She is most recognized as a member of one of the United States’ most memorable and beloved political families.
But Caroline Kennedy is also an activist, a philanthropist, an attorney, a best-selling author, and a mother of three. And we were especially honored to have Kennedy visit MTV as part of the network’s ongoing Pioneers speaker series, hosted by MTV President Stephen Friedman.
During her visit, Kennedy sat down wth MTV’s Andrew Jenks to discuss her work beyond politics, the current political climate, and how MTV can engage young people in public service as the network continues to ramp up its Power of 12 campaign.
In 1960, Kennedy’s father—former president John F. Kennedy—inspired a generation to get involved in the political process. In 2008, we saw young people mobilize for President Obama in a similar way. In fact, Caroline Kennedy endorsed Obama in a famous 2008 New York Times op-ed.
With many young people today left disillusioned by student debt and a dire entry-level job market, Kennedy and several MTV staff exchanged commentary and thoughts on how to maintain the youthful hope and fervor that helped defined the election season just four years ago.
Kennedy shared her insights on how we can help translate the involvement we’ve seen into a more sustainable commitment.
“People have to realize that this is not a spectator sport – this is something that requires participation,” Kennedy told Jenks and the audience of MTV employees.
She acknowledged the role service organizations and networks like MTV play in rallying young people, and drew a connection between community service and public policy.
“In this last election, we saw a whole generation enter into the political process, and we have to do everything we can so that they stay engaged,” she said. “It’s up to us to make sure that we reach out to other or younger people and pass it on.”
But traveling across the country to get a feel for how young voters view politics — and politicians — today, Jenks found that many young voters, off the fervor of the 2008 election season, are feeling disconnected from Washington.
“When you talk about young people being disconnected, I think we haven’t seen what has happened, because people voted, but there are also people who got involved in their communities,” Kennedy said. “They’re going to be making change over time, which we may not have seen yet.”
Kennedy, as president of the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation, has a hand in the organization’s “New Frontier Awards,” which honors Americans under the age of 40 who are changing their communities and the country with their commitment to public service. She told the audience that three recent New Frontier Award recipients started their nonprofits as college students, and the awards are a way to acknowledge and encourage service from young people.
One current problem, though, according to Kennedy, is that the levels of knowledge and involvement, as well as the expectations for our public servants, are somewhat superficial right now because we no longer study civics in schools.
“Colleges are stepping up to try to promote service and service learning to get people to become more engaged and knowledgeable,” she said. “Institutions and organizations like this have a role to play – I know you (MTV) go out and do a lot on the field.”
She cited the surge in volunteerism that took hold after 9/11.
“It doesn’t come easy if it’s important,” she said. “[Young people] need to keep up with it.”
Directly correlating community service and public policy, Kennedy said young people must also connect the two – because all community service has a public policy dimension.
“They think politics are bad; community service is good,” Kennedy said. “You need both to make the kind of change you want.”