A SUPERHERO'S NEW MISSION
Newsweek|June 18 - 25, 2021
CHRIS EVANS hung up his Captain America shield. Now he and his partners want to help Generation Z reshape the U.S. political landscape
David H. Freedman

MEMBERS OF CONGRESS GET A LOT OF calls from people wanting things, most of which receive polite regrets from staffers. But lately one particular call is consistently getting past the gatekeepers: the one from Chris Evans. Yes, that Chris Evans. For a year and a half, the 39-year-old megastar (he turns 40 on June 13), best known for playing Captain America in the Marvel movies, has been quietly working the halls of the Capitol, occasionally in person, in an effort to persuade senators and representatives to put aside their hyper-partisan hyperbole and explain, in under two minutes, their views on politics and policy to a new generation of young potential voters.

The two-minute interviews are posted to A Starting Point, an app and website that Evans co-founded with director and actor Mark Kassen and Joe Kiani, a health care entrepreneur and philanthropist. Politicos talking policy may seem like heavy fare for the TikTok cohort, but the venture has so far defied gravity. It has more than 140,000 Instagram followers and 72,000 followers on Twitter—big numbers for politics-only content, especially given the site’s non-partisan approach. (In spite of the focus on the TikTok generation, A Starting Point isn’t active there, conceding that territory to younger posters.) “I love the idea of getting concise information from the people who are most involved in the political process, in their own words, without any journalistic spin,” says Evans. “This is about understanding who these people in office are, and how they’re voting.”

The site gives politicians a chance to weigh in any time on any topic. But much of the action revolves around pairs of opposing-party politicians pressing their disagreement around current hotly debated issues. Thus the home page recently featured dueling videos from Republican Ohio Representative Dave Joyce and Democratic Oregon Rep. Earl Blumenauer arguing about federal cannabis policy, and Democratic California Rep. Katie Porter exchanging points and counterpoints with South Dakota Republican Rep. Dusty Johnson on eliminating the filibuster. “When I was a teenager, politics felt like something that was far away from what mattered to me,” says Evans. “Maybe if I had had a chance to listen to powerful voices from someone like a Katie Porter, I’d have been inspired and curious.”

The youth vote has for decades been so unreliable that political campaigns considered it barely worth their time and effort, compared to the more certain payoff from older voters. Millennials, now mostly in their 30s, started to bend that curve, proving to be relatively eager voters. But the younger Generation Z, which includes a raft of new voters each year, has accelerated the trend. About 55 percent of eligible voters between the ages of 18-to-29 voted in the 2020 elections, compared to 44 percent in 2016, according to Tufts University’s Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE).

That jump, which is bigger than other age groups saw in 2020, helped lift the youth vote to 17 percent of all votes cast, the most since the voting age was lowered in 1970. And further increases may be in store for future elections, says CIRCLE Deputy Director Abby Kiesa. The 2020 increase was particularly outsized among 18- and 19-year-olds, suggesting they and the sub-18 voters who will come of age in 2022 and 2024 may bring a fresh surge in numbers centered on ever-younger voters. “These kinds of increases among young voters are unheard of,” she says.

The 10- to 25-year-olds that Evans is targeting have been largely ignored by politicians. That may be because Gen Z, having been almost literally raised on Snapchat videos, has shown little interest in traditional sources of information. “They’re savvy consumers of digital media, but candidates have rarely spoken to them directly to address what especially matters to them,” says Elizabeth Matto, director of the Center for Youth Political Participation at Rutgers University. “Any way elected officials can engage them online in an unfiltered way is going to resonate with them.”

It’s increasingly difficult to ignore Gen Z. These young voters do more than just turn out on election night: they are also quick to engage in the grassroots of politics, including petitions, campaigns and protests. That passion for the issues and the willingness to act on them, together with a social-media-centric world view, is starting to reshape the political landscape. That short clips of babbling politicians can strike a chord with these youthful voters could be a harbinger of an historic shift in the American electorate.

Diverse and Passionate

BEYOND THEIR NUMBERS AND PROPENSITY FOR VOTING, Gen Zers are also the most diverse generation in modern American history. According to a census analysis, half of them are people of color—four percent more than millennials and 20 percent more than Baby Boomers. That means racial justice isn’t just an abstract principle they believe in—it’s often a personal struggle for them, their families and their friends. “It’s not that we’re trying to be the interface between younger generations and politics,” says Kassen. “But we know from our interactions with them that they’re not interested in traditional narratives.”

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