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Political parties try to appeal to youths

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GREENFIELD —  With the rebirth of the Hancock County Young Republicans and a handful of younger Democratic and Libertarian candidates running for office, local party leaders are hopeful a new generation of leaders is emerging.

The YR group reconvened this week for the first time in four years, and several people in their 20s and 30s are throwing their hat into the political ring this year. It’s a welcome sight for seasoned party leaders, who say they need young blood to step up and get involved in the years to come. But it will take open minds and technical know-how to keep them engaged.

“A lot of times, people feel like politics are above them, and they’ll get involved later, when they’re older,” said Holly Gillham, 23, shortly after running the YR meeting Tuesday. “Everyone has a vested interest in their community, a vested interest in their future.”

About 20 people gathered at Chicago’s Pizza, many hoping to network and meet others who are like-minded. Gillham, a Greenfield resident who works in media relations for a state agency, said she wanted to get the local YR chapter restarted out of a love for her community. She’s the district chair of the Indiana Federation of Young Republicans and said ultimately those in their 20s and 30s – though busy with starting their careers and families – bring plenty of energy to political campaigns and elected office.

“Our generation brings a fresh perspective,” she said.

That youth and vigor is needed in Hancock County’s political parties, local officials say, but those who are young say the older crowd needs to speak their language and welcome their ideas to keep them engaged.

Jillian Davis, for example, has the enthusiasm for politics anyone would welcome. The 22-year-old New Palestine High School alum was president of the Indiana chapter of Young Americans for Liberty in 2013 but ran unsuccessfully the year prior for two party seats with the Hancock County GOP.

Davis, who recently moved to Indianapolis, still hopes to volunteer politically and says the key for political parties to keep young people engaged is using social media and being open to new ideas.

“Once you get someone at your meeting or one of your events, the biggest turnoff for me would be to talk to people who are no-compromise people,” said Davis. “A lot of people look for it, and they’re real excited you’re involved; that’s great. But then they’re shutting you down if we don’t agree on certain issues.”

Most people form their political views when they’re in their 20s and 30s, Davis added, but the old guard oftentimes isn’t open to new ideas. That’s why it’s important, she said, for all generations to find a common goal and work toward it.

Hancock County Democrats are creating a Facebook page so the party can become more engaged with youth, said chairman Phil Hunt. Younger people don’t necessarily want to go to party meetings, he said, but they’ll log into social media. Hunt hopes the local party can start to speak their language.

“That’s the future,” he said. “Most of them are active; they do vote and so forth, but like I say, they just don’t participate in the organization and the traditional ways. We just have to learn to communicate other ways.”

Michael Tucker, Democratic candidate for Hancock County Council, said he was welcomed by Hunt and feels like his opinions are valued. But Tucker, 22, says that’s not usually the case.

“I think the hardest thing for the older generation trying to find the younger generation is (because we’re) constantly being looked down on and talked down to because we’re younger,” said Tucker. “It just seems as though they ask so much of us. We’re truly doing the grunt work, walking door-to-door and making all the calls. And then as soon as we have an idea, as soon as we have something we want to implement, they look down on it as, ‘That’s too idealistic,’ or, ‘You just don’t  understand how it works because you’re younger.’”

Tucker, a college senior who plans to go on to law school, said the political parties would have more success in keeping younger people involved if they would take them seriously and mentor them.

The meeting of the Young Republicans this week was a welcome sight for party leaders, who sat in a corner of the room and joked about their own age.

“We welcome your energy and enthusiasm and technological skills,” said vice chairman Steve Leonard.

Michael Neal, state president of the Indiana Young Republicans, said Hancock County’s chapter is the 45th in Indiana. He added  many elected officials in state and federal government got their start in YR.

Gillham said for those who want to bring change in their communities, stepping into politics as a young adult is the best choice no matter how busy life seems.

Ben Parker can attest to that. Parker, 30, is a father of two with one more on the way. He’s a Libertarian running against Republican Rep. Bob Cherry for the Indiana House of Representatives. While juggling a career and family, Parker said he’s making time for politics because of his libertarian convictions.

“I think now is the perfect time, to be honest,” he said. “I am busy, and it’s such an important thing…. It’s something I plan to make time for.”

The Libertarian Party is growing through people in their 20s and 30s who want to see government limited, said Andrew Smith, Hancock County Libertarian Party chair.

“We’ve noticed a lot of interest in libertarianism from people who are young at the local level certainly; at the national level, without a doubt,” said Smith, 39. “I certainly hope that translates into activism.”

Smith said social media has been key in getting young Libertarians involved. Smith, also a working father, says now is a busy time in life for young people to get involved. But it is also a time when people have the most energy and desire to see a change in their communities.

“The thing about being young is, you tend to be more idealistic,” Smith said. “You tend to want to change things, and the political process is a way to change things.”


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