Rage Against the Machine
[This story originally published in The Policy on November 7, 2016.]
Millennials have been labeled "Generation Opportunity." Many of us don't see it, though.
Millennials are the generation of globalization, financial crisis, and big bank bailouts; of Occupy Wall Street and Black Lives Matter; of W. and Obama. We were educated in the standardized testing culture, have seen income and wealth inequality balloon in our society, and have been at the forefront of the democratization of technology and the Internet. We have seen Citizens United and widespread political impotence in Washington and around the country, along with discriminatory voter ID laws.
As we have been witnesses to all of this, we have come to question what’s happening and how it will impact us in this moment and in the future. At the core of these questions lies a deep-seated fear, one that resonates across all singular policy issues: that “the system” is going to leave us behind.
We are afraid that we’ll be forever crippled by the weight of the debt we had to take on to attend college, as tuition continues to rise and a degree’s value continues to wane.
We are afraid that we won’t be able to find a job that fully uses the skills we paid so much to develop in college, or worse, that it won’t pay enough to allow us to emerge from under our debt. And we are afraid that the job we finally take after graduation will only have meaning derived from the money we earn, rather than through the merits or impacts of the work itself.
We are afraid that our sisters and daughters will continue to be deprived of equal pay for equal work, prohibiting them from attaining the full entitlement, success, and prosperity that they deserve.
We are afraid that the classic American Dream of homeownership will be out of reach for us and our families, depriving us of a solid foundation of wealth that could provide financial stability and opportunity to us for the rest of our lives.
We are afraid that the insidious incentive structures of Wall Street remain intact and that they will bring the American economy and our generation’s future to the edge of the cliff once again.
We are afraid that strong and decisive action to combat climate change will continue to be deferred and that we will be the ones to face the consequences of that inaction.
We are afraid that too many of us will become permanently entrenched in the mass incarceration system and the resulting underclass and discrimination that follow it forever.
We are afraid that our friends, neighbors, and peers will be treated with less dignity, respect, and trust than they deserve when interacting with law enforcement.
We are afraid that “the system,” the institutions which govern, support, and direct our lives, are not working for us, the next generation.
Our individual policy positions are informed and motivated by our personal experiences and those that we have shared as a generation, especially during our formative years of political awareness and engagement. And we approach that political engagement through an emotional perspective that mirrors our experiences and worldview.
The central issue concerning Millennials this election cycle, then, is not one policy issue or another; rather, it is the fear which mumbles in our ears throughout the day, which keeps us awake at night, which constantly reminds us of the status quo and where we stand in it, that is driving us this election cycle.
That fear, however, is coupled with a belief in the opportunity of the future, an optimism whose coals continue to simmer through the whirring winds of the times. Even though our generation has had the lowest voter turnout of all living generations, almost twice as many Millennials cast their ballots in the 2016 primaries for Bernie Sanders’s political revolution compared to both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton combined. Many of us are hungry for “a future we can believe in,” a fundamental change in our country that will ensure a bright future for us and for those who follow us.
We’ve heard all of the talk of the American Dream, of American exceptionalism, of opportunity, but we’re worried that “the system” will not allow us to walk the walk.
We don’t want to inherit a status quo which gives rise to deep distrust and fear in us. A status quo which favors the powerful, the rich, the white, which perpetuates the unequal position of the preceding generation, which is resistant to accepting and addressing many of the issues on millennials’ minds.
We don’t want to accept that this is the way it is for us, that this is our fate.
We don’t want to get left behind, and we’re willing to do something about it.