Millennials can make real political progress

Lily Vaughan | Daily Trojan

We are millennials and we’d like our seat at the table now, please.

Some might argue that one of the benefits of President Donald Trump’s administration is the great political awakening of college-aged voters, and the millennial and Gen Z generations specifically. But while some of us are catching up, others have been at this for years — movements from #BlackLivesMatter to #MeToo to #NeverAgain have all long been popularized and propagated by millennials, on platforms that cater to us, in environments that we live in and understand.

Last weekend, I attended the California Democratic Convention in San Diego. By congressional and gubernatorial candidates alike, millennial interests — economic equity, college access and affordability among them — were paid only the most slapdash of lip service. Midterm elections are coming up. They should become the first battleground of the millennial awakening.

It’s not such an asinine idea; in some ways, our political demands have often been met. The old guard, led by people like House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, has curated Instagram accounts.

During her 2016 presidential campaign, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton tried her hand at Snapchat. The media we’ve created for our own purposes has been integrated into a political system that supposedly revolves around the whims of older representatives to cater to the ideal, reliable voter, who also tends to be older.

And yet, in so many ways we’ve set the terms of the new landscape. Twitter dethroned giants during the #MeToo movement. The teenage Parkland survivors have made a bigger dent in the fight for gun control than any other group of activists or lobbyists before them. Of course, this is all to say that we have clout. And it seems, recently at least, that we’re finally becoming willing to own it. So the question remains — what will our political ethos really be?

In a recent article in the Sunday Review entitled “My Kid’s First Lesson in Realpolitik,” columnist Annie Pfeifer writes that in Switzerland, children are allowed to solve their own conflicts, even by brutal physical means, whereas modern American parents prefer to intervene early. This, Pfeifer contends, is why we prefer our echo chambers — because early on, conflict is forcibly removed from our lives. Coddling, she argues, is the millennials’ fundamental political problem. Maybe she’s right; we, as a generation, are more entitled. But perhaps we are also more empathetic.

As recent social justice movements can attest — the explosion of an enforcement of inclusive language, innovation of the notion of “safe spaces,” the outrage against unfairness in institutional structures — Millennials seem distinctly dissatisfied by institutionalized inequity, precisely because they are more accepting of the social theory that unfairness is wrong, that people should generally act agreeably and that all discriminatory aggression is unacceptable.

Maybe this strange mix of entitlement and empathy — our aggregate political interest in accountability, services and justice — will lead us toward a new day. And hopefully, soon, it will oust a congress interested in none of those things.

Our attitude is a product of how we’ve been raised. Perhaps, as Pfeifer argues, it’s part of the environment we’re in. Hours more of drill-esque work at far younger ages, harder and more expansive tests with more, and higher, standards, lower admission rates and more selective criteria for higher education, greater rates of competition, more economic barriers to hurdle and tough post-grad job prospects — this is a generation expected to perform at the highest possible level at all times. So why can’t our representatives do the same?

This is a generation that expects more from the system as it stands; it is also a generation that believes it is important and powerful enough to make radical change. After all, it’s what we’ve been expected to do.

Millennial entitlement has little to do with work ethic, and more with what we expect that work to elicit. We expect solutions that make sense, and circumstances that are equitable — and that headstrong audacity has made us one of the most powerful forces in modern politics.

Where is the Nanny Generation? Right here, the entire time. Being coddled and being pushed, and at the end of the day, being scapegoated. Thank you for waking us up. We’ll be taking our seats now.

Lily Vaughan is a junior majoring in history and political science. Her column,“Playing Politics,” runs Fridays.