democratic politicians have a choice to make.

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Why these new strategies are working is because these are the issues our generation, Gen Z, is fired up by. 2022 was a show of Gen Z’s political muscle: Tufts Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement estimates that 27% of young people turned out to vote, and made up one out of every eight voters. We’re turning out, and we’re turning out for candidates who are going to be the courageous fighters for the world we want to see. That’s the good news.

The bad news is that this new way of doing things won’t necessarily stick. Some politicians who are in the pockets of big money and married to the smoke-filled back room will try to spin the narrative. They won’t focus on the incredible wins for Democrats that Gen Z voted in. They’ll try to drag us back into our old politics of inaction and apathy.

That’s where us college students come in. Gen Z needs a seat at the table, both to champion the world we want to see and to stress the winning strategy we’ve devised for getting there. We know now that it works. People want to hear bold ideas, hear from candidates involved in their communities, and know that the government has their back in defending their reproductive rights and their ability to live in a healthy, clean environment.

For these reasons and for so many more, we need Gen Z candidates to run for office. It’s not unfounded: Gen Z-ers have run across the country. Just look at Medford’s own Gen Z City Councilor Justin Tseng, and our first Gen Z member of Congress, Maxwell Frost, who was just elected this cycle. It’s our moment. It’s time to seize it.

The first thought that may cross your mind is, “You’re right, but I’m not the one to do it.” 

But that’s the thing: You are the one we need to run! If you care deeply about these issues and have roots in the community you want to see changes in, then you’re the perfect person to bring your experiences and your generation to the bargaining table. We need you — and we’ll be there for you.

I managed a campaign for a Gen Z-er back in 2021, and I can speak from firsthand experience that other members of our generation are ready and eager to turn out and support other Gen Z-ers. There are a lot of us. We are fired up. And we are ready to help you win.

“But Mark!” you might be saying. “Maybe I should do it, but I could never run for office!” 

This is what I hear most from people. It’s an understandable crisis of confidence. Gen Z has never been told to run for office before. 

Running for office may seem frightening. I won’t deny it: It’s a sizable undertaking. But with the help of other members of our generation and a wealth of resources available for young candidates, it is entirely doable. Plus, there are now Gen Z candidates who have run across the country who can provide support and the framework of a strategy that works well and wins elections.

There are so many possible first steps in running for office that it may seem overwhelming knowing where to start. Let me offer you one: reach out to local Democratic organizations or activists who are already doing that work in your community. Get involved with what is going on and reach out to young political activist groups and young activists who are already building generational power. 

I am earnest in my calls for you to run for office. If you’ve got a progressive mindset and you’re involved in your community, then you’re the perfect candidate and the perfect harbinger of the new world that young people want to see. More than that, it’s a world that we know we need to realize. The crises facing our generation are too pressing. Run for office. We’ll all be glad you did.

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