This story originally appeared in our summer magazine, an annual publication that features engaging pieces on issues affecting young people.
The Millennial generation, nearly 95 million strong, is the most diverse, most educated, and largest generation in our country’s history. By the year 2020, Millennials will make up 40 percent of the voting age population in the United States. The power and political inertia of the Millennial generation can’t be understated, nor should it be underestimated. The level with which Millennials participate in democracy, whether that be through voting in elections, running for office, engaging with elected officials, advocating for local and national policy changes, or volunteering in communities, will influence the nation we become.
Millennials find themselves tasked with the responsibility of solving a wide spectrum of issues, most of which our generation was too young to create. These issues, both social and economic, range from issues of climate change to immigration reform, equal rights, criminal justice reform, economic justice, equitable economic growth, and student debt. How we handle these issues will be the defining mark of our generation.
Yet in 2014, just over 20 percent of young people voted in the federal election, and in 2012, just a little over 50 percent did. While Millennials volunteer in their communities and organize around important issues like campus sexual assault, climate change, and student debt, many don’t see political participation, specifically voting, as a viable option to solving problems. Some might say that young people are apathetic or that they will start voting when they get older, but the problem falls far deeper than a lack of participation.
In a recent survey conducted by Generation Progress, 67 percent of young people polled said that they had little or no confidence that the government could solve a problem when it tried.
When we asked young people why their peers didn’t vote in 2014, we heard things like “political candidates weren’t talking about issues young people care about,”“politicians are all the same,” and “it’s hard to get good information about the candidates and issues.”
To create a more just and equitable society, we need to make the political system, elected representatives, and candidates more responsive to young people and we need young people to engage more fully in the democratic process. As leaders in our generation we also need to articulate our vision.
Over the past few years Generation Progress has hosted a series of convenings around the country and worked with local, state and national leaders in the youth engagement sector to come up with a bold progressive agenda that reflects the aspirations and values of our generation.
We’ve called it the 2020 Project.
Calling for reform in areas of social, economic, and racial justice, the 2020 project centers on the idea that the political system should work for Millennials instead of the other way around. Challenging the stereotypical view of Millennials as apathetic and disengaged, the 2020 project recognizes that Millennials are actually deeply engaged in and passionate about a vast array of issues, but not necessarily in ways traditional measures of engagement can measure.
For far too long, the voices of Millennials have gone underrepresented in Congress, in local and state legislatures, and in the laws and policies of our nation. As the most diverse and educated generation in history, it’s time to fix that. The 2020 project presents a vision for change, one which acknowledges the passion, entrepreneurship, and engagement of our generation. Together we can make this vision a reality—let’s get started.