The latest government shutdown and debt ceiling drama really highlighted the current dysfunction in American politics. One party is defined by its ideology while the other is united against it. Swap the party names every few decades or so and the latter still applies. But this might actually be a blessing in disguise. Young people may be turned off by government and politics – now more than ever – but yet, they are ready to serve. However, the only way that happens is if they radically change how DC does business, from top to bottom. And they’ve already started doing it. Here is exactly how:
The National Conference on Citizenship reported in 2009 that Millennials “lead the way in volunteering” with a 43 percent volunteer rate, compared to only 35 percent for Baby Boomers. According to a study done by Harvard’s Institute of Politics, more than one-third of Americans ages 18-29 have volunteered for community service in the last year. Among college students, that rate shoots up to a stunning 53 percent, of which 41 percent say they serve at least a few times a month.
An additional study conducted by the Government Business Council found that “Young Americans are more concerned with the importance of their work than the salary attached to it,” and that “In the 2011 National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) Student Survey, college students revealed that the ability to improve the community ranks almost as highly as a strong starting salary when searching for their first job.” Once again, you’re not only contributing to the community, you’re making yourself look good to employers while doing it, something that would make President Kennedy smile.
The Changing Face of America
Millennials are the largest and most diverse generation in U.S. history. In addition to being goal-orientated and respecting authority, they are far less ideological than their Baby Boom parents, not to mention way more tolerant. Polls show that not only do they support gay rights, they are also much less likely to cast negative moral judgments on interracial marriages, single moms, working moms, and unmarried couples living together. Additionally, young Americans are team-oriented and seek collaboration as opposed to working alone. And because they are so wired to the world at large, they are more prone than past generations to see its problems as their own. Therefore, young people are eager to serve the greater community through technology that reinforces a sense of self-empowerment. They have no patience for old institutions or the status quo. Consider, for a moment, what that could mean for politics and government–if you dare.
“The Millennials have arrived, and they could rescue the civic health of our nation after decades of decline,” says John Bridgeland, CEO of Civic Enterprises, a national-service think tank. More to the point, The Harvard IOP study, Survey of Young Americans’ Attitudes Toward Politics and Public Service, found that 47 percent of young people agree that “politics today are no longer able to meet the challenges our country is facing.” And they are planning to change that by “…(destroying) the old silos, (scattering) their elements to the wind, and (reassembling) them in ways that make sense…for the new century.” At least according to former GOP chair Michael Steele, that is. And he appears to be right.
So,what does change really look like? The answer is, quite simply: YOU. It is no longer a question of whether you can change DC (as mentioned above, you’re already doing it), it’s just a question of how far this change will go and how long it will last. Whether Washington is truly ready for this change remains to be seen. One thing is certain: your actions today are shaping the reality of tomorrow. It’s up to you to keep working toward those horizons.