The VICE Guide to the 2016 Election

What Young Democratic Delegates Think About the Future of Their Party

Some were angry about Bernie Sanders's defeat, some wanted the party to be a bit more moderate, but most of them were looking forward to the future.

by Harry Cheadle
29 July 2016, 12:00am

A young Hillary delegate smiles for the camera. All photos by Jason Bergman

Politics is generally an old person's game. The candidates at the top of the two major parties' tickets are 70 and 68 years old, while the progressive candidate who challenged the Democratic Establishment this year is 74. There are congresspeople and local officeholders in their 30s and sometimes even their 20s, but by and large people tend to go gray before they go into politics.

This makes sense—though groups like Rock the Vote try to convince young people that politics is sexy, like skateboarding, energy drinks, or dogs in sunglasses—since the process of electing candidates and passing bills mostly boils down to a series of meetings. The Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia is just the largest and fanciest of these, but the delegates here are mostly the people you'll see in smaller local meetings: middle-aged or older well-meaning busybody types who care about the process and content of politics.

There are young delegates here too, however—kids who have somehow accelerated their growing-up process and are now adults with adult haircuts and adult ways of talking. This is their first national convention, and they are eager, serious, and earnest. You could probably drop them on an MSNBC panel at a moment's notice, and they would be able to speak in perfectly crafted, safe-for-TV soundbites. They are, basically, the sort of people who will probably be deeply involved in Democratic politics for a long, long time.

VICE spoke to several of these young delegates over the course of the convention this week and asked them about the future of the party. Most of them, unsurprisingly, were Bernie Sanders supporters eager to see Democrats become more progressive, but they differed on what they believed the most important parts of that project would be.

Nathan Sidell, Bernie Sanders Delegate from Alaska, 19

The youth overwhelming voted for Bernie Sanders in this election, and we're going to be the future—that's the definition of youth. We're going to bring our values and energy, and we're going to keep going forward—we're going to elect people to local and state and school board elections. Ten or 20 years from now we're going to be a much harder left/liberal party. I think ten or 20 years from now we'll see a single-payer healthcare system in the United States. Can it exist right now with the Democratic Party? I don't think so. Ten or 20 years from now it's a different story.

Coby Owens, Bernie Sanders Delegate from Delaware, 21

I think that what's going on now with President Obama and soon-to-be-president Clinton, we're going to see the diversity in this party grow even more. We just heard amazing speeches from the Asian delegation, and I would love to see everything keep growing, whether it's Asian, Hispanic, women, minorities, African Americans—we should continue outreach to them but also bring in everyone else. Bring in the Caucasians, that middle-class white male that we always seem to lose. With the platform we have now, people are going to see that the party's doing amazing things.

Aster O'Leary, Bernie Sanders Delegate from Vermont, 18

I hope the party's going to get more progressive—fewer Establishment politicians and more grassroots efforts, like Senator Sanders's. I envision more young people getting involved. Education reform is a big issue of mine because I aspire to have a career in academia. Specifically, free public higher education for all, because I think it's such an important part of being a productive citizen.

Steven Yeung, Hillary Clinton Delegate from Virginia, 21

To be frank, I'd rather see the party be more moderate than progressive. [laughs] I don't know if that's the answer you want. I just think that primaries makes both parties much more extreme, because the candidates are trying to cater to certain audiences. You saw Bernie Sanders this election season, and he's very left-leaning, and that's why so many people came out to support him—he had these ideas that were sort of outside of the Democratic Party norm. It'd be nice to see something more moderate, so everyone could get something done—instead of being isolated and name-calling and blaming each other.

Ivan Gomez Wei, Bernie Sanders Delegate from New Jersey, 25

I'm 25, and some people say that's not super young-young, but the next-youngest delegate is like 35. I think the platform right now doesn't deal enough with climate change. If we don't stop cutting down trees and saving our water, we won't have air to breathe and their won't be any other issues to discuss.

Wayne Borders, Bernie Sanders Delegate from South Carolina, 33

This is my first convention as a delegate. In 2012 in Charlotte, I was a protester in a free-speech zone. I'm probably not the best Democrat because I'm super progressive, very liberal, and it's kind of difficult when they party itself does its best to be a center party rather than a truly left-progressive party. I'm really gonna consider whether or not to vote for Hillary Clinton as a personal matter. I don't think I will.

Kelly Harrop, Hillary Clinton Delegate from Ohio, 20

I think, if anything, this election has showed that just because we're young doesn't mean we can't fight for what we believe in. We may differ on policy issues, but I think that forms a better discussion. We're going to be a passionate party. I don't think having a policy discussion is anything argumentative—it builds better candidates and a better platform overall.

Weston Lindemann, Bernie Sanders Delegate from Mississippi, 19

It may seem like the party is divided right now, with disgruntled Bernie supporters. But I think we're moving forward with a lot of new progressive ideas—we have the most progressive platform in US history, and we're only going to continue to build on that. As a Bernie Sanders supporter I still support Hillary, because I realize she can still enact a lot of progressive ideas that Bernie Sanders started talking about.

Bob Canfield, Bernie Sanders Delegate from California, 18

One area where I would like the party to get more progressive is getting the money out of politics. I have not heard much of anything about that at this convention, and it was such a huge part of Sanders's campaign. And it doesn't seem like the party's going to take that into consideration—I mean, of course it's not. I would like to see it though.

Follow Harry Cheadle on Twitter.