By Craig Donnelly
The late, great Whitney Houston once sang, “I believe the children are our future. Teach them well and let them lead the way.” And to be honest, I never really took much stock in what that meant. But recent events have caused me to reevaluate what those words mean, how we can encourage young people to become the leaders of tomorrow and why this could change the Democratic Party into something more than just “the left.”
First and foremost, parents and teachers should want the best for their children. They should want their children to experience and learn more than they did when they were growing up. That level of education might end up creating and inspiring a young adult that the parents and teachers don’t even fully recognize. And that’s okay. Parents and teachers SHOULD want their children to progress past them, in every way they can, whether it’s economically, spiritually and/or intellectually. So when we invest in our children’s development, we should be preparing them to be better leaders, with the ability to progress our society into the future.
The same concept should be applied to the Democratic Party. The older leaders of the party need to understand that while their experiences may help guide the progression they seek, it also hinders them from seeing a future even more progressive than they can imagine. Even someone as progressive as Bernie Sanders has his limits when it comes to issues like gun control. I don’t expect a 76-year-old man to see a world where comprehensive gun control laws are possible. But the Parkland victims see that world. We’ve seen these brave teenagers take this issue that has crippled the country for decades and spearhead it forward. Imagine in five years, if those kids or kids like them, were placed in top positions of the Democratic Party. How “radical” it would be give them not only the voices they have, but the power to affect real change in this country. That kind of progress will never happen, if older Democratic leaders don’t get out of the way.
Another fascinating example of this came up in Gender Revolution: A Journey with Katie Couric, a documentary about our society’s evolving understanding in regards to gender identity. I highly recommend it, as Ms. Couric takes the time to speaks with a variety of transgender and intersex individuals about their experiences and struggles for acceptance. In the documentary, Ms. Couric interviewed Dr. Renée Richards, who was one of the first professional athletes to identify as transgender. After she underwent male to female sex reassignment surgery, she was denied entry in the 1976 US Open by the United States Tennis Association and after taking them to court, she won her case and was allowed to compete. Her bravery to come forward publicly and fight an injustice, at a time when transgender was not even a word yet, was remarkable. But when Ms. Couric puts her in a debate with 23 year old model and actor, Hari Nef, Dr. Richards appears to be limited in her understanding and acceptance of gender fluidity. When Ms. Nef brings up the fact that society’s insistence on maintaining the binary had to have caused Dr. Richard’s much strife, Dr. Richards still believes that it’s a necessary construct. To her, the idea of a non-binary society would be a “utopia” that frankly, could never exist. While her views are striking, they make complete sense because she’s 83 years old. She’s seen and been a part of such progress and yet at the same time, feels that there are limits to where society can go. It’s beyond her comprehension to see a world where people don’t care about gender enough to instill preconceived notions about how men and women are supposed to behave. But Ms. Nef, being of a younger generation sees such a society as a possibility and perhaps even an inevitability.
The Democratic Party is supposed to be the major political party of progressives. And yet, Democratic party leaders and congressmen continue to be stifled by their own limits. Why not let Republicans continue to be the party of corruption while the Democrats stay pure to their morals? If we’re going to be the party of such movements as #MeToo and #TimesUp, LGBT rights, reform on Wall Street and clean energy, we can’t have people within the party who at one point in the careers were against those very things. How many times during the 2016 election did I hear that Hillary wasn’t for LGBT rights because she didn’t immediately support same sex marriage? About a dozen too many. Why did she not support same sex marriage the second the concept was put into the political ring? Because she was a victim of her time. How do we stop these criticisms of hypocrisy from distracting our goals? Let younger people, who don’t have a record of voting against something that ten years later, becomes a major platform within the party, ascend through the party ranks. It’s the only way we can continue to be the party of progress while not being hindered by our own double standards.
The average Democratic congressmen was sixty one years old at the start of the current Congressional term, the highest average age for Democrats since 1947. If our representatives don’t start reflecting the people they represent, including the ages of their constituents, we will have a real problem heading into the midterms and into 2020.