Magazines and websites love to put together “30 Under 30” lists of over-achieving young people. These usually take the form of glossy listicles or slideshows, with perfect portraits and sparkling bios of each superlative person—29-year-old television executives, 28-year-old tech entrepreneurs.
And let’s be honest: Most “30 Under 30” lists seem designed to make the rest of us unspectacular non-prodigies feel like ambitionless, old couch potatoes. (Disclaimer: our own Kevin Roose landed himself on Forbes’ 30 Under 30 list and we are unreservedly happy for him, we swear!) But seriously, if you haven’t hate-clicked through one of these galleries, wondering how these people have had time to become vice presidents and owners of things, all while eating your feelings and binge-watching crime procedurals on Netflix, then congratulations: You must be a young vice president or owner of something.
So at Fusion, when we decided to put together an under-30 list as part of our election coverage, we had a pretty clear idea from the beginning of what we didn’t want it to be. What we did want was something different and inspiring that would reflect the emerging America—young, diverse, inclusive.
The result is The 30. Thirty people, all 30 or younger, who will shape this election. They are campaigners, organizers, protesters, and elected officials. They are Democrats and Republicans and non-partisans. Their ideologies and methods and passions are as diverse as they are, but they are all deeply committed to changing the world in small and large ways. And they are all well-equipped to do it.
We wanted these to be stories with substance. We were not particularly interested in learning, for example, the morning routines or the quirkiest habits of these 30 people. We didn’t need to know who would play them in the movie of their life. We wanted to know why they care about their issues and how they’re wielding political power. We wanted to lift up these exceptional people, not to show them off but to inspire and affirm people like them all over the country.
The first decision we made was to turn the list into a series of videos. Letting the people we selected tell their own stories, straight to the camera, seemed like the best way to present the vibrant, substantive portraits we were all imagining. Coordinating 30 shoots and getting 30 pieces through the editing process turned an ambitious project into an enormous one. But, with Michael Hull, our newly-minted Elections Video Producer/Renaissance man on the case, we knew it would be worth it.
Next: finding our subjects. We didn’t want to limit our roster to campaign staffers and Washington types. Those people are hugely important, of course. But there are other people in the game, too. People working in outside groups—or even getting elected themselves. And, of course, there are incredibly influential people working entirely outside the system. For example, the #BlackLivesMatter movement has unquestionably pushed the Democratic candidates for president to address social justice and policing in ways that they simply weren’t before.
Basically five minutes after he walked in the door on his first day at Fusion as elections researcher, I told Andrew Joyce about our goals, and he started working on a list of awesome 30-and-unders to be considered. A few weeks later, when Executive Editor Hillary Frey and I had a look at the list he’d compiled, we were struck by how many women were on it. You might have noticed there’s something of a gender disparity in the pool of candidates who are, themselves, running for president this year, so it was refreshing and even a little surprising to see such a wealth of fascinating women working in different ways on the election.
When Hillary suggested we could do a list of only women, for about 12 seconds I thought it was a crazy idea. Then I thought about Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the second woman justice on a Supreme Court that was exclusively male for 192 years. When she’s asked when there will be enough women on the court, she likes to say: “When there are nine.”
We here at Fusion are not in charge of nominating Supreme Court justices. In fact, I don’t think we’re even consulted in the matter. But we are in charge of coming up with a really cool and totally different “30 Under 30” list. And it turns out we can create an entire list of kick-ass women who are literally changing the world this year. You can check out a preview of the entire project here.
Each week, we’ll release two or three new episodes of The 30. Today you’ll meet the national press secretary for Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign, a self-proclaimed “bald black girl from Omaha, Nebraska” who believes in the power of politics to create opportunity for everyone. You’ll meet the former Dreamer who heads up Latino outreach for the Clinton campaign, where she says she’s fighting for her undocumented immigrant mother and for the millions of others who are living in the shadows. And you’ll meet a 28-year-old libertarian, working on Rand Paul’s campaign, who is unwavering in her ideological commitment but still believes young people basically want the same things and can work together to get them.
Looking at the list—these 30 young women and the power they wield—makes me more optimistic for the future than almost anything else happening in politics right now. I hope you’ll watch the series and agree. And then share it with everyone you know who’s invested in seeing girls and women find their voice and take their place in shaping politics and policy in this country.
Rebekah Dryden is Director of Elections Coverage at Fusion. She lives in New York City with her film writer spouse and film buff toddler. She enjoys sparkly drinks, starchy foods, and pretending to mistake Harpo for Chico to make her husband mad. Before joining Fusion, she worked in cable news, where she won two Emmy awards and ate hundreds of garlic knots.