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'We're not just voting. We're also running.' David Hogg launches young candidate PAC

David Hogg speaks to gun control advocates during the March for Our Lives rally in Washington last year. Hogg first became a national organizer after a mass shooting at his high school in Parkland, Fla., more than five years ago.
Saul Loeb
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AFP via Getty Images
David Hogg speaks to gun control advocates during the March for Our Lives rally in Washington last year. Hogg first became a national organizer after a mass shooting at his high school in Parkland, Fla., more than five years ago.

As David Hogg underwent his own political evolution, he witnessed a generation of young people find their political voice.

"For every year of Trump's presidency, I think there was a new chapter of a social movement that was born," the 23-year-old gun control activist told NPR, "whether it was the Women's March, March for Our Lives, the environmental movement, or the movement for Black Lives."

Now, as the organizers that cut their teeth on those movements become eligible to run for office, Hogg wants to support their campaigns. He is launching Leaders We Deserve, a hybrid political action committee backing candidates under 35 years old running for federal office and under 30 years old running for state office.

The group — which plans to primarily focus on state-level races and a smaller number of congressional matchups — will target open, Democratic-held seats in the upcoming 2024 primary season.

"[We're] trying to pick them and say, you know, we would like to help you run for office, we'll supply you with all of the resources that you need and help basically coach you and hold your hand to get there, which is kind of the gap that's in the space right now, for at least young people at the state legislative level," the March For Our Lives co-founder said.

The move signals a widening political focus for Hogg, who has remained a prominent voice in the youth-led, grassroots movement to curb gun violence since he and his classmates survived a mass shooting at their high school in Parkland, Fla., more than five years ago.

Some members of his activist cohort have already entered electoral politics, including first-term Rep. Maxwell Frost, D-Fla., who came to Congress after a background in organizing at March For Our Lives. The first Gen Z member of Congress, Frost is on the advisory board for Leaders We Deserve, and his former campaign manager, Kevin Lata, serves as the group's executive director.

Now, Hogg says, Frost's successful advocate-turned-politician path is a motivator.

"It inspires me to continue. And hope is not a feeling that I often have in this work," he said, adding, "That's why I'm doing this, because I follow that feeling whenever I do feel it because I know that is the right way."

The launch comes nearly 14 months from the 2024 election as millennials and Gen Z continue to grow as an influential portion of the electorate.

Read more of the interview below. These responses have been edited for clarity and length.

The move marks a new moment for his political work.

David Hogg: What I see this as is a second step for our generation and the people in power that we're not just voting. We're also running. As a generation, we grew up hearing that to survive a school shooting, we had to run, hide and fight. I think, as a generation, we need to reinterpret what that means at a broader scale and that we need to run for office. We need to stop hiding from the responsibility that previous generations often did to protect young people and the future of this country and the future of this planet. And we need to fight for a better future where that never happens and a better system.

What goes into picking candidates to endorse?

Hogg: We're looking for candidates that represent our generation, not just demographically, but also ideologically. The belief that we need to ensure that we stop school shootings and protect kids and not the special interests of the NRA, for example, that we need to protect our planet and not the profits of the oil and gas industry. And we're looking especially for – basically, the cream of the crop of young people from the recent social movements that came up during Trump's presidency. To look for them now that they're starting to graduate college or the first class of those activists are starting to graduate college or becoming eligible to run for office and trying to pick them and say, you know, we would like to help you run for office, we'll supply you with all of the resources that you need and help basically coach you and hold your hand to get there, which is kind of the gap that's in the space right now, for at least young people at the state legislative level.

So that's kind of our focus here. And most of our work is going to be at the state legislative level to help turn the tide against this far-right tsunami that we've seen across the country in state legislatures that for decades have lacked so much investment and coordination.

The group steers clear of competitive seats and focuses on open Democratic ones for now.

Hogg: Well, I think it's important to note that our first step is focusing on these seats because we want to make sure that as an organization, we're being an additive force to make sure that we're helping win.

You know, in some races, it may not be best for somebody who is 21 years old to be running in that seat that's more competitive. But what our plan here is to do is help elect those young people in those open blue seat primaries, where for a very small investment, we can make a major amount of change in terms of the branding of that state Democratic Party, for example, to show a new face, a new generation. And with that, I think it can have an up-and-down ballot effect of turning out more young people because they see people who understand them.

Looking ahead: the uncertain future of Hogg's generation.

Hogg: If we have a generation of young people that has been told democracy is our government and is the best form of government, but they're dying in their schools or fearing that they're going to die in their schools every day, I fear that those young people may lose faith in democracy. That's why this project matters. Because it's showing young people that, yes, our system is broken, but it's not unfixable. We can work to fix it and make it better as a generation.

The work that we're doing will compound over time by showing young people that when you're involved in politics, when you're involved in these movements, you don't just have to work on the outside. You can also get involved on the inside. And it doesn't have to be an either-or situation. We need good people on the inside because I've seen the difference that that can make.

Copyright 2024 NPR

Elena Moore
Elena Moore is an assistant producer for the NPR Politics Podcast. She also does political reporting for the Washington Desk and fills in as a reporter for the NewsDesk. During the 2020 presidential campaign, she worked as an editorial assistant, doing both research and reporting.