ISABEL BINAMIRA/THE HOYA Tom Guthrie (SFS ’15) introduced the Youth Voice Initiative at a Sunday conference.
ISABEL BINAMIRA/THE HOYA
Tom Guthrie (SFS ’15) introduced the Youth Voice Initiative at a Sunday conference.

When the government shut down in 2013, Tom Guthrie (SFS ’15) had a revelation that there are too few young people serving in government.

“I was looking at the TV, looking at the newspapers and there were no young people anywhere,” Guthrie said. “And I started looking at the numbers more broadly, and it’s ridiculous. About 3 percent of state legislators are between 20 and 34 years old. About 1.3 percent before these last elections of Congress were under 40 years old. Those numbers are absurd.”

That revelation led Guthrie to co-found the initiative Youth Voices with Matt Weinmann (SFS ’15), a program aimed at encouraging young people to consider running for office and equipping them with the tools to launch a campaign, in early 2014. Since its founding, Youth Voices has grown to a core team of four people and about a dozen others working on specific projects.

More than 60 students attended Youth Voices’ first event, a day-long conference titled “You Should Run,” which was held in the Intercultural Center on Sunday. The event, put on in collaboration with the McCourt School of Public Policy, featured politicians and those who work in the political arena. Topics of discussion ranged from social media to fundraising to local government.

“The thought is to get a lot of young people who are interested in politics into a room with people who have done this before, who have wisdom to offer them and tell them what it’s like to run for office and hopefully get some people actually running,” Guthrie said.

Eleven speakers attended the event, including four Advisory Neighborhood Commission members who participated in a panel on local government moderated by journalist John Celock.

“People will put you in a box because you’re young,” Ward 8 ANC Commissioner Markus Batchelor said during the panel. “But in my community, regardless of your age, people will value you if you’re knowledgeable and consistent.”

At an earlier talk, Rashawn Davis, the youngest person to ever be certified on the municipal ballot in Newark, N.J. at 21 years old, said, “I kept asking people, ‘How can I, a millennial, run for office and be successful?’ and unequivocally the first step people told me to do was build a team.”
Youth Voices is working with the Rockefeller Center for Public Policy at Dartmouth College to plan a second event, a two-day conference to be held in late March at Dartmouth College. The event already has commitments from some of the biggest young elected officials in New Hampshire, according to Guthrie.

Sunday’s event included students not only from Georgetown University but also George Washington University and American University.

“This [event] gave me so much good info about the details, the things that you wouldn’t know about beforehand, problems you can incur, and things that you should really work on,” American University freshman Andreas Elterich said. “I loved it. I got a lot of good info, and I met some really good people.”
Nick Guthman, also a freshman at American University, said that he was drawn to the event by the professionalism of the event’s marketing and that the conference affected his perception of youth in government.

“What I learned and what I’m going to take away is the power that we have as young people and the power that we have to coalition build and work together,” Guthman said. “I think that the power we hold as youth is really just going to keep getting bigger and bigger. And so I’m really grateful for the opportunity Youth Voices gave to us.”

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