If I hear one more member of the Millennial generation tell me how "not political" they are, or how disinterested they are in the current affairs of this country, I cannot be held responsible for my reaction. You don't have to be a political junkie to sense that something is seriously afoot in American politics. Some might attribute it to the scary black man occupying The White House. Others may point to the zealotry of gun and God-obsessed wingnuts on the right. Choose your punching bag. It's a tough time to engender positive feelings toward our nation's institutions and leaders. I get that. However, my cohort has turned ambivalence or disengagement into a "Zen-like thing." Before we are so quick to step away from the mantle of activism that fate has literally laid at our feet, perhaps we should take note of four undeniable facts about the current state of affairs in this, our American government:
FACT: We are the largest generation since the Baby Boomers with the longest projected life expectancy since the country's founding. This means that we are going to be seeing a great deal of each other for a great deal of time. Should we not have an active and committed role in shaping the country in which we live? Furthermore, we're likely not going to be able to retire until we're around 73. This is attributed to three main things: increased student debt, stagnating wages and the increasing pipe dream that is Social Security. This means that we'll be living longer, working longer and making less. Put that together and you've got a large amount of people who are being impacted by the affairs of the government at many different levels and turns throughout their lives. You might not know about politics, but you better believe that politics knows about you.
FACT: Forty-one percent of the federal budget is devoted to people over 65. Through myriad ways -- namely Medicare benefits, Medicaid costs and Social Security expenditures -- those with the least amount of time left in the country are dictating the country's fiscal future. Not to be crass, but Grandma and Grandpa do not have to worry about 40 years down the road. We do. Campaigns and candidates respond to people who show up and vote. The numbers are damning. Turnout during the 2008 election of 18-30 year olds was 51 percent. In 2010 -- just two years later -- the turnout was 24 percent. On the flipside, those over 65 comprised nearly one fourth of the electorate in 2010 -- topping their 2008 ballots cast by 16 percent. I'm sure we love our elders (I know I do), but my life experience and theirs exist on completely different planes. Why are we so content to give them the keys to our own future? Apparently, unless some historic circumstance is sitting at the top of the ballot during a presidential year (See: Obama, Barack H.), by and large, our folks are at home... probably castigating the newest changes to Facebook's layout.
FACT: We elected a president. Period. Youth support in Iowa helped to cement then-Senator Obama as a contender for the Democratic Party's nomination. We all know how that story ends. Don't even get me started on the impact of youth voters on the general election in November of 2008. Regardless of your political affiliation -- those of you with them -- you must admit that this is raw political power. If focused, think of the actual outcomes that are possible.
FACT: Our politics are not nearly as polarized or fixed as previous generations. The 18-30 year olds at both ends of the political spectrum do tend to see some broader agreement when it comes to subject areas -- notably expanded civil liberties and more isolation in foreign policy. Do not misunderstand me. For those with firm political beliefs, said beliefs are pretty immovable. Nevertheless, where our current leaders fail -- listening and being open to compromise -- we as a cohort excel. We like to get things done. Perhaps it has something to do with our penchant for instant gratification. For whatever reason, we like it when solutions are implemented and problems solved. The rise of nonprofits seeking to combat the world's ills? Take a look at their leadership. Odds are they aren't too far removed from undergraduate studies. (Our Time, The Malala Fund, Nyaya Health, Uber -- just to name a few). Our generation is transcending institutions presently mired in gridlock to do some pretty awesome things for the world. It's as plain as that.
I happened upon the campaign website of Tennessean and fellow Millennial Weston Wamp. He's running for Congress in the state's 3rd district. There's a particular line of interest in his "about" section:
Conservative but independent, Weston doesn't believe party fanaticism is the right path forward for the country. Instead, he wants to help lead a movement within the Republican Party to embrace the diversity of our country and the innovative spirit of its entrepreneurs without budging from the principles of our Founding Fathers.
This is the type of attitude that brings about a solution to ensure that Social Security is a thing in 2055. This is the type of attitude that knows the issues of LGBTQ equality and fairness aren't things you debate -- they're things you guarantee, protect and expand as time marches on. This is the type of mindset that provides a solid example of leadership for this country. He is a Republican and I am... not -- but by God, he's got my attention. He's a Millennial. He has a vision. He is engaged. So what's your excuse?
I have never agreed with the assessment that our generation is weak or inferior. That characterization usually comes from a place that discounts a holistic view of our cohort. We're smarter, more adept, quicker, wiser, shrewder, more dynamic, more tolerant and more connected than any of our generational predecessors. What's the hold-up? Why can't we tap into our demonstrated ability to be audacious embodiments of all that's good about this country? The choice is to plug in or not. Know that each election matters... and that they have far-reaching consequences. Simple as that. One thing is certain about the United States: where there is a void of leadership, someone will most assuredly step up eventually (looking at you, Herman Cain). You don't have to be obsessed with politics. You don't have to watch MSNBC or Fox News. You don't have to label yourself with any tired political affiliation. It begins with one very simple question: What type of America do I want to live in?
The answer to that question will ignite an ever-burning fire. Of this, I am sure.