The Eagleton Institute of Politics recently hosted the chief executive officer and multiple network legislators of the Millennial Action Project (MAP) to speak on bipartisan legislation and ways to mitigate the partisan divide in American politics.
MAP is a national, nonprofit and nonpartisan organization that works directly with state and national Millennial and Generation Z policymakers as well as seeks to provide them with resources to guide them in passing effective legislation.
The event was held virtually on Monday as a part of Eagleton’s annual Gambaccini Civic Engagement Series, which aims to encourage civic engagement through a yearly discussion that encourages political action and conversation.
Layla Zaidane, chief executive officer of MAP, participated in the discussion with Sen. London Lamar (D-Tenn.), a MAP network legislator who represents the 33rd Senate district while also being the youngest Black female legislator in Tennessee’s Senate.
Rep. Aaron Pilkington (R-Ark.), who is serving his third term in Arkansas’ House of Representatives, is the other MAP legislator who partook in the discussion as well. He is a representative of District 69, which includes parts of two counties.
In the discussion, Zaidane said MAP recently conducted a report that found a 57 percent increase in Millennial and Generation Z candidates who run for Congress.
She also said the fastest growing political affiliation is Independent or not affiliated, as more young individuals want candidates who listen to their needs and deliver results rather than candidates who represent a specific political party.
Zaidane said that in Lamar’s approximate four years in the Tennessee House of Representatives prior to joining the State Senate, she has introduced more than 45 pieces of legislation while also passing bills to eliminate human trafficking, improve family care, decrease gun violence and strengthen voting rights.
Lamar said that previously elected officials in her state were habitual runners of older generations who solicited little to no change in policy. She said that as a result, she decided to start the Shelby County Young Democrats to advocate for the participation of more young people in politics.
"(Young people) are creative," Lamar said. "I taught myself Photoshop, so I designed all my literature, my signs, my website, everything. I had time to fundraise, and I was able to canvass every day, all day and get those votes out."
Lamar said that being in a predominantly Black Senate district in Tennessee, she receives many requests to do more for the Black community. Though, she said the legislature is predominantly white and Conservative, which makes it difficult to pass any legislation to do so.
Lamar also said in order to pass most of her progressive legislative agendas, she has to appear moderate in how she introduces her ideas to the legislature.
"I look at all of the different issues concerning climate change right now and how they intersect with issues that I'm already working on when it comes to things I can't get past," she said. "Maternal health is the one issue that I know I got Republicans’ support … (so) I talk about issues regarding, 'if we don't change certain things in our community, which are climate change issues, then mothers are going to have trouble having their babies.'"
Pilkington said he worked on campaigns in college, which led him to run for a representative seat and win against some who had held the seat previously.
He said that in his work he does not look to change the views of his colleagues but instead looks to arrive at common solutions for policy making.
"I go down into the Capitol, and I'm not looking to put up yard signs and create mail pieces ... because the reality is it has no use for you down in the Capitol," Pilkington said. "There may be different routes, but at the end of the day, we all want our people to be happy, healthy and fulfilled."
Pilkington said that he pushes for greener policies if they are suitable for the economy. He said that if people want to ensure a safe environment for children, they should follow along with better, greener policies.
In regard to maintaining a social presence with the younger political audience, Pilkington said that he runs a newspaper column while also being on social media. He said he aims to show the positive changes he helped achieve that week such as highlighting bills that passed with a sweeping majority.
Lamar said she uses social media outlets like Instagram, TikTok and Facebook to help get her messages out to reach more voters and does photoshoots to maintain her political brand.
"We are the largest base of eligible voters and economic voters in this country," Lamar said. "If we are not doing what we're supposed to do and engaging in the political process, then we can’t grow our cities, states and our country in a way that is encompassing of what our reality looks like now."