Hundreds of the youngest members of California's Democratic Party descended on San Diego last weekend for what would be their first significant political experience. For many of these fledgling Democrats, the state convention would not only offer the exciting chance to brush elbows with presidential candidates and legislative heavyweights, but also give them a blueprint for how best to establish a lifelong connection with the world of politics. What many of these wide-eyed neophytes discovered, however, was that after the intoxicating buzz from the energetic crowds and tear-jerking speeches wore off, they had absolutely no idea what they should do next.
The first major order of business for the college-aged demographic was the California Young Democrats caucus meeting on Friday afternoon. With stickers and placards designed to appeal to the Paris Hiltons and Lindsay Lohans of the bunch ("CYD is Hot"), constant cliché reminders from guest speakers ("You are the future") and more cheering and chanting than on an episode of MTV's TRL, the meeting's attendees experienced what amounted to nothing more than a high-school pep rally. Timothy Clark, an 18-year-old from Santa Cruz, summed up his entire convention experience:"It seemed like they just wanted us to get out there and get excited, like that was their main focus," but he acknowledged not knowing how he should channel his energy.
"All of the candidates talked about education and the importance of youth," he said."I hope there's a plan."
During his Saturday-night speech at a cocktail party in the downtown Museum of Contemporary Art, sponsored by the San Diego County Young Democrats, New Mexico Governor and presidential candidate Bill Richardson outlined three main issues affecting this"generation of the future"-a planet requiring dramatic decreases in greenhouse-gas emissions, a national debt close to $9 trillion and a weakening Social Security system.
"The stakes are very high," he warned, but he offered his enthusiastic audience only one solution, the same overly simplified solution that had been echoed to young Democrats throughout the convention:"Get involved."
Such a vague directive, however, only seemed to leave these youthful activists wanting more. Without a clear strategy, one can only speculate how long this group's level of energy and participation can be sustained.
Carissa Tudor, a 21-year-old from Claremont, explained that the purpose of the convention was not to lay out any specific plan, but to build a better system for young Democrats to network with each other."We set it up so that when campaign season comes, we know where to go to get the materials we need, to get the plans we need." As a delegate from the 59th Assembly District and president of the Claremont Colleges Democrats, Tudor was one of the more experienced among her age group at the convention-and one of the few who appeared to have any grasp on the goals of the Young Democratic caucus."We're creating a strong infrastructure that establishes contact between chapters of college Democrats and young Democrats," Tudor said."We're moving toward better interaction between these chapters."
While Tudor's definition shows some understanding of her party's objective with this convention, the mission of the Young Democrats appears to have been lost in translation for many others. Lindsay Maple, a 19-year-old from Carlsbad, illustrated this when describing her observations of the convention."I think the caucuses and meetings are not presenting a step-by-step plan for the upcoming future, but they do have a plan," she said."Most of the kids you meet who are my age are apolitical-they don't care. Seeing this many kids all in one place fighting over these candidates, having this passion-there definitely is a plan for what to do with this passion."
Maple then paused and laughed."I just don't personally know what it is."
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