Dear Mr. President,
I was pleasantly surprised to learn tonight that my generation has a name. We are, apparently, the Millennials. (I don't recall being asked for input when this name was chosen. I doubt I'd have approved, but I suppose it's better than "Generation Y") Timothy Egan is calling on us to "save" our country from the boomers. I have a lot of respect for Mr. Egan, and I did find it surprising to learn that more 18-29 year olds voted in 2008 than those over 65. This has clearly not escaped the notice of Organizing For America, which almost daily contacts me asking for participation or support. I am comforted by this. Demographics are on my side, as the ruling class of this country grows (slowly) younger, my hope is that things will (slowly) improve. I think Egan's points are well-taken; my generation's views on gay rights, environmental issues and the wars launched under President Bush may have been ahead of our time and now widely accepted. However, our participation has done little to fundamentally change the system or the way we ourselves are perceived by those in power. (Evidenced even here, by Egan's quip about our ability to leave our facebook pages long enough to elect you, forgetting, perhaps, the role that social networking and blogs played in that election.)
This thought strikes me most often when I am asked about my tattoos. I have seven, and will soon have eight. According to a recent post on the freakonomics blog, 36 percent of 18-25 year olds, and 40 percent of 26-40 year olds have tattoos. When people express their concern that the body art I have no will be detrimental to my professional success, I like to consider this statistic. I currently have a job where, despite making less than $10/hour and having little to no consequence in society, I have to keep my tattoos covered up. I respect that, as my employer, this company can make me wear whatever it pleases. I do not generally find that my tattoos affect my ability to make coffee, or my customer's enjoyment of said coffee. While I do think that my tattoos say something about me as a person, I don't think that having tattoos in general does. I reject the notion that they make me less professional or respectable, and that is because I respect myself (and my professionalism) more than I care for the opinions of those who would judge me on what they see. (Arrogance? Perhaps. I'll call it self-assurance and be quite content to keep it. ) My generation's willingness to accept a person for what is on the inside may largely be attributed to the often-faceless modes of interaction we have with one another online, and helps us to get past the kind of appearance-based prejudices that still hinder our parents.
But my generation has our faults, too. We often mistake awareness for action; blogging about something or updating our facebook status to support a cause is fine and good, but we vote most effectively with our dollar, and too many of us forget our idealism once we have to put money on it. Our demographic being among the most targeted by advertisers, we ought to have a greater impact on the policies of those companies whose products we consume than we do our government. I have many friends who are game for any kind of political discussion or debate, but who grow defensive and angry when their own purchasing decisions are called into question. If we're really going to steer this country in a better direction than our parents, we have to put our money where our well-intentioned tweets are.
I respect your and OFA's efforts to engage us; I can offer my personal pledge to do my part to help elect progressive candidates in 2010. But beyond voting, beyond organizing voting efforts, my generation has to do more. Egan, and OFA, are not asking us to save the country with our progressive vision, they're asking us to do so by electing the last generation of progressives. To show up on election day, and then to let the grown-ups take things from there. I think it's time that more of us ran for local, state and federal office ourselves; that we begin shaping our destinies through direct participation and not just by voting.
Finally, I'd like to acknowledge the death of one Millennial, Turkish-American Furkan Dogan, who, at 19, was killed on the Mavi Marmara, attempting to do bring hope and aid to the people of Gaza. His death ought to remind all of us, young and old, to honor those giving their lives for justice. If we had more elected officials willing to demonstrate this kind of courage, perhaps the youth of this nation would not be called upon to do it for them.
And now, I return to my mindless social networking. See you on Election Day.