Millennials Flex Their Muscle
Barrington M. Salmon and Sam P.K. Collins | 6/11/2014, 3 p.m.
Thousands of people converged on the District last week eager to network, recognize the philanthropic efforts of their peers, and flesh out the narrative about their generation.
Nearly 2,500 young professionals, part of the Millennial generation, and representing a variety of career fields, immersed themselves in panel discussions, community service activities, and culinary showcases during what was touted as Millennial Week. The inaugural gathering of men and women between the ages of 18 and 35 kicked off on June 2 with an opening reception and awards ceremony.
“You cannot turn on a television, radio, or web browser without hearing about Millennials,” said Natalie Moss, 34, founder of Millennial Week. “We wanted to focus on areas where they’re pushing the envelope – politics, entrepreneurship, and philanthropy. Nearly half of Millennials want to start their own businesses. We want to answer the question of whether there’s an opportunity gap. This is a great platform to start a meaningful dialogue,” said Moss, a patent agent for a federal agency who lives in Alexandria, Virginia.
Several panelists at a June 3 political town hall co-sponsored by The Can Kicks Back and moderated by Reid Wilson of The Washington Post, spoke of the impatience they have with the “kick-the-can-down-the-road” mentality which has left future generations burdened with trillions of dollars of unfunded state pension liabilities as well as potential liabilities in Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.
America’s political parties, they said, are unwilling or unable to move past hyper-partisan gridlock and the political system is irrevocably broken.
“There is distrust among all generations because we have greater access to information about what's going on in the government. Millennials in particular are more focused on how it impacts them and how our legislation and changes within it will affect them,” Brandi Richard, the president of the National Urban League Young Professionals told the crowd gathered inside the Washington Post’s auditorium.
“We are the indebted generation. Even though our salaries are more than that of our parents, we still have loans. We have to speak out about issues and create a long-term agenda so that we can see what's needed, so that we're not paying student loans until we’re the age of baby boomers.”
Ryan Schoenike, co-founder and executive director of The Can Kicks Back, concurred.
“There's a disconnect between the information presented and the reality,” he said. “The conversation needs to happen within the generations. We're given a false choice between Democrats and Republicans and need a real conversation about the tradeoffs. Politicians are focused on the present and not the future.”
“The conversation starts with young people. We suffer the most. We're the most optimistic and that means that we are working the most for change.”
Panelists discussed the impact of policy approaches in Congress and the manner in which Millennials handle student debt, infrastructure, privacy, war, and an incompetent government. They also advocated reforming the U.S. tax code, creating a more representative government and fighting the myriad institutional challenges that make meaningful change difficult.
“We have a tremendous amount of problems in the political system. The levels of polarization are higher than that of the Civil War. The gridlock is the worst it's been in the last 12 years,” said Steven Olikara, president and co-founder of the Millennial Action Project. “We're only looking at the short term. We don't have that type of political leadership right now and that will come from the younger generation. Debt has become a big problem as we graduate into a terrible job market. We have seen a lot of partisanship. However, government doesn't have to be the answer to everything. There should not be a total government takeover of the student loan process.”