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July 12, 2017; Miami Herald and Business Insider

As part of the never-ending effort to elect the next generation of young Democratic leadership to Congress, particularly to the House of Representatives, Democratic leaders announced the formation of the Future Forum Foundation on July 12, 2017. While the Future Forum Foundation formally announced its debut on Wednesday, the group is actually an offshoot of the U.S. House Future Forum caucus, which was founded two years ago and comprises 26 of the youngest Democratic members of Congress.

Maxwell Tani of Business Insider describes the foundation this way:

The nonprofit group, chaired by former Rep. Patrick Murphy of Florida, will research the changing nature of work in the so-called gig economy as well as the thorny issues posed by automation, artificial intelligence, and the growing burden of student debt.

The organization is intended to serve a series of roles—part research group, part informal hub between businesses and Democratic legislators in Congress.

The foundation is registered as a 501(c)(4) organization that will not have to disclose its donors. When asked by the Miami Herald, the foundation declined to share the exact source and amount of its initial funding but said the dollars “are coming from a mix of private individuals and businesses.” The foundation said in its announcement that it “will raise and deploy significant resources to provide advocacy organizations, elected leaders and other forward-thinking individuals a platform with which to explore the changing dynamics facing young Americans.”

The engagement of the millennial generation (most often designated as those born between 1982 and 2000, now ages 17 to 35) is viewed as a prize for any political party due to the large numbers and the potential for votes and future leadership. But this generation has been elusive to both political parties and has shown limited interest in affiliating with any party and with voting in federal or local elections. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, in the 2016 election, people ages 18 to 29 voted at a slightly higher rate than they did in 2012, though young voters still voted at lower rates than any other age cohort. Last year, nearly as many millennials identified as nonpartisan as those who identified as Democrats.

Led by 34-year-old Patrick Murphy, a former two-term Congressman from Florida, the foundation has high hopes to build the Democratic Party. “I think a big part of what needs to happen across the board is we need some fresh blood, we need people, new energy,” Murphy told Business Insider. “I think groups like this will help—new leaders will rise from this. When there is new blood and new leadership I think some folks will come from this group.”

Business Insider reported in a separate article that this is not a lone effort. Earlier this month, two Silicon Valley billionaires, LinkedIn cofounder Reid Hoffman and Zynga founder Mark Pincus, launched Win the Future, a group geared toward pushing primarily Democratic lawmakers to aggressively pursue millennial-friendly policy positions. But Win the Future, with its very Gen-X acronym WTF, may not be the “partner” that the Future Forum Foundation hopes.

[Founders Hoffman and Pincus] envision that the millions of users they hope to draw to WTF could countermessage the Democratic Party and rival the Democratic National Committee, citing the frequency of emails from such groups asking for cash but ignoring chances for small-dollar donors to have a say in messaging or policy.

For them, WTF could be a way to make political action less “like homework” and force Democratic politicians to adopt messages and policies that have been upvoted on the site, a form of social-media pressure that would act as a bulwark against poll-tested or staid ideas. To quote Mark Pincus, “We’re not trying to be an arm of the Democratic Party. We’re trying to say that the Democratic Party needs to change if it wants our votes and our money and our time.”

Change is hard, especially for political parties with values and practices that have been in place for many decades. If the Future Forum Foundation is to succeed in engaging millennials, it will need to do a lot of listening (which it states it is already doing) and a lot of changing. According to Rep. Eric Swalwell of California, the caucus of younger Democratic members of the House of Representatives visited tech incubators, breweries, community colleges, and other locations where millennials tend to congregate in 40 cities, meeting with students and new employees and millennial-focused businesses with the goal of identifying issues facing young Americans.

“This Swiss Army knife is getting more and more tools to help young people,” Swalwell said of the new foundation. “That shows that young leaders are on the rise in and out of Congress.”

The big question in this effort is whether millennials will buy in and not view this effort as pandering to them. A second question is whether the Democratic Party itself is prepared to change to accommodate a younger population that thinks and acts differently than they do. The lack of millennial identification with mainstream parties, the number that vote for third-party candidates (10 percent of millennials who voted in 2016 voted outside the mainstream parties), and the number of millennials not voting at all create a huge challenge for the foundation. Will the Future Forum Foundation and the Democratic Party rise to this challenge? And will it make a difference in the political engagement and participation of future generations?—Carole Levine