Dear Millennials: An Open Letter to My Generation Ahead of the 2018 Midterms
Over the next 2 weeks, many political pundits will generalize our generation. They’ll call us unmoved, uneducated, and uninterested in the political process. To hammer this point home, they’ll actively seek out someone who fits this description and then make him or her the poster child for us. They’ll cite statistics about how our generation is apathetic when it comes to voting. They’ll attribute this apathy to it being in our generation’s DNA. They’ll say the same generation that takes selfies and hangs out on Facebook all day is too lazy to make it to the polls to fulfill their basic civic duty. They’ll bring on millennial pundits who will express dismay and anguish at all of us. They’ll wonder why it is that we, millennials, as the largest voting bloc aren’t out there in record numbers.
What they simply don’t understand is our history.
We millennials came of age during a time when there was unprecedented cynicism in our politics. Many of us were in middle and high school during the Gingrich Revolution and the Clinton-Lewinsky Affair. In 2000, we vaguely recall something about a hanging Chad, whoever he was. By 2004, the term “swift-boating” gradually entered our political lexicon and by 2008 we all learned that there were, in fact, no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Our formal education consisted of one year of watered-down American history and one year of grossly inadequate world history. Many of us were not even offered a basic civics class in school. We were not required nor even offered the opportunity to register to vote when we turned 18. Unless we came from rural America or had friends in an ROTC program, we were unaffected by the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. September 11th was a national tragedy but as we went to the local convenience stories to buy $1 American flags to attach to our car antennas, we simply did not understand how and why anybody would attack our beloved United States.
In short, we were never told that our vote mattered.
Some of us may have had politically active parents or family members. But the vast majority of us could not see how or why voting was important. In 2008, after being on the cusp of a second Great Depression, those of us that did vote, voted for Barack Obama. We really couldn’t explain many specifics of his platform but we knew that he was an eloquent speaker and he spoke to a hope many of us were actively seeking, especially those of us who were graduating from college and trying to find work with unemployment levels reaching 10% nationwide. We didn’t know exactly what George W. Bush had done, but we knew it wasn’t good and we didn’t want John McCain to continue doing it if it wasn’t working. For many of us, that was the extent of our political education during the Obama years as like the country itself, we struggled to keep our heads above water dealing with chronic unemployment and underemployment while simultaneously having to pay off our massive student loan debt. Combine that with skyrocketing childcare costs and an utter lack of affordable housing in this country and it’s no wonder why we millennials were forced to hold off starting our families more than any previous generation.
And it was during the Obama years where we gradually became exposed to ways in which government can actually help us, rather than hurt us as it had done during the Bush years. For millions of millennials, the ACA was a God-send, allowing us to not only stay on our parents’ plan but to also access healthcare for those of us with pre-existing conditions. Many of us took advantage of the ACA during job transitions as we could afford health insurance on the private exchange where it would have been previously unaffordable. President Obama’s push to create a $15 minimum wage greatly helped millions of us working these jobs, giving us an opportunity to support our families on the type of work that was no longer reserved for a high school student on his or her summer vacation. An increased minimum wage, the ACA, and a number of other factors helped many millennials transition away from seemingly dead-end jobs and instead gave us the freedom and flexibility to pursue our passion in a job or field that we may have previously been unable to explore.
Yet, despite this gradual awakening for many of us, there is still this conception among millennials that their vote, and more importantly, their voice doesn’t matter.
To have this view is to be unaware of modern American politics. Because it was millennials and our generation’s overwhelming acceptance of our gay brothers and sisters that created the political climate where not only state legislatures but our Supreme Court knew they would have to inevitably legalize gay marriage or face the political consequences for failing to do so. It has been millennial women who have been at the forefront of the Me Too, Black Lives Matter, and Women’s March movements. It has been millennial athletes like LeBron James and Colin Kaepernick who have been using their celebrity status to raise important social issues. It has been millennial entertainers like Taylor Swift who have been out there encouraging others to vote. And it has been millennial political organizers who have worked around the clock to help elect a variety of strong, up-and-coming political candidates from Florida, Georgia, Texas, and across the country during this election cycle.
So to my fellow millennials, I ask you this: be whom I know us all to be. We are the most compassionate generation to date and we need to vote our values. We need to vote for continued access to affordable health care. We need to vote for women’s rights, women’s health, and women’s ability to be believed. We need to vote for humane immigration reform. We need to vote to restore the right to vote for those who have made mistakes and to protect the right to vote for future generations. We need to vote to give our children an education that is not dependent upon their zip code. We need to vote to protect our grandchildren from a polluted planet, rife with wars over limited, non-renewable resources. We need to vote for policies that benefit the middle class and not the 1%. And we need to vote to uphold the American values that each and every one of us hold dear and want to pass along to future generations.
So go and vote. In this election and every single election for the rest of your lives. Vote like your life depends on it, because in many situations your life may very well depend on it.
And if you absolutely have to take a selfie with an “I VOTED” sticker, by all means tag your friends.
Yours in solidarity,
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