By Jessica Adair
One of the worst myths about Millennials is that we’re apathetic and politically disengaged. We’d rather voice our opinion over Twitter than at the ballot box. It’s true that our generation often goes to the polls in lower numbers than older voters and that some young adults report that it just doesn’t seem worth it to shift around political power that seems inefficient or at worse, ineffectual.
While we came of age, the economy tanked — not once, but twice if you count the Dot Com bubble burst and the Great Recession. Our government lost its basic ability to function during the shutdown of 2013. But the majority of our generation is volunteering and engaging in causes it believes in – and consequently, the possibilities for Millennial-driven change are endless, and worth exploring.
At Young Invincibles, for example, we’re working to make college affordable for everyone at statehouses across the country, urging legislators – alongside our peers who have been impacted by high tuition costs– to reinvest in higher education. Broadly, we’re a generation of engaged citizens. In 2012, 73% of Millennials volunteered for a nonprofit organization, leading some pundits to call Millennials the “next Greatest Generation.” We care deeply about social injustice – and we haven’t only relied on politics to solve the problem.
As we celebrated Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service, it’s important to remember how change can be born outside of the existing political system. Young adults, such as those who helped organize the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), played a critical role in the Civil Rights movement. Students were often on freedom’s front lines, sometimes quite literally. When the local, state and the federal government didn’t work for students — or actively opposed them — young people risked life and limb to conduct sit-ins, boycotts, the Freedom Rides and massive voter registration drives.
Dr. King himself was a young man when he wrote the “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” and delivered the famous “I Have a Dream” speech at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. Just one year later in 1964, Dr. King won the Nobel Peace Prize at the age of 35 — the youngest person to receive the prize at that time.
As today’s young adults continue to struggle for equality, we’re equipped with many new tools for progress. With smartphones and hashtags, we disseminate information about what is happening in their communities and organize activists today. Whether you live in Missouri or Maine, you probably have heard about the #BlackLivesMatters protests. Nearly half of 18-to-29 year olds have learned more about a political or social issue because of something they saw on social media.
Beyond educating our generation about some of the biggest societal problems we face today, social media can drive action. When people realized that there was no database tracking police shootings in the United States, for example — critical data when trying to assess the scope and nature of police brutality — the collective Internet got together and made one.
At the core of Dr. King’s philosophy is this phrase: “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?’” As we honor Dr. King’s life and commitment to justice, you can bet that Millennials will take this question to heart.