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Meet The San Diego Native Behind The Youth Political Movement 'Generation Citizen'

March 20, 2019 1:34 p.m.

GUEST: Scott Warren, author, "Generation Citizen"

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Mintz built on excellence driven by change the start of the 2020 candidate debates are right around the corner. Different policy positions are being discussed about climate change wealth inequality immigration etc. And what are you doing about it. Is it all just too much too early. Or are you rolling up your sleeves to get into the issues. It's a movement to encourage and reflect the surge of young people getting involved in all aspects of politics and it's called Generation Citizen. Now there's a book about it Generation Citizen the power of youth in our politics.

It's written by the CEO of the Generation Citizen Scott Warren and he joins me now. Scott welcome to the program. Thanks for having me excited to be here. So who do you see as members of Generation Citizen.

Well we work with young people all across the country and specifically we work with 14 to 18 year old secondary students but what we're all about is ensuring that young people become informed and engaged active citizens. I think sometimes there's this misapplied trope that young people are apathetic that they don't care. That's not true. This generation of young people really do want to make a difference. They don't necessarily see government in politics especially local politics as the best way to make change. All of the issues that were seen in today's day and age all the divisive issues require politics that require government to take some sort of action.

We're trying to get young people to the forefront of ensuring that they're taking action to make a difference in our times.

Now here in San Diego just recently high school students joined with other high school students around the country in marching marching for climate change mitigation too. They held forums on gun violence for gun reform is the gun reform movement the focusing issue of this generation.

Well I think there's there's so many issues that are affecting this this generation and I think what young people are starting to realize and recognize is that previous generations just haven't taken care of a lot of the issues that are going to affect them. I think gun reform is one. I think climate change is another. You saw young people as you said across the world organizing that I think climate change for so long has been an issue that we've punted to the future because generations have felt like it's not really going to affect us for young people they do feel like it's going to affect us.

I think college debt is another issue that young people are galvanizing around and we're just in in an unprecedented age of economic and political inequality. And so young people I think are starting to to push forward the notion that we can't continue to do business as usual especially in the political realm.

And one of the messages in your books Generation Citizen is that voting is not enough. What do you mean by that.

I think oftentimes when we tell people to get political we say oh you just have to vote. Well voting is an act that happens every three to four years. It's important. We all should vote but there's so many other different ways of taking action. I think one of the things that that I think is important that we think is important that we ensure that our young people do is to be active politically every single day of the year. That might mean staying informed. That might mean being in touch with your city council person your state rep to let them know that this is an issue that we care about.

But just exercising that political muscle just as you might exercise physically is really important. And then voting I think comes as a natural correlate to that. But just telling someone and while all you have to do politically is vote is not terribly motivating. But there's also so many different ways that you can take action throughout the entire year.

What are some of the other ways that you see people being able to stay in the game so to speak and to be politically active even if it's not an election year.

We see this in in our classes across the country on a daily basis where young people are pushing for issues like getting funding for a youth homeless shelter or pushing for legislation that would provide tax incentives for more affordable housing in New York or pushing for different disciplinary policies and Providence Public Schools. So there's so many local issues that are being acted on every day. A lot of times even as you said at the beginning we're focused on the federal I mean we're a year and a half out and we can't stop talking about the 2020 election but here in San Diego here in so many different communities local politics reigns King.

And if you call up your city council member as a young person they're gonna listen to you. And so I think that's that's one of the messages that we're trying to push across is that you know young young people can really take effective action at the political level level especially at the local level.

You know voting may not be enough but voting certainly is important in the 2018 election. There was a big increase in young voters. You know it's still only about 30 percent took part. There's only political power in a block of voters if they come out and vote. Is that also your message.

Yeah and 100 percent we want young people at the at the ballot boxes and you're right. It was an upsurge from about 18 percent of 18 to 30 year olds and the midterms in 2014 to about 31 percent this time. But you still have more than 65 percent of young people not participating. One of the things that we tried to do as an organization is is to to really get young people before they actually turn 18. And so to push effective civics education that's something that's been you know not part of our schools.

It hasn't been a core part of our education system for for a long time. And so the extent to which were ensuring that young people are essentially cultural rights to political participation before they actually turn 18 is really important. You don't turn 16 and all of a sudden receive your driver's license. But I think sometimes we treat our democracy like that but all of a sudden you turn 18 and know how to participate. So it's really important for us that we're getting young people involved at a really early age.

In the book you write about something you call the hourglass concept which is basically a process of breaking down complex issues. How does that work.

So I think oftentimes when we take political action we have a tendency to think about broad issues and take broad action. So we might think about climate change and then go to a march or protest which is important. The hourglass shape is intentional it starts broad it gets narrow and then it gets brought again. So what we actually ask our students to do is pick an issue it might be something like climate change but then actually figure out what the root cause of that issue is especially at a local level and it might be a local fossil fuel plant that's opening in the community it might be carbon tax at the state level.

So figuring out that very local issue figuring out the exact decision makers that can do something about it and then deploying a wide array of tactics to actually get stuff done getting it that that middle part of the hourglass where you're figuring out the root cause of why something exists and actually figuring out a concrete goal is much trickier than taking broad action. So I think that's one of the things that we're trying to push is it's about choosing an issue that you care about and really understanding that issue and understanding the roots of why that issue is a problem.

Another thing that we think about all the time. You know that we think about really getting at the systemic roots of the problem. So for example if you're if you're worried about hunger food kitchens and food pantries are really important but they're insufficient. We want our students to understand the root causes of why hunger continues to exist. Is it that SNAP benefits aren't broad enough is it that food deserts exist in a certain community so really figuring out the rigorous root causes of why a problem exists.

What kind of inspiration are you hoping that Generation Citizen inspires in this in youth participating in this upcoming election.

I think it's this upcoming election. But I think we're at a precipice moment in our democracy generally where there's a lot of institutions under threat where we see lower participation in this country than most other developed countries in the world and so what I'm hoping hoping for and hopeful for is that this new generation both participates but also says that this democracy is not what we can make it be it is not what we want it to be.

So I'm hoping that our organization in the book inspires young people to recognize that to an extent the most no more broken politics becomes the more important it is for us to actually engage politically and Scott Warren will be speaking more about his book Generation Citizen the power of youth in our politics tonight at seven thirty at the book catapult in South Park. And Scott thank you.

Great to be here.

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