Party Y: Not Your Parents' Political Party

"It's difficult for young people to relate to the issues talked about in politics today," says Jake Conarck, 20, a student at SUNY-Farmingdale in New York. "It's like a foreign language." Statistics suggest that Conarck is not alone in his thinking: More than 30 million voters ages 18-30 didn't participate in the 2000 elections. Yet by numbers, Generation Y is poised to make monumental changes in the way American society functions -- according to U.S. Census projections, in about ten years voting-age members of Generation Y will begin to significantly outnumber the Baby Boomers.

But where are the stalwart, persistent, and dedicated voices of young people today? Over the past decade, many young people have taken to the streets to protest the injustices of globalizing efforts by the World Trade Organization (WTO) and International Monetary Fund (IMF), and, more recently, the war in Iraq. And while protest may be a valuable way to participate in politics, most young people are hesitant to take their political engagement a step further -- to construct something that furthers their values and beliefs rather than simply advocating the deconstruction of existing institutions.

Thomas Breyer, 24, wants to change that. Breyer is one of a team of founders of a new, but radically different, political party: Party Y. Joining Breyer in the founding of this new political party is Kyle Johnson, President of Youth Elect; Benjamin Quinto, Associate Director of Youth in Action; Joy Williams, Program Assistant for Demos USA; and the author who works under the pseudonym "Cousin Sam". Cousin Sam originated the idea in his book Youth Quake: A Manifesto (Trafford, 2001). Youth Quake offers a fictional glimpse at the impending youth revolution on America's horizon. The compelling manifesto tracks the life of a struggling young musician and his friends who start up their own grassroots political party, make a bold run for Congress, and create a song that ignites a national youth revolution. The catchy song, "Kill the baby boomers," sets the country ablaze, culminating in the Million Youth March to Washington, DC. Cousin Sam, the young author of the manifesto Youth Quake, has a clear purpose: To rally his fellow young Americans and reclaim their political voice.

While Party Y is not partisan in the traditional political sense, it is partisan in that its goal is to advance the goals of young people in America. Its founders call it "all-partisan" -- welcoming all political stalwarts and newbies aged 30 and below.

So what are these "common goals" that Party Y seeks to advance? Does it have a platform? Will Party Y even make it into the limelight, and, if so, how?

The unusual thing about this political party is that its platform will be decided by the young people who choose to participate in its creation, rather than by an elite group or a candidate. Through the Youth in Action online campaign to create a National Youth Platform, youth across the country will be able to put in their two cents by answering three simple questions: 1) What are your top three concerns for your country and your community? 2) What are your solutions to address your concerns? 3) What is your message to political candidates and leaders?

Beyond the platform, Party Y's goals are to increase the number of young people voting, multiply the number of young elected officials (under 30), and energize young people to participate in the voting process. The bottom line, according to Party Y, is to make politics cool by getting youth interested in government, giving them someone to vote for, and launching them en masse into America's voting booths.

But how in the world could this seemingly impossible venture be attained? According to Breyer, all it will take is impassioned effort from dedicated youth activists, a media vehicle open to the idea, credible, willing youth candidates to step forth, and funding.

The Party Y vision is simple if you take an example and apply it to politics. Take the "American Idol" TV series, for instance. Over ten thousand entries across the country were sifted through, to come up with only a handful of talented young pop divas. Over 100 million call-in voters helped pick the winners along the wow. That's right -- one hundred million VOTERS! Now imagine translating this phenomenon into a political project: auditioning and selecting talented, credible young candidates around the country to head a political team of youth.

To make politics cool, Party Y will enact a traveling political road show of colorful buses, bands, and DJs driving from town to town (and school to school), auditioning, enrolling, and recruiting local youth talents. The end result will be a national convention to announce the winners of the new, groovy political team. The political road show will commence in 2003 and culminate in November 2004 -- when Party Y hopes to elect several young Representatives to the U.S. House (obviously over the Constitutionally-required age barrier of 25, but no older than the age of thirty). "This seems like a great idea," says high school senior Joshua Deitel, 18, of Dallas, Texas. But he offers one bit of skepticism to Party Y's party: "If the young person isn't representative of my views, I wouldn't want them to be elected." Ideological purity is only one of the many obstacles Party Y faces, but Breyer and other Party Y members remain optimistic because of the many positive reactions they receive on a continual basis.

Joey Dauben, 22, a columnist for the Ellis County Press in Texas, is a Party Y believer. Dauben, a veteran of one school board race already, is planning to file papers for another race this spring. "Party Y is needed -- if it wasn't, I'd have no reason to run for political office," he said. According to Dauben, if young people's priorities were changed -- from music, cute girls or boys, sports, and movies to politics and taxes -- the current problem wouldn't exist. Dauben refers to the obsessions young people have with anything but politics as "media distractions," because "youth are fed 24-7 with pop culture, but are never fed civic participation or youth involvement."

Breyer and other Party Yers want to change that, too -- by making politics, youth participation, and civic mobilization as cool as it was to our parent's generation. "A revival of civic life is a primary goal of this project," Breyer says. "No longer should we have to put up with a system that hurdles insane ballot access laws and doesn't include all candidates in political debates."

Party Y will not represent any single line on a traditional ballot. Instead, it will provide a youth candidate's network across the nation -- for advice, dialogue, and discussion about how to improve campaigns, mobilize young supporters, and, ultimately, win electoral office. Party Y will provide a searchable database of youth candidates of all political stripes, colors, parties, and priorities. It will bring press and media to candidates at little expense to them and will culminate with a reality television show (a la "American Idol") where ten Party Y endorsed U.S. Representative candidates will attain national TV prominence.

Lindsey Zerivitz, 20, a sophomore at SUNY-Hunter College in New York City, likes the idea, but is skeptical that the end product will be youth electoral success. "Youth use the wrong methods to get elected," she says. "Positive goals, common ideology, non-violence, substantial organization, and access to adequate resources are the necessary recipe for youth electoral success."

Breyer and Team Y are convinced that they have the recipe. All they need is the civic participation, youth candidates, and a cooperative media before the recipe is complete. The end result would be ten U.S. Representatives under the age of 30 to join 28-year-old U.S. Rep. Adam Putnam (R-FL) in January, 2005.

Can it happen? Not without funding. But Breyer maintains that Party Y will be getting foundation support for most of its core activities. Party Y's organizers are currently in conversation with prospective funders and they are quite confident that support will be coming in the near future.

As Alan Ashley-Pitt once said, "The man who follows the crowd will get no further than the crowd. The man who walks alone is likely to find himself in places no one has ever been." Party Y could be that something different, a step ahead of the crowd that currently infests our political system.

As the members of Team Y suggest in their vision statement: "We have the numbers. Now all we need are the leaders."

Aaron Biterman, 20, is a student at the American University in Washington D.C.

Do you think it will work? Tell us what you think about Party Y on the Tap In message boards.

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