History has already recorded Howard Dean’s 2004 presidential campaign as the first to harness the power of the Internet. But there may be a second, overlooked Dean legacy brewing. Generation Dean, the youth and student division of the campaign, was founded by two Washington, DC-area students and peaked at 23,479 members with 1,133 chapters nationwide, more than twice the number of College Democrats groups. Moreover, an unprecedented quarter of Dean’s 300,000 individual donors were under 30.
The Generation Dean blog–a central mechanism used by the campaign to coordinate with its youth supporters–is no longer active, but Dean for America remains in touch with its members through its 640,000-strong e-mail list, and many young people are expected to join the campaign’s new organization, details of which will be announced March 18. “There are people that are chomping at the bit,” says Ari Mittleman, who with fellow DC college student Michael Whitney put up the original Students for Dean website. He himself has “an informal offer” to move to Burlington, Vermont, after graduation and work on the campaign’s new incarnation.
Many former “Deanie Babies” will no doubt drift off to find new interests. But conversations with two dozen of Dean’s student organizers from all over the country–at the campus, state and national level–suggest that for the most part they are unbowed by their hero’s crushing defeat and ready to stay involved in politics. They’re already developing plans to use the grassroots organizing skills and personal networks they developed over the past year to help elect Democrats locally, unseat Bush and advance a progressive youth agenda.
Twenty-five-year-old Eddie Ableser may be the first child of Generation Dean to run for office. A community activist and student leader who will get his master’s in counseling from Arizona State University in May, Ableser announced his candidacy in September for Arizona’s House of Representatives from District 17. Ableser was an active member of ASU’s GenDean chapter, which he says inspired him to run. He is drawing on the group for his organization–students with practice in canvassing, phone banking and running house parties. “Basically the same stuff we did for Dean, we’re doing for Eddie,” says his 19-year-old press aide, ASU sophomore Corinne Widmer.
Tony Cani, a 25-year-old senior at Arizona State, was the founder of ASU’s GenDean group and rose to become part of the national team. Known among GenDeaners as a crack organizer, he has lost no time marshaling support for Ableser and other candidates. “We have about forty members on campus,” he says. “It’s a cohesive group, locally based, locally focused. I think maybe a couple hundred people out of a thousand members statewide will remain active, and there are people who have been lurking on the website, reading the e-mails, who I think are ready to do more. We want to create a youth-vote organization, like Rock the Vote, but partisan–and not just registering people to vote but educating voters. Registering someone to vote is like giving them the keys to the car. You still have to tell them where the car is parked and when it’s going to be around.”