"If you were looking for the universe to give you that kick... run for office"

by hannah gross, Zivvy contributor

"If you were looking for the universe to give you that kick... run for office"

The progressive group, Run for Something, is recruiting Gen Z'ers to run for office

by hannah gross, Zivvy correspondent

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Photo credit: Jesse Zhang

Malcolm Kenyatta, PA State Rep and U.S. Senate candidate, speaks to Gen Z'ers at a Run for Something event in Philadelphia

PHILADELPHIA (ZIVVY) - The rough and tumble world of Pennsylvania politics requires the kind of grit and thick skin that might turn off even the toughest of candidates. But progressives in the Keystone State are betting Gen Z has what it takes. 

The 2022 midterms mark the first election where members of Generation Z – anyone born between 1997 and 2012  - can run for office. In August, 25-year-old progressive activist Maxwell Frost, one of the first members of Generation Z to run for Congress, won his Democratic primary. 

A group of young current and future Democratic reps recently came together at an outdoor beer garden in Philadelphia for a candidate discussion, where they urged the audience to take the plunge and get their names on the ballot. 

“If you were looking for the universe to give you that moment, to give you that kick, run for office, said Malcolm Kenyatta, a Pennsylvania State Representative since 2018. “Just run for office.” 

The evening was hosted by Run for Something, a group helping young progressives run for political office, as part of their “Unapologetically Progressive” series of events designed to recruit fresh candidates. Last month the roadshow also visited Atlanta, Lansing, San Antonio and Phoenix.

According to Manny Espitia, Run for Something’s Northern Regional Director, the group was founded in 2017 with the mission of engaging young progressives in the political process. 

“We’re doing that by helping recruit, develop and support a more diverse generation of candidates for local office,” Espitia said. 

In its five year history, the group has identified more than 120,000 young people who want to run for office and endorsed thousands of candidates.

Run For Something was the first group to endorse Kenyatta, connecting him with mentors and giving credibility to his campaign. The process, he noted, isn’t rocket science. 

“You talk about things that people care about and then you win elections,” he joked. “It’s really interesting how that works.” 

That doesn't mean it is easy, especially in a battleground state like Pennsylvania. After being at the epicenter of the 2016 presidential election, the state has once again earned nationwide attention for a high-stake Senate race pitting John Fetterman, a veteran of the state’s Democratic establishment, against celebrity physician Dr. Mehmet Oz -  a newcomer to Pennsylvania’s political scene endorsed by former President Donald Trump.  The outcome of that contest has the potential to shape the future of abortion rights, election integrity and other contentious political issues. President Biden recognized the importance of the Keystone State by addressing the nation twice last month from two Pennsylvania towns to warn against what he said was a danger posed by Trumipsim and the Republican party. 

At the “Unapologetically Progressive” event, candidates offered practical advice and motivation for Gen Zers thinking about entering the political fray. Whether you’ve always wanted to run or are feeling inspired by a specific issue or experience, they told the audience, there is a place for you on the ballot. 

“It’s a win when people recognize that democracy requires something of each of us, '' said Kenyatta, calling it a success every time a new candidate runs for office. “It's a win when you step up and talk about things that people actually give a damn about.” 

Progressive candidates face an uphill battle to win their party’s nomination, even though Democrats are in wide agreement on the issues. Pennsylvania State Representative Rick Krajewski did not receive any support from the political establishment in Philadelphia when he launched a primary challenge against a long-term incumbent in West Philadelphia, but credits his community for helping him defeat his opponent. Carol Kazeem also won a tough battle in her  House primary against a longtime incumbent, with grassroots support from groups like Run for Something, climate advocacy group Sunrise Movement and labor unions.  

“Everybody standing up and just being a part is really what it took for all of us to come together to say we’re going to knock this dynasty down,” she said.

 Izzy Smith-Wade-El, a former Lancaster council president now running for a Pa. House seat, found making issues like justice, housing and property taxes local to his community was his “winning ticket.”

The candidates credited their communities as their primary motivation, along with the dedication of their teams. 

Meg Rosenfeld, who is running to represent Pennsylvania’s 139th district, predicted -  win or lose in November – that her team will continue doing important work for their community.

“They’re doing the work and that’s what makes change,” Rosenfeld said. “It’s not one person.”