Millennials’ involvement in the political process has been closely scrutinized. Now that we hold just as much voting power as baby boomers, America wants to know how we plan to steer the future. While we may have depressing voter turnout statistics for now, it will likely change as years go on. Although it is not entirely clear why older Americans tend to have higher voter turnout, one potential reason is that they may have more time and resources to participate in the political process relative to younger generations. Perhaps they simply believe that their influence matters in politics. Whatever the reason, we’re left with a system where young people not only do not vote as much as they should, but also do not run for office either.
Part of this is merely a matter of law. Because there are minimum age requirements for most public office positions, the pool of candidates has understandably shifted in older Americans’ favor. While some people advocate for lowering these age standards, there is no explanation for the more fundamental problem that younger Americans have no intention to run for office in the first place.
Furthermore, millennials are disillusioned. With the increasing costs of college, rising underemployment, and their increased diversity, millennials feel their problems are not being addressed sufficiently by the current political system. We may be bombarding social media with easy-to-digest memes or tweets only as a way to vent and see that we are not alone in feeling isolated. Student debt, the employment crisis, and diversity intolerance are all problems that are admittedly complex, where clear actions steps to fix what we see as the most relevant issues in our lives don’t exist.
And there likely won’t be, unless we participate in the political system. Our elected officials respond to their constituencies when they believe they must in order to stay in office. The first step in solving any problems specific to our generation is to vote. But there is another step — running for office ourselves. Not every position is open to every millennial (consult the age requirements for your state), but starting now gets you the experience you need. And the more experience you have, the more qualified you’ll be when you finally turn 35 and want to run for president.
We might be getting ahead of ourselves. Not that having a younger president is inconceivable, but having younger state legislators, mayors, and school board members might be even more important. But no matter what level, local, state, or federal office, some might wonder: what’s the advantage of having younger people in office?
Perhaps the most important advantage is their awareness of current culture. Millennials are more aware of trends in technology and emerging cultural attitudes. Technology is becoming more and more relevant in all facets of the public sector, including police work, public transportation, and education. As technology continues to be interwoven into the infrastructure of every governmental agency, it makes sense to have leaders that have an intricate understanding of it.
Furthermore, young people have their finger on the pulse of current culture, and the impacts of this extend far past slang or fashion trends. Awareness of LGBTQ issues, the power of social media, the acceptance of medicinal marijuana… These are all things that young people picked up on way before they became mainstream. Businesses now go out of their way to show their support for the LGBTQ community. Also any organization worth their salt has a Facebook page. Finally, the political climate surrounding marijuana has flipped. Millennials were at the forefront of all of these trends. It might be a good idea to consult people who are ahead of the curb.
The classic objection to young leaders is that they are too idealistic. However, idealism can be just as much a strength as it is a weakness. While it ought to be tempered with experience, having an idea of where things ought to be is just as valuable as where things are. Perfection is not possible, but that is no reason not to strive for it. Indeed, being blind to “harsh realities” allows young people to see a possibility that those with more experience might not, and those barriers might not be all that real. This is not meant to downplay the value of wisdom acquired by age, but instead to underline the benefits of believing that your vision is possible.
All things considered, how do we increase civic engagement and political involvement with young people? Well, the first step is yours: step up and be an example. You might not be old enough to run for a particular office, but you can still be politically active, whether that’s protesting, helping another campaign, or becoming a staffer for an elected official until you can run yourself. Public service doesn’t always earn you the big bucks, but job satisfaction is more important to overall happiness, so don’t let that dissuade you from making a difference. Encourage your friends to get involved too, even if they are only passionate about one or two issues. Every little bit of enthusiasm counts!
While many millennials feel like their concerns are underrepresented, they never will be if we lose an entire generation of potential candidates. Some millennials are already working for it, but we need more involvement. Because many millennials believe that the system isn’t listening to our voices, we need to rally our voices together. If it’s time for a change, it’s our generation who will incite it.
This article was written by Dayton Uttinger.