Op-Eds

February 27, 2017

By Carlos Mark Vera

Democrats need to invest more in millennials, or risk losing them

For Democrats, many questions remain on what went wrong during the past election. One certainty is that millennials overwhelmingly voted for Democrats up and down the ticket.

The fact is, millennials are the most diverse generation in American history, yet they are starting to abandon the Democratic party, and not by their own choosing.

Sarah Audelo, former Director for Millennial Votes on the Hillary Clinton campaign, put it best. “For four years, the DNC has no line item budget for College Dems, and less than a full-time staff person dedicated to supporting these students. The College Republicans spent over $6 million in 2016.”

If Democrats want to secure more victories, it’s imperative they pump more money into millennial outreach, internship programs and education. The clearest example of how both parties view millennials differently is that the RNC offers a paid summer internship program called the Eisenhower Program, while the DNC does not.

Last month, the DNC chair candidates were hosted at a forum by Democracy in ColorInclusv and we are mitú at George Washington University. It was a tight-knit space where dozens of college students and recent college graduates, like myself, had the opportunity to hear from the candidates.

Listening to the candidates’ platforms and hearing about the aspirations they have for the DNC was a great opportunity, but questions remained unanswered.

Out of curiousity, I explored each of the candidate’s websites to get a better understanding of their platforms and views on investing in millennial growth. Some had more expansive visions of millennial engagement, however, none of the candidates highlighted methods to develop a paid internship program.

Following this realization, Pay Our Interns (POI), an organization that advocates for paid internships, reached out to the candidates explaining the need for paid internships, and how it affects lower income students. Since initial outreach and going back and forth with several of the campaigns, we can proudly say Jehmu Greene, Tom Perez, Keith Ellison and Pete Buttigieg have all committed to creating a paid internship program at the DNC.

Some detractors might say this move is unnecessary and that interns are being paid with “experience”. Sadly, experiences do not pay the bills and especially not when the average cost of an internship is $6,000. That pricey number, coupled with the abundance of unpaid internships, is the reason that thousands of talented and diverse youth from across the country are being shut out from the intern to staffer pipeline here in DC.

Another argument that has kept the status-quo at the DNC is the belief that there simply isn’t enough resources to go around. There never seems to be money to pay a full-time intern who’s a pell-grant recipient but there is always money to pay for lavish fundraisers in San Francisco and to spend millions of dollars in ad buys that aren’t needed. If Republicans can spend millions on Millennials why can’t the Democrats do the same? If Democrats want to stand by their ideals of leveling the playing field then they can start by paying their interns.

No matter the dedication from the elected DNC chair, we need to ensure the entire party is on board to create a lasting paid internship program. At a time when Democrats are relying on Millennials to win elections and run for office, taking them for granted is no longer an option.

Carlos Mark Vera is the founder of Pay Our Interns and previously interned for free in Congress, the European Parliament and the White House. He can be reached at carlos@payourinterns.com or on twitter @carlosangeles25

Link to original article published in The Hill