WASHINGTON (WUSA9) -- Voter apathy is an epidemic in the United States. The greatest culprit? Young Americans. Millennials would much rather Instagram a cronut than cast a ballot. Amid all the indifference, in a small apartment in Northwest D.C. one millennial spends his days trying to fix the political system, and get his generation back to the polls. Luke Squire is the co-founder of Launch Progress, a two-pronged political organization that is both a non-profit and a political action committee. As Squire explains it, the goal of Launch Progress is to make sure that: "we have a political system that is working for us and that we believe in."
The idea for Launch Progress came on the night of the 2013 Inauguration. Squire was having a beer with his friend Poy Winichakul and the two were discussing politics. While the young progressives were happy with wins like Elizabeth Warren, they were distressed by the overall outcome of the election. "What we kept coming back to" Squire recalls, "was the fact that the plurality of Americans voted for a democrat for the house, and the majority still went to the Republicans. We were frustrated". Instead of cracking open another beer, tweeting some angry characters and abandoning their discontent- the Oberlin grads decided to find the root of the problem. This led them past the offices of Washington, and back to state legislatures, local elections, and as Squire explains it: "that feeder point when someone first decides to get in to public office."
Running for local office is an expected choice for your typical politician. Look at the Kennedys or the Bushs of the world: they come from political families, grow up in the spotlight and are encouraged to run. There are already donors lining up to write checks. For your average community activist, leaping from their neighborhood to public office doesn't seem feasible. Studies show that if a man is active in the community and considering a run for office he will agree to run the second or third time he's asked. A woman, however, needs to be asked seven times before she considers starting a campaign. Launch Progress is trying to be that seventh ask. They're looking for that unlikely candidate with whom voters can identify and get behind.
Launch Progress calls these candidates "Progressive Champions." A progressive champion is not a born politician, but has a knack for effecting positive change. Rebecca Thompson is such a candidate. A native of East Detroit, she grew up in a working class family that sometimes struggled with unemployment and homelessness. Despite her hardships Thompson got her degree and went on to hold numerous prestigious positions in Washington. But in the end Thompson chose to go back to her home state of Michigan and help incur change there. Thompson is now running for State Representative in Michigan's 1st district. If elected, she will be the first young black woman to serve in the democratic caucus in twenty years.
For Thompson, the support of Launch Progress has enhanced her campaign ten-fold. The beauty of Launch Progress being both an action fund and a non-profit is that they can provide more than just monetary donations. Launch Progress has helped the Thompson campaign gain national media attention and contributed to their daily work. As Thompson describes it, Launch Progress provides a different kind of support: "Some organizations give you their support and send you on your way. The earned media, new supporters, and personal attention that we've received from Launch Progress has been amazing."
Thompson is just one of the handful of candidates Launch Progress will back this election. For now, their focus is on making the biggest impact they can with a grassroots effort. Launch Progress will be supporting 6 candidates in three states in November. It may seem small on the national level, but for such a modest organization the scope is huge.
The co-founders of Launch Progress are the only full-time employees. Winichakul became the organization's first full time employee in October just 10 months after the initial idea came about. She turned down a Fulbright Scholarship to stay in the U.S. and work on Launch Progress as it grew. Squire followed suit three months later, leaving his job on Capitol Hill to commit full time. To decide their salary, the co-founders computed the cost of their weekly necessities on the personal finance site mint.com. They each make $ 2,000 a month. "We're not going to retire off of this anytime soon" Squire laughs, proving that while Launch Progress is a fundraising committee, it really isn't all about the money.
Beyond its two co-founders, Launch Progress is built on a network of young people who care about the future of the country and are trying to help in whatever way they can. The four other members of the leadership team have full time jobs and donate their time to Launch Progress. The organization also has a vast network of ambassadors around the country. These ambassadors are young, politically active people who are out in their communities looking for the next flock of progressive champions. It may not be the strong arm power that most PACs have behind them, but Launch Progress thinks their model embodies what they are trying to accomplish. As Squire puts it: "we really believe that this is a way to fight big money in politics. We're not just throwing money at campaigns, we are supporting candidates-public servants-with the in-kind services they need to win and grow."
For anyone who doubts the sustainability of such a small and young group, be warned that this is not a blip on the screen for them, "we aren't just doing this for a few years so we can put it on our resume to get in to grad school" Squire asserts, they have long term goals for the organization. Squire says the goal is to help a hundred and fifty candidates by 2020, a long term effort, hoping to effect lasting change in National politics.