GC’s Expanding to the Heartland

June 30, 2016

We are excited to announce Generation Citizen’s expansion to Central Texas and Oklahoma City in the fall of 2016.

When we passed Generation Citizen’s four-year strategic plan two years ago, expanding to new sites was a top goal, both to test our model in new geographies and to make a more effective case for the broader national potential of action civics. Over the last year, in consultation with our National Board of Directors, we scouted districts across the country to assess local need and demand, and determine where we felt the model would be most successful.

We chose Oklahoma City and Central Texas. Why?

Mostly importantly, both offer unique opportunities and enthusiastic schools and partners on the ground eager to get started in the action civics process. They share a critical issue central to our mission: political participation is lacking. Finally, the present local political context in each area necessitates youth political action.

In the 2014 midterm election, less than 35% of Oklahomans participated, the state’s lowest rate in decades. Young people were especially absent: only 13% of 18-24 year olds participated. Texas numbers are similar. Only 28.5% of Texans participated in their 2014 midterms, the lowest in the entire country. The presidential primaries in Texas this year saw the second lowest turnout in the country. Even important local issues, like a recent controversial Uber and Lyft bill, saw only 17% of voters turning out.

Despite the lack of political participation in these areas, which are indicative of broader country-wide trends, we know, and saw during our visits, that the drive exists to tackle pressing local issues. In Oklahoma, we’ve seen this energy in reaction to the drastic budget cuts afflicting the state, which resulted in the Board of Education recently cutting $40 million from Oklahoma public schools. In response, OKC students are engaging in walk-outs to protest the cuts. We look forward to helping them channel their frustration into positive action.

Central Texas has its own challenges. Austin’s burgeoning population growth has pushed long-term residents out. The region’s racial divides have increased in recent years, resulting in higher poverty rates, more-isolated neighborhoods, and lower education and employment levels. The increasing inequality necessitates effective political action, from the ground up. There is more to Austin than its progressive reputation.

Generation Citizen cannot solve these problems on its own. But we strongly believe that one way to ensure more people participate in the political process, no matter what they believe, is through promoting effective civics education, starting at a young age.

GC’s model empowers students to choose an issue they care about, develop a focused, strategic plan to address the issue, and take real political action. We have seen concrete evidence of our ability to educate young people on how government actually works, increase their motivation to participate, and provide them with the skills needed for long-term civic engagement. We’re hopeful this happens in our two new sites.

We are grateful to already have partners on the ground. In Oklahoma City, we have early commitments from Harding Fine Arts Academy and the Putnam City School District, and interest from the University of Oklahoma and the University of Oklahoma City to establish chapters for our Democracy Coach pipeline. National Board member Julie Hudman and Associate Board member Jack Funk, Okie natives, have also helped lead this effort.

In Central Texas, we are excited that the opening for our site will be led by Meredith Norris, who is a former teacher with Generation Citizen in San Francisco and Boston, and is an Austin native. Larry Schooler, the Director of Community Engagement for the City of Austin, has been instrumental towards our expansion, and we will be working with the Austin Independent School District and other players on the ground.

Over the next few months, we will be hiring an Oklahoma Site Manager, and raising resources to begin this work. We look forward to updating you on our work. And we look forward to hosting our own Generation Citizen Red River Showdown.

Click here to support our new sites and the expansion of Generation Citizen’s programming!

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