Politically Engaged

Posted by: eric on November 3, 2009 at 10:11 am

Well, today is election day and there are several important races destined to be determined.  I have read several articles in various blogs and newspapers, raising the question of “where are the Millennials and will they vote?”   I fear ”disengaged” youth will be to blamed for election day turnout (or lack there of).  But what people have yet to learn is how to engage the youth in a empowering and meaningful way, Obama did it successfully, but others have not yet gotten the message.

Paradoxically, members of Generation We are not quick to claim for themselves the mantle of being particularly active or politically engaged, even though they are, in fact, among the most involved young people in history. In our focus groups, many Millennials criticized their own generation as being “apathetic” or “materialistic.”

There are a number of possible explanations for this paradox.

One is that the Millennials are measuring their and their generation’s activism—actually high relative to earlier generations of young people—against the seriousness of the planetary problems they face and finding it wanting. They are worried that their generation has not yet launched the kind of social and political movement they see as necessary to address the major issues of our time. This attitude is a reflection of their strong sense of responsibility—and also a measure of their readiness to step forward when conditions are right and a clear agenda emerges for Millennials to rally around.

Negative media coverage of youth probably also plays a role. It is intriguing to note that although Millennials in the June 2007 Democracy Corps survey were overwhelmingly convinced (87 percent) that the word “materialistic” well-described people their own age, only 35 percent felt that term well-described themselves. Generation We as a group strongly condemns materialism even as they believe (or fear) it is rampant among their peers.

The fact is Generation We is ready to work for large-scale change and to support the kind of collective movement they consider necessary for such change to occur. Perhaps only such a movement—one that empowers individuals to become, in Gandhi’s words, “the change they wish to see in the world”—can overcome the barriers Millennials see as holding them and their generation back.

We’d argue that a movement aimed at engaging and mobilizing Generation We must build on the distinctive aspects of the Millennial personality: a view that overcoming tradition and innovating to create a better future is both necessary and a central strength of their generation; a wish to embody in their lives and actions the kind of change they are seeking to make; an unabashed willingness to use their economic power as consumers; a deep embeddedness in social networks; a clear-eyed assessment of the difficulties of change, which leads them to seek not just action but plans for successful action; and of course, an appreciation of the potential of the new technologies that have done so much to shape this generation.

In short, Generation We is becoming more active and increasingly ready to support a collective social movement that embraces both government and entrepreneurship focused on the greater good. Based on their numbers and their sense of urgency, once such a movement emerges it is certain to be large, powerful, and lasting.

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