Having been following the U.S. election with a mixture of awe, amusement, and trepidation, one figure has emerged above all others as all-important, all-powerful, and absolutely not to be trusted. And no, I don’t mean (insert your personal political punching bag here). I mean the elusive ‘Millennial’. At a conservative estimate of 80 million people, millennials are the largest age grouping in American history – and yet attempts to categorise or define what counts as millennial behaviour and millennial views are rampant. (An example from the last week: presumably approximately half of that 80 million figure are women, but that didn’t stop ABC News from attempting to extrapolate our political wants and needs from a survey of 566 people this week. Just in case you’re a millennial woman who was wondering what your political views are, here’s the link.)
Apparently, the vote of this Millennial – an easily swayed, stubborn, cynical, idealistic, lazy, activist, individualistic, community oriented creature – is essential to winning the election. If only they could work out what it is we want, vapid, distractible party-animal homebodies that we are, then they could just give it to us, and everyone would be happy!
Or haven’t we been trying to tell them?
It came as no surprise to me that this week’s repeated #DemocracySpring marches on Capitol Hill in protest of the role of big money in politics were ignored by major media channels, with Fox News and MSNBC giving it a total airtime of 17 and 12 seconds respectively, and CNN not mentioning it at all. All those lazy, entitled millennials, participating in the largest group of arrests ever made on Capitol Hill (900 people were arrested on Saturday afternoon alone) for a cause they believe in. Insincere timewasters. If calls for justice are greeted with silence – not even anger or disagreement, but silence – are ears deliberately plugged against us? Of course, there were many people present who didn’t fit into the millennial age group – but there were also thousands more people virtually present at the protest who overwhelmingly did: #DemocracySpring trended on Twitter for hours, with people all over the country – mostly young, as is Twitter’s demographic – voicing their support – and yet mainstream media stations refused to talk about it. A quick reminder: things that happen online are still things that happen. There are people with real concerns behind those keyboards. The corrupt state of American ‘democracy’ has united and mobilised young people across the political spectrum, from right to left, but I’m starting to wonder whether it’s not that we’re not involved or engaged, but that ‘they’ – whoever ‘they’ are – have chosen not to listen.
What do millennials want? Many things. We are many people, who think differently, act differently, and vote differently. But millennials, while diverse in our political views and outlooks, are united in paying more for our education and housing than ever before, despite being likely to earn less. We are united in experiencing more anxiety and a greater pressure to make perfect choices than our parents, while simultaneously being told we are a generation of whiners, who expect a free ride to our cushioned safe spaces.
During my time at Dwight Hall, I have worked with millennials who are passionate, bright, active, dedicated, resourceful individuals, committed to their work of social justice and public service, and whose voices are still so easily dismissed when they don’t fit the political narrative most convenient to an older (and still ruling) generation. What do millennials really want? We want you to choose to hear us when we speak.
Hannah Malcolm (M.A.R., 2016),
Rev. John Magee Fellow at Dwight Hall