Mobilizing the Millennial Generation

David Smith is not your average 20-something, and he doesn't believe you have to be either. As the founder and executive director of Mobilize.org, Smith is dedicated to educating, empowering, and energizing those aged 16 to 30 to become more engaged citizens and more active participants in the political process.

"Mobilize.org believes that young people have the untapped ability to amass political power and encourage organizations and institutions to appreciate and earn our participation," said Smith. "Our programs, partnerships, and events are reflective of our belief that young people can have a profound and long-lasting effect on public policy."

While studying political science at the University of California, Berkeley, Smith researched the causes and possible solutions to what he considers the "youth civic engagement crisis" in America. He also served as an extremely active member of the student government. But it was one experience in particular that really made Smith see the power of mobilizing youth to speak out and be heard.

During the 2001-2002 school year, while serving as chief of staff of the student government's External Affairs Office, Smith helped mobilize 150 UC Berkeley students to travel to the California State Capitol to fight for issues affecting students throughout the state -- the UC budget, student fees, and student housing. And after deliberation with 110 of the 120 elected officials in the State Assembly and State Senate, there were some remarkable results. Student fees were not raised, saving UC students nearly $100 million; the UC budget was protected to a greater extent than nearly any other state-funded program; and, in an unprecedented move, $15 million of a housing bond was obtained for low-income student housing, with a University match doubling the funding.

Very quickly, the wheels started turning, and Smith began to wonder what kind of power he could help bring about on the national level. That evening, a small group of the student organizers jumped on a plane to Washington, D.C., to search for organizations and movements that could represent the youth of America. In the absence of a unified national voice, Mobilize.org was formed. Five years later, the organization has grown from a club on one college campus to a national network serving and providing resources to 100 campuses in more than 30 states. But things are just getting started.

Taking it to another level
On July 4, 2007, Mobilize.org announced the launch of a new campaign dubbed Democracy 2.0, the purpose of which is to "call attention to the main problems of our current political system, highlight the distinct characteristics of our generation, and provide guidelines for change to help cultivate a new political process in America."

According to Smith, "the deliberate rejection and lack of support for citizen engagement in the policy process" is one of the main reasons for the high level of political distrust among today's youth. To appeal directly to the under-30 set, the two-year campaign will promote online dialogue, as well as offer regional forums and national events.

The campaign also calls on young people to participate in Mobilize.org's 10-question Democracy 2.0 survey, the results of which will be reviewed and evaluated during October's Democracy 2.0 Summit, with the intention of releasing "Democracy 2.0: A Declaration of Our Generation."

"The Democracy 2.0 Declaration will be a short statement describing a citizen-centered approach to democracy," said Smith, noting that it will continue to be discussed and circulated online and offline throughout the fall and winter.

Let's get this party started
At the end of the year, to coincide with the engagement of voters in "early primary states," Mobilize.org will host a Party for the Presidency in Hollywood, Calif. The leadership development gathering will bring together 435 young citizens -- one from each Congressional district -- to engage in a discussion of the state of the American democracy with elected officials and candidates from around the country, consultants, staffers, interest groups, and media and entertainment personalities.

Each of the 435 youth representatives will be nominated as a top young activist demonstrating a "citizen-centered" approach to engagement in their community and be provided opportunities to teach and learn from one another. The goal of the event is to create a sustainable network of "Democracy 2.0 Ambassadors."

"The Party for the Presidency will empower participants with the tools, resources, and knowledge to be active youth leaders, to bring important community issues to their local leaders, and to revolutionize the way our leaders seek the input and support of our citizens," said Smith.