Aidan Kohn-Murphy is founder and executive director of Gen-Z for Change, a nonprofit advocacy coalition of over 500 social media creators leveraging their platforms for social justice. Through it, Kohn-Murphy has led partnerships with the White House, Fair Fight, Made to Save, the Biden campaign, Harvard’s Institute of Politics, March On, Climate Power, Accountable Tech, and more. A recent graduate of Georgetown Day School, he is an incoming freshman at Harvard University. Kohn-Murphy spoke at the 2022 Aspen Ideas Festival with his Gen-Z for Change colleague Sofia Ongele.
Was there a specific moment that ignited your passion for advocacy and drove you to found Gen-Z for Change? What gives you hope as you continue to work on many of the most pressing issues facing your generation?
When I first started TikTok for Biden, which eventually became Gen-Z for Change, I had no plans to found an organization. I was trying to organize a phone bank for Joe Biden with my creator friends who wanted to use their platforms to make a difference. Through relational organizing and an amazing support system, I found myself with hundreds of creators looking to me for how they could support the Democratic Campaigns. When I eventually rebranded the group as Gen-Z for Change, I did it because I knew we could continue to use our massive reach to make a difference. Every step of the way, we’ve been led by our desire to make change and simply adapted to whatever circumstances we could do so most effectively. Even as the laundry list of issues facing our generation and world continues to expand, I’ve never lost faith in our generation’s ability to affect change, thanks to our incredible leadership team. I’m fortunate enough to work alongside some of the most passionate and committed activists in the country. It’s impossible to lose hope when you’re surrounded by people who inspire you every single day.
Have you faced any obstacles as a young person in the nonprofit sector? What has helped you get to where you are, and what advice would you give to other young activists who are passionate about making a difference?
When I founded Gen-Z for Change, I was 16 years old. I spent my junior and senior years of high school scaling the organization. Looking back, if we had known how ambitious what we were doing actually was, there’s no way we could have done it. I kept my head down and focused on the task at hand. I sacrificed a lot trying to balance high school, a full time job, a social life, college applications, and extracurricular activities, and often, I made the wrong choice and prioritized work over my physical and emotional wellbeing. One of the best pieces of advice I received was, “You can’t take care of the movement if you can’t take care of yourself.” As a young person in the nonprofit sector, self-care is crucial to staying engaged and preventing burnout. I’d also advise young advocates to be intentional about the intergenerational aspects of their work and to ensure that in youth-led movements, young people are actually leading, while adults provide needed support from the sidelines.
Big IdeaEven as the laundry list of issues facing our generation and world continues to expand, I’ve never lost faith in our generation’s ability to affect change. I’m fortunate enough to work alongside some of the most passionate and committed activists in the country. It’s impossible to lose hope when you’re surrounded by people who inspire you every single day.Aidan Kohn-Murphy
Gen-Z for Change doesn’t fit neatly into any one category of political communication — rather, it seems to weave together strands of activism, journalism, and civic empowerment. What do you see as the relationship between social media and social justice? How can TikTok, for example, be a political tool? With such a large coalition of creators working with Gen-Z for Change, is it ever hard to coordinate your actions and goals?
Gen-Z for Change’s varied activities all derive from our mission to empower young people to take action by giving them accurate information on the issues they care about and then providing them with the tools they need to get involved and make their voices heard. As more and more young people turn away from traditional media, we have an opportunity to uplift perspectives that have traditionally been underrepresented and hear directly from those most affected by various rulings or policies. I wouldn’t describe Gen-Z for Change as a news outlet, but as a hub for progressive storytelling and action. As a coalition of over 500 creators, we know it’s impossible to encapsulate the views of all of our members, so we seek to uplift their voices on the issues they’re most passionate about and provide them with the resources they need to bring progressive values to their audiences.
What is your biggest ambition for Gen-Z for Change? How do you see the organization potentially changing the media ecosystem?
I’ve learned through Gen-Z for Change to resist the urge to meticulously plan for the future. Gen-Z for Change is built on the notion of unadulterated creativity (no pun intended). We’re young and scrappy and resist strict hierarchies. When a team member has a big idea we love, we drop everything and work together to turn that vision into a reality. Our willingness to think outside the box and on our feet makes it impossible to try to predict what’s next, but I have no doubt that as long as an initiative is planned by our incredible leadership team, it will change lives and inspire others.
The views and opinions of the author are their own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Aspen Institute.
By Maya Kobe-Rundio, Associate Digital Editor, Aspen Ideas