The Democratic Party must continue outreach efforts to millennials to remain the progressive organization it claims to be, argued Tom Perez and Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), the chair and vice chair of the Democratic National Committee on Wednesday.
Perez also addressed growing young immigrant populations around the country and emphasized that the Democratic Party stands with immigrant communities.
“No matter where you were born, no matter what your first language was at home, no matter who you worship, no matter who you love — there is a place for you at the American table, and those are the pillars of the Democratic Party,” Perez said.
Hosted by the McCourt School of Public Policy’s Institute of Politics and Public Service, the former rivals for the DNC chair position analyzed their party’s strategy to engage young voters in the political process and convince millennials their values align with Democrats.
Perez and Ellison were the two front-runners during the nearly four-month race for the DNC’s chairmanship. The election marked the first contested election since 1985.
Perez, the labor secretary under President Barack Obama, received backing from former Vice President Joe Biden and House Minority Whip Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) and represented the moderate wing of the party.
Ellison, then a congressman from Minnesota, received support from Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), as well as members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus.
Perez defeated Ellison in the second round of voting in the Feb. 25 election and motioned for Ellison to be selected as vice chair.
GU Politics Executive Director Mo Elleithee, a former DNC communications director and spokesperson, guided Perez and Ellison’s discussion of what defines the Democratic Party.
Perez said millennials should be drawn to the Democratic Party because it addresses the issues about which they are passionate in a both a comprehensive and compassionate way.
“We have the common man and the common woman in mind — fighting for them, fighting for fairness, fighting to level the playing field,” Perez said.
Ellison said millennials should be able to identify with the party’s economic vision.
“The way that we reach millennials is to recognize that this economy has shifted dramatically. The people in their forties and fifties may remember a time where you can work your way through with a part-time job. You can’t do that no more,” Ellison said.
According to Elleithee, 29 percent of millennials identified with the Democratic Party in 2015, 17 percent identified with the Republican Party and 48 percent identified with neither group.
Elleithee asked Perez and Ellison to consider how the Democratic Party can not only maintain its base, but also attract those who do not identify with either party.
“I was Democrat because my dad was a Democrat. That is not a good enough a reason for the next generation,” Perez said.
Perez added that the generational gap can be bridged through action, which will attract younger voters.
“The good news is that our values are the same,” Perez said. “The challenge for us is to put our values into action.”
Ellison said Democrats must continue to develop an economic message designed for millennials and ensure they are aware the Democratic Party stands for strong economic policy.
Ellison referenced the 2016 presidential election, stating that though the party developed an economic strategy within its platform, it was not effectively communicated to young voters.
“We are very clear that all over the country, the Democratic Party stands for raising the wage, the right to organize in a labor union, to fighting for overtime, to protecting and defending and advancing that. It is not just what we say in terms of message,” Ellison said. “The real problem is not that we didn’t have an economic message, we didn’t articulate it and we didn’t bring it to the people.”
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