As Congressional action gets under way in 2014 there are a number of issues on the front burner. Immigration reform, sentencing reform, national deficits and student loan debt could all see major action over the coming year, to name a few. But while events like the State of the Union or the introduction of big policy proposals might only make headlines once a year, it's critical that we continue to have a role in policymaking throughout.
Young people shouldn't be relegated to the back, struggling to have our voices heard on these issues – we want access now. We deserve to help shape the America we will inherit. Pushing for a Presidential Youth Council would be the best way to get ourselves a permanent seat at the table.
To be fair, our lack of input in the legislative process is not entirely without fault of our own. Our generation has one main flaw: we crave instant gratification. It’s not something that all of us suffer from, but definitely a majority in comparison to previous generations with higher rates of civic engagement.
I’ve read more than a few articles detailing exactly what’s wrong with the Millennial Generation calling us lazy, entitled, and the “Me Me Me Generation.” While we now have data to support the theory that the Millennial Generation is narcissistic, anyone who believes us to be lazy or entitled is looking at only an incredibly limited subset of information. As multiple studies have shown, while only 25% of us consider ourselves to be politically engaged, the Millennial Generation is the most likely to be involved in service within our communities.
These studies pretty clearly show that the issue is not laziness, but disinterest in the political process. Ask most students on a college campus and you will hear that they don’t care about federal government or politics because the current system is so dysfunctional with no clear solution in sight. What most students don’t realize is that, although we have certainly reached new heights of unproductivity with less legislation emerging from this Congress than any in modern history, Congress was created specifically to encourage gridlock.
Hyperpolarization is frustrating for a generation that has immediate access at our fingertips to answers for almost any question. Technological advancement has led us to expect instant gratification whether in interpersonal communication or problem solving. The issue is that systems like the U.S. government were not founded on the principle of quick results.
Despite what one may think about the Tea Party and their policies, it is difficult not to give them credit for recognizing the best way to influence a system is from within. Among the reasons the Tea Party has been more successful than the Occupy Wall Street Movement is that while Occupy Wall Street sought to change the American way of life by creating a new system, the Tea Party ran for and won elected office. The impact of their success speaks for itself.
Following the same principle, while it is easier for our generation to write government off and favor social change through nonprofits, NGOs, and start-ups, we are actually taking the more difficult path. The most influence over social, economic, and other public policy is from within the local and federal governments. Instead of only looking for a quick fix and the instant gratification of helping a few people directly, we need to elevate these issues by rolling our sleeves up for the long haul and also get involved in government to reform from within.
There are 104 million Americans under the age of 24 in the United States with greater differences in belief and party affiliation than those ages 24-29, but we all believe in a system that focuses on substance and functionality. The sheer number of us — we will make up an estimated 1/3 of the electorate by 2015 — gives exigency to the issues that we decide to tackle.
We have countless examples of young people developing solutions in their communities to solve social issues. It’s time we take the same entrepreneurial spirit and self-assurance that we have been criticized for and focus it towards the political process. No matter what stance each of us may take on an issue or candidate we support, abstaining from the political process is not a viable option. Millennials aren’t the “Me Me Me Generation,” we’re the Now Now Now Generation and it’s about time we embraced it.
It is time, right now, that we unite around one policy proposal we can agree on — a direct outlet for Millennials to have a substantive voice within the highest level of the federal government by creating a Presidential Youth Council. While giving us a seat at the table certainly is not going to solve the Millennial Generation’s perception of our governmental system, it will be one step towards demonstrating that government is still the foremost institution that can solve some of the most staggering issues facing this country.