North Carolina Democrats took a major generational leap in choosing Anderson Clayton as their state party chair. Aged 25, Clayton represents a full break with the past several decades–and arguably even half-century–of party leadership in a state where Democrats have struggled in election after election. Whether out of desperation or hope, the Democratic Party has invested its future in younger North Carolinians.

It’s too easy to romanticize youth. Older and, especially, middle-aged leaders have the experience and perspective that are often necessary to make deeply informed decisions, and callowness is an eternal weakness of young people. My point is that the older generation that’s run the party since the 1970s is not simply a collection of dinosaurs to be defenestrated and sent to the Museum of Natural Sciences. For all the party’s failures in recent years, people like Bobbie Richardson built an organization that did elect Roy Cooper governor at a time when Southern Democrats had gone the way of, well, the dinosaurs.

But young people’s politics also has enormous virtues. Throughout history, it has been the idealism and energy of politically active young people that changed the world. This is a romantic narrative. But consider the role that college students played in the world-historical rights revolution of the long 1960s. Every social movement from civil rights to women’s rights to the campaign to the save our planet began and was nurtured by young people in our country. They deserve another chance, and this time within the arena of formal party politics.

In North Carolina, the Democrats owe young voters their sole victory of the last 20 years. Barack Obama lost every age group in 2008 except for voters 18-29 years old; Millennials, as young people were then, delivered the triumph the dissipating fumes of which have sustained Democrats ever since. Now, as I’ve written before, it’s time for Democrats to stop “living in 2008” given how much time has past and how much has been illustrated about the enduring conservatism of the state. But Democrats can learn from wins as well as losses and the clear lesson of 2008 is that they need the young.

It’s particularly important that Anderson Clayton is a Zoomer. While Millennial turnout has been nothing to write home about, Zoomers, so politicized in other states, have sat out North Carolina elections almost entirely. This is inexcusable on the part of the party, because there’s nothing inherently more apathetic about North Carolina’s Generation Z than the energized activists who have taken other states in a sharply progressive direction. Perhaps Anderson Clayton can reach young voters across the state in a way that other Democrats, and other generations, have failed again and again to do.


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