The dominant narrative in society about millennials shows a variety of pictures. People glued to their cell phones, images of apathy and disinterest, and privilege. While some of these depictions may be accurate they aren’t the full picture.
We, millennials, carry the most college debt out of any other generation. While attending college everyone I knew and studied with had at least one job and some had three, including myself. A few friends of mine even had to take time off of school when their financial aid didn’t come through with enough support or at all. I’ve sensed a lot of dissent among people my age towards the government and politics. Policies like colleges raising costs for admission are forcing my friends and classmates to work multiple jobs to put themselves through school. This has frustrated millennials to the point of no longer engaging in voting. The frustration of trying to afford college is coupled with the circus that the media has created around the election. Presidential debates are turning into reality shows about who can divert the discussion more instead of answering questions about healthcare or wages, among other important issues facing our country.
From speaking with other millennials I’ve gathered that there is a lot of distrust of a political system that doesn’t advocate for us. Maybe this idea of a system advocating for us instead of us advocating for ourselves is a part of that millennial mindset? Regardless, we are being called to vote and with the growing frustrations with the current election, more and more millennials are leaving their votes on the sidelines of this election.
Canvassing three times a week in rural Western North Carolina, mainly speaking with poor white people in trailer parks has given me a view of voter engagement that most people my age don’t get to experience. I’ve been welcomed into homes and listened to people’s frustrations with policies and politics that I previously revered. I have registered people to vote twice my age who otherwise wouldn’t have registered because nobody would have asked them to do so.
One Saturday a young college student with Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) said something that is still present with me, “at least your government is worth fighting for.” Hearing this really put things in perspective for me as a privileged woman, and I’ve used it to bring up discussions with other people my age. Again, the idea that we must advocate for our system is something that myself and other millennials have never been presented with before.
Talking with a friend recently he remarked that he probably won’t vote because he doesn’t feel like either of the presidential candidates are advocating for his needs. When I asked about local elections he said he probably wouldn’t engage in voting because it all leaves a “bad taste” in his mouth. Millennials have called for transparency and consistency from politicians because of their lies and the ability to see politicians lie and be proven wrong in real time, like the fact checker systems during Presidential debates. When we move away from the political system we create a larger gap between those elected and us, millennials. Why should they advocate for us if we take ourselves out of the political process? We are the most diverse demographic group that is currently able to vote in the US and should use the power we have to elect representtatives that will represent us.
We have to vote. We, millennials, have to talk about what we want to see change. We have to advocate for our system to work. I keep thinking about the statement the college student with DACA made, “at least your government is worth fighting for.” With that in mind, now we must decide if we want to fight for it. We know the issues, because they are our problems. We understand the economy, because it’s our money. We know the importance of discussing diversity, because they are our conversations. Knowing all of this and knowing who we are clearly states that our government is worth advocating for. The simplest way for us to advocate is to vote.
Samantha Singer is the Tzedek Social Justice Fellow at Spirit in Action working as a community organizer with the We the People: Working Together project. Samantha is originally from Charlotte, NC. She recently graduated from UNC-Asheville with a degree in Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies.