For the most part, the Bipartisan Summit on Criminal Justice Reform featured staid, high-profile speakers like Cory Booker and Eric Holder, giving somber talks about the broken justice system.
But at the millennial breakout session hosted in the afternoon, things were a little different—barely five minutes into the event, one of its speakers was dropping boisterous profanity and talking about how much he liked Rihanna’s new single.
“F——k,” exhaled Global Grind’s Michael Skolnik, who gave a few opening remarks before the session began. “With a ‘P-H’, not to offend anybody. I’m incredibly inspired.”
The session was hosted by the recently-formed Just Future, a collaborative project spearheaded by representatives from various other groups, like the ACLU, the Center for American Progress, and Open Society Foundations. Generation Opportunity co-hosted the session, their first major event as an organization.
“We have kind of a different idea of how to run things,” explained Alex Berger, a lobbyist for the ACLU and one of Just Future’s founders.
The group hopes to increase millennials’ awareness about problems within the justice system, and get them talking about how to solve them. Much like Strong Returns, another millennial-led prison reform initiative, they have a crowd-sourcing, ground-up attitude toward creating a millennial movement.
After a few brief opening speeches, the room dissolved into small circles where attendees discussed prompts on how to build the millennial reform agenda, assisted by moderators. Prompts included youth-friendly topics like “What role does social media/technology play in advocacy?” and “What does a 21st century criminal justice system look like?”
Across the packed room, the groups tossed around their questions and ideas: how to pinpoint what made the ice bucket challenge go viral, for example, or how to “make the jump” from online support to real-world action. One participant suggested the importance of “feeding into the narcissism of social media,” while another cited “Twitter bombs” as a way to reach out to elected officials.
Later, as the event winded down, the moderators shared the common themes that had emerged within their groups—stories and story-telling were key, as well as the importance of making a tangible “physical ask” in an online campaign, like showing up to a rally or doing something active.
The event also featured ways that technological innovations can better the lives of the incarcerated. Skolnik cited a new app, Pigeon.ly, which helps offset the hefty cost of prisoners’ phone calls by creating a local number for them. Another speaker promoted Flickshop, “Instagram for prisons,” which helps prisoners connect with their loved ones back home.