Politicians, on the other hand, have been famously lukewarm in courting a demographic that doesn’t turn up at the polls. Yet given that Boston has the largest percentage of young people of any major American city, involving them more consistently in civic life has taken on a fresh urgency.
Justin Kang, head of the group City Awake, is organizing what’s called “Our Convention” at the Edward M. Kennedy Institute Oct. 9 as part of the HUBweek festival, which is a joint venture among MIT, Harvard University, Massachusetts General Hospital, and The Boston Globe.
Ideas spoke with him recently by phone about the aim of the event. Below is an edited excerpt.
IDEAS: Who’s invited to this convening?
KANG: We’re partnering with more than 70 groups, all with a young-adult constituency, and they each have a specific lens: nonprofits, religious groups, business groups, service organizations. All of them will send up to five delegates, 300 in total, to represent their perspective. We’ll break out into groups and talk about issues that directly affect young people, like transportation, the price of housing, availability of child care.
IDEAS: This demographic has been historically difficult to organize. I imagine that’s doubly difficult in a city like Boston, which has so many students.
KANG: The younger population here is transient in several ways. First, as students, their ties might be to another place in the country. Even when they are here, they are more likely to live in one area and commute to school or work in another. In the past, people were very much organized and pulled into civic life around their neighborhoods, their community groups. This generation has lost a lot of their connections to the physical space where they live, but they are united around specific issues, both local and national. Lots of organizations cater to young adults, we’re looking to mobilize all these organizations in the Boston area on behalf of population they all serve.
IDEAS: Can this kind of activism survive the end of the conference?
KANG: Maybe this will serve as a backbone organization for young people looking to mount a run for office or influence a bill at the Legislature, that kind of thing. We’re looking at the AARP model for young people. The idea is to proclaim a civic agenda for a generation.
IDEAS: AARP is formidable, in part, by virtue of their size. Can young people wield that kind of influence?
KANG: Yes, particularly in greater Boston, where a third of all the people who live here are young adults. We are 44 percent of the population in Cambridge, 44 percent in Somerville, we’re now the majority of the workforce. As a constituency, we’re often overlooked, not included, taken for granted in the decision-making process. We want to make the region more enticing to young people and more livable. That starts by breaking down the silos that frequently divide what could be a unified youthful voice in the civic and political process.
Alex Kingsbury can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.