Thousands took to the streets in Capitol Hill Thursday as hip-hop musicians Macklemore and Ryan Lewis filmed a video at Dick’s Drive-In.
Can we go back? This is the moment. My posse’s been on Broadway.
It was like the night voters legalized same-sex marriage in Washington state, when a rapturous crowd flooded the streets. It’s what rappers and politicians alike dream of.
Let’s bottle that energy and pour it into making this city great.
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Harness that power with a state political-action committee for millennials: a crowd-funded, social media and digitally driven group electing candidates for people under 35.
Make affordable rent a priority for the future mayor of Seattle. Convince the future King County executive to freeze Metro fares. Get the Seattle School Board to chip away at the district’s 14 percent high-school dropout rate.
The Aug. 6 primary election, with races for Seattle mayor, City Council and School Board, is the next moment for millennials, who make up 33 percent of the city, to claw back some power from baby boomers.
The mayoral candidates will say they attended the Washington Bus’ Candidate Survivor event on July 16, where 650 twentysomethings turned out. Substantive questions were asked and Ed Murray did a skit with drag queens, Bruce Harrell and Kate Martin sang, incumbent Mayor Mike McGinn juggled and Peter Steinbrueck rehashed Johnny Carson’s fortunetelling bit. It made for good YouTube.
Still. “Candidates love to pay lip service to young people in general,” said Dean Nielsen, a political consultant with Cerillion N4 Partners in Seattle, “but in terms of where they actually spend money, they actually spend money to get older voters.”
That means mail. Mailboxes are to millennials what The Monkees are to Macklemore. People under 35 don’t subscribe to cable TV or listen to the radio. They watch Netflix and BitTorrent their music.
But the bulk of ad spending in the mayoral race is going to direct mail, TV and radio. Top fundraisers Harrell, McGinn and Murray have spent more than $70,000 each on those ad channels, according to campaign records. Digital advertising? Not a reported category. It falls into “other ads,” and those three candidates have each spent less than $8,000 there.
Campaigns should be buying ads on Google AdWords, YouTube, Facebook, Hootsuite and setting up text-message campaigns.
But they won’t until younger voters start mailing in ballots en masse. Consultant Nielsen estimates less than 5 percent of primary voters are under 35. I asked King County and state election offices for historic primary turnout by age. They don’t even track the data.
The nonprofit Washington Bus is doing interesting work registering voters, training fellows and supporting young candidates in small races. But there is ample room for a group of millennials to strategically focus on building political influence.
In 2008, a small group of Asian Americans each contributed a few thousand dollars to form the Northwest Coalition for Asian Pacific Americans. They offered candidates endorsements and campaign contributions of $500, focusing on elected offices that had the power to make Asian-American appointments.
It worked. Chris Gregoire and Dino Rossi, candidates for governor, showed up for interviews. It gave the Asian-American community visibility and political clout.
Millennials could do the same. Forming a political group, what’s called a continuing committee in Washington state, would require about $5,000 a year to retain a consultant to set up the group and file required reports.
Voters under 35 may not have the salaries to cut $5,000 checks. But they do have crowdfunding. Indiegogo allows people to raise money for anything.
For a fraction of what old-school campaigns spend on direct mail and TV ads, this group could rally voters via social media to elect leaders invested in the under-35 generation.
How do we create a Seattle that embraces everyone young or old, white or brown, barista or techie? How about a city bursting with job openings, bars that stay open after 1 a.m., with public transit so easy a caveman could use it?
It’s time to put your hands up, as Macklemore said. Like the ceiling can’t hold you. Raise those hands. This is your party.