There is immense potential for Millennials in politics going forward.
Unfortunately, there are several barriers that have and are holding us back from reaching this potential, preventing Millennials from becoming politically and democratically active en masse. These barriers include negative perception of the political sphere, the character of individuals, and outdated partisan policies, tactics and mentalities that don’t jive with Millennials, which leave us feeling a sense of defeat and futility. This Millennial sentiment is global, and not contained by national or regional borders.
Perception is everything. First and foremost, Millennials are averse to the systemic negativity and lack of competence in our existing political culture, system and many of our leaders. Who can blame us? Who willingly walks into negative and seemingly unredeemable situations? These negative stereotypes and connotations, whether accurate or not, have formed our perception of what politics are.
Have you ever watched an episode (or season, or the full series, as I have!) of The West Wing? Have you watched Netflix’s House of Cards? The former encapsulates inspirational and endearing political idealism, honour, integrity and well-meaning public policy. The latter is the complete opposite: narcissism, deceit, seduction into cheering for the anti-hero and a depth of cynical self-interest that is both shocking, yet still unsurprising to the viewer. Both of these shows are critically acclaimed with massive fan bases, despite being contrasting representations of what politics is and is expected to be.
Where does the truth lie then? The truth fluctuates in the middle of these two extremes. The actions of the people who are in politics lead to the formation of our perceptions. While there are many honest and well-intentioned people – myself included– who believe politics is the best route to shaping positive, constructive and effective public policy, there are also those attracted to politics seeking self-interested power.
The character of the individual is what determines whether politics overall earns a good or bad reputation because like attracts like, and the choice of a political leader amplifies these attractions. In my experience, well-intentioned people include and empower others, while the ill-intentioned seek to exclude and consolidate power unto themselves. Good people are less willing to put up being treated unethically and often choose to walk away, leaving more of the ill-intentioned from which we form our opinions of politics as a whole.
Most significantly, Millennials aren’t involved in politics because politicians and their policies don’t speak to us. Election campaigns have become more about drawing blood – personal attacks and damaging reputations – than about policy – who would willingly sign up for that?
Campaign platforms are based far too much in emotion (fear mongering or, alternatively, a feel good story without substance) rather than the intellectual. In the United States, especially, partisan politics has become so polarized in the effort to distinguish Us against Them more clearly. However, Millennials’ political values are largely moderate and centrist, most easily described as socially accepting (liberal) and fiscally pragmatic or responsible (conservative). Millennial political values do not fit into rigid ideological segments and therefore we avoid political parties and partisan organizations as they currently exist.
So where does my belief come from, that there is so much potential for Millennials shaping the future of politics? I believe Millennials have a deep sense of civic and social duty and justice, and will use this to change political culture globally, starting with our own backyards. Allow me to share a key piece of advice for getting into and succeeding in political endeavours. It’s easy to forget politicians and politically active people have lives and an existence separate from the political sphere.
Much of politics are based in relationships and networks, which is no different than our own personal relationships and networks, despite the context being different for each of us, and how we build and leverage them. Build your personal relationships and networks among your Millennial peers and leverage this into political involvement. One person is capable of more influence than it may seem; imagine what dozens, hundreds and thousands of us can accomplish if we support political and democratic engagement together.