In his first public appearance since leaving office, former President Barack Obama talked about the importance of developing the next generation of leaders, sharing that his experiences as a young community organizer in Chicago laid the foundation for his political career.
“The single most important thing I can do is to help in any way I can to prepare the next generation of leadership to take up the baton and take their own crack at changing the world.”
Obama’s words come at a moment where young people across the country are engaging in more progressive activism than ever. Since Obama left office, almost 100 new volunteer-led organizations have formed, led mostly by young people, to resist against the regressive agenda of the current administration. The next generation of progressive leaders is taking the baton, the only problem is – they aren’t being supported in their efforts.
A report recently published by Young People For and Generation Progress, shows that the progressive movement isn’t investing in its leaders, in fact it falls far behind conservatives. Conservative youth organizations outspend progressives by a 3:1 margin, which means that young progressives aren’t receiving the same kinds of opportunities to develop their leadership capacity as young conservatives.
This funding gap means that young progressives receive far fewer Fellowships, paid internships, trainings, and capacity building opportunities, much like the ones Obama attributes for laying the foundation to his political career.
In his remarks, Obama poses two very important questions, “What are the ways we can create pathways for them to take leadership — for them to get involved? Are there ways in which we can knock down some of the barriers that are discouraging young people about a life of service?”
The report outlines the answer to both of these questions, and the solution is clear – we need to build the strength of the progressive youth movement, and that means investing in young people, now. We need to build the right infrastructure to catalyst a pipeline of progressive leaders who have the skills to, in Obama’s words, take their own crack at changing the world.
But we need to do this now. The current burst of progressive, young energy will die down unless we seize and support it. Now, more than ever, we need to sustain the people on the front lines of creating change in their communities. Now, more than ever we need to invest in young people.