BIDDEFORD — A new organization for young Democrats in York County held its inaugural meeting at Biddeford City Hall on Monday.

The group, the York County chapter of the Maine Young Democrats, hosted 12 individuals under age 35 in the second-floor conference room of the municipal building. Those heading the meeting said they want to encourage younger individuals to take part in politics.

“I’ve been involved with the York County Democrats and I go to their committee meetings, and there’s just not a lot of young people,” said Natalie Kelliher, 29, regional director for York County, on Tuesday. “I know people my age are concerned about what’s going on, but I’m not seeing them at meetings.”

So Kelliher began reaching out to younger Democrats at local rallies, including weekly rallies in front of Republican U.S. Sen. Susan Collins’ office in Biddeford. She started posting about a young Democrats group on Facebook, and sought assistance from the state Maine Young Democrats to establish a York County branch.

“People really wanted to get involved,” she said. “Not seeing young people getting involved, especially within the Democratic party … the best thing that I can do is get people involved.”

James Jelin, deputy communications director for MYD, who assisted Kelliher in establishing the new York County branch of MYD, agreed.

“It seems like a lot of people assume that elected offices or being in the upper ranks of the (Democratic) party is this thing for people in their 40’s, or 50’s or 60’s. But the reality is we are affected by these policies just as much as older folks,” Jelin said. “People 35 and younger have a different take on the world. I think … it’s important to have our views represented.”

Twelve individuals ranging in beliefs, from full-fledged Democrats to Democratic Socialists, turned out to City Hall on Monday. And, while membership in the MYD is limited to those registered to vote as Democrats, the group is encouraging all people to participate in civil discourse.

“The biggest thing is making personal connections with people and having conversations with them about the issues that are important to them, and the ways we can help move it forward,” Kelliher said. “I think a lot of people get into these big political debates online, and it’s really easy to dismiss somebody online.

“When I talk to different people at community events, it’s a lot easier to find common ground and to find things you both believe in and explain your point of view,” she said. “Maybe participating in the Young Democrats is the best way to get things done … you can’t just close the browser when you’re talking in person.”

Jelin said differences can be put aside as long as long as people can come to common terms.

“I think it’s easy to focus on your differences, and when we all have age in common I just think it makes it easier to find common ground,” he said. “And if we all share the same basic values it doesn’t matter to me if you identify as a Socialist, Democrat, an Independent or even a Republican.”

“As long as everybody from both sides can be nice to each other … I find talking to people who have other opinions from me: one, strengthens my ability to think about things outside my perspective and, two, finds a way for them to talk about what’s important to them too,” Kelliher said.

“Once you start talking to people who have a different point of view, you can start to understand why there are two sides to the issue to begin with,” she added.

The group has not settled on a specific meeting day or time, and may switch up locations to allow people from all areas of York County to attend. The group can be followed on their Facebook page York County Young Dems.

Those in charge are hoping the group empowers those who find themselves without a voice.

“I think a lot of people are feeling frustrated and disempowered, recently,” Jelin said. “What excites me about this group is we are the future of Democratic politics, and if we start acting now our influence can only grow.”

— Staff Writer Alan Bennett can be contacted at 282-1535, ext. 329 or [email protected]

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