At the NextGen Illinois conference, Campus Network leaders found a policy space shaped entirely by young people.
Last Saturday, the Midwest Regional Team of the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network met in Chicago to attend the NextGen Illinois conference, the culmination of months of discussion, caucuses, and ideas from around Illinois. NextGen IL, an initiative led by the Campus Network and Young Invicibles, is working to bring young adults in Illinois together to shape a youth policy agenda for Illinois. What set NextGen apart from so many other conferences was that its content, agenda, and execution were a direct outcome of power and coalition building among Millennials. NextGen’s attendees included high school students, college students, and graduates; they were organizers, activists, and policy wonks of every kind. Throughout the day, attendees were able to vote on a slate of statewide policy proposals that were the product of the dozens of caucuses that took place over the previous few months. Young people had the opportunity to shape the outcome of the conference and take ownership of their ideas.
One common theme that resounded through the day at the NextGen IL conference was that young people are capable of making a difference in their communities. We all have the knowledge, ability, and passion to make real change. This was thoroughly underscored by the number of young people and students that were panelists throughout the day. Each breakout session featured professionals working in the field, as well as Millennials already working to change the landscape. Whether discussing environmental policy or restorative justice, the young panelists were just as able to engage their audience in a variety of statewide policy issues.
The breakout sessions gave the audience a picture of the issues being addressed on the front lines of the progressive political fight, but the plenary sessions gave us a chance to hear from the elected officials who have the power to turn our ideas into action. Will Guzzardi, a 27-year-old candidate for the Illinois House of Representatives, and Amara Enyia, a 31-year-old running for Mayor of Chicago, both spoke about how young people need to step up to make a difference. They both referenced a common realization many young adults have about growing up. When you’re young, you are told to defer to those in charge, trust your elders, and wait your turn. These candidates stressed that in order to be taken seriously and have our issues adequately addressed, our generation must step up and realize that while our parents and grandparents have a lot to teach us, they don’t have all the solutions. This realization may be scary, but it is also empowering: if no one actually has all the answers, young people have the opportunity to create just as much of an impact as older generations. We have the opportunity to think creatively, and see our age as a benefit, and not a burden to creating and realizing innovative policies that better our communities.
If there was one message that we as participants and attendees took away from the NextGen IL conference, it was an echo of Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s 1936 address to the Democratic National Convention: “There is a mysterious cycle in human events. To some generations much is given. Of other generations much is expected. This generation of Americans has a rendezvous with destiny.” Our generation faces seemingly insurmountable problems, but if the NextGen space was any indication, we can expect bold solutions.
Julius Goldberg-Lewis is the Midwestern Regional Coordinator for the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network and a senior at the University of Michigan. Dominic Russel is the Midwestern Policy Coordinator and a sophomore at the University of Michigan. Rachel Riemenschneider is the Midwestern New Chapters Coordinator and a junior at Northwestern University.