Millennials Are Key to Overcoming Partisanship

But while millennials may want to spark change, they still must contend with the legacies of the past.

National Journal
Stephanie Czekalinski
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Stephanie Czekalinski
May 21, 2014, 9:02 a.m.

The rising mil­len­ni­al gen­er­a­tion is chan­ging in­sti­tu­tions from busi­nesses to uni­versit­ies across the coun­try. Mil­len­ni­als have ar­rived in the Halls of Con­gress as well. There, young mem­bers say it’s pos­sible that this con­fid­ent, wired gen­er­a­tion is the key to break­ing the in­tense par­tis­an­ship that has in re­cent years crippled the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment and frus­trated the pub­lic.

Rep. Tulsi Gab­bard, D-Hawaii, co­chair of the Fu­ture Caucus, said there is a grow­ing prag­mat­ic un­der­cur­rent of co­oper­a­tion among the young­est con­gres­sion­al lead­ers. She and fel­low co­chair Aaron Schock, R-Ill., were the key­note speak­ers Wed­nes­day at a Na­tion­al Journ­al and At­lantic event on mil­len­ni­als in Wash­ing­ton,un­der­writ­ten by Mi­crosoft.

Al­though mem­bers of dif­fer­ent parties, Gab­bard, 33, and Schock, 32, say they find com­mon ground in a shared gen­er­a­tion­al like-minded­ness.

“We are to­geth­er in a dis­dain for the status quo — a dis­dain for pro­cesses in­stead of out­comes,” said Schock. “While we may have strong prin­cipled views that vary, we also grew up in a so­ci­ety where you don’t get everything you want.”

As they come of age, mil­len­ni­als face ser­i­ous eco­nom­ic chal­lenges and feel frus­trated with tra­di­tion­al in­sti­tu­tions and sys­tems that they be­lieve haven’t de­livered. Gab­bard, Schock, and a num­ber of pan­el­ists who par­ti­cip­ated in the event in­dic­ated that this gen­er­a­tion, with its af­fin­ity for dir­ect ac­tion and its will­ing­ness to speak its mind, is not likely to wait quietly to make sys­tems and in­sti­tu­tions — in­clud­ing Con­gress — more re­spons­ive to their needs.

“We have the op­por­tun­ity to shift the way things have been done,” said Gab­bard. “There’s a lot of ur­gency.”

Mil­len­ni­als are “not shy about be­ing em­powered,” said Rich Cooper, a vice pres­id­ent at the U.S. Cham­ber of Com­merce, who ad­ded that, young people are de­mand­ing more ac­cess­ib­il­ity and ac­count­ab­il­ity from the in­sti­tu­tions they in­ter­act with.

“They are col­lect­ive, col­lab­or­at­ive, and co­oper­at­ive,” he said. “The silos that have di­vided gen­er­a­tions, they’re in­ter­ested in go­ing right through those: gender, race, demo­graph­ics.”

But while mil­len­ni­als may want to spark change, they still must con­tend with the legacies of the past.

“Com­ing of age in a weak eco­nomy after a re­ces­sion is bad news,” said pan­el­ist Martha Ross, a fel­low at the Brook­ings In­sti­tu­tion. “They’ve all been hit hard. That can have im­plic­a­tions down the road.”

Too, the specter of ra­cism haunts the most ra­cially and eth­nic­ally di­verse gen­er­a­tion in Amer­ic­an his­tory. Al­though the num­ber of black and His­pan­ic young people who go to col­lege has in­creased, minor­it­ies are more likely to at­tend open-ac­cess com­munity col­leges while a ma­jor­ity of white stu­dents at­tend the most se­lect­ive schools, ac­cord­ing to a Geor­getown Uni­versity re­port.

So­cially, mil­len­ni­als are more ac­cept­ing and less ra­cially biased, but Amer­ic­an in­sti­tu­tions are still ra­cially strat­i­fied, said pan­el­ist An­drew Han­son of the Geor­getown Uni­versity Cen­ter on Edu­ca­tion and the Work­force.

Wheth­er mil­len­ni­als will be able to make the changes needed to ad­dress the big is­sues they face is yet to be seen. But be as­sured, pan­el­ists said, that the com­ing of age of the mil­li­en­ni­al gen­er­a­tion means change is com­ing fast.

“This gen­er­a­tion has a clock in their head,” said pan­el­ist Stefanie Brown James, of Vestige Strategies, a pub­lic-af­fairs firm that spe­cial­izes in reach­ing com­munit­ies of col­or, wo­men, and young people. They’re think­ing: “My life is lim­ited, and I have very little time to make a change.”

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