generation-Y: finding a voice

By: Derek Dyson

It’s no surprise that 20 to 30 somethings in America are beginning to get fed up with the political climate at hand.  For nearly their entire lives politicians and special interest groups alike have all but ignored their existence on just about every level. In fact, the only thing society has seemed to focus on when considering the importance of “Generation Y” (or the Millennials as they are also called) is their pocketbooks. Seen mostly as hedonistic and highly apathetic “consumers”, who’s idea of planning for the future was at best a bachelors degree in whatever Arts or Humanities field happened to catch their attention freshman year; this generation as a whole has struggled to emerge from behind the harsh stereotypes that it willfully inflicted upon itself.

Much of this struggle is placed on the shoulders of tens of thousands of unemployed or underemployed college graduates. Each with mounds of student loans they will never be able to pay off, no health insurance and a job that, if they’re lucky, pays enough for them to “get by”.  This job is probably the one they secured to help pay their way through college in the first place, sticking them with relatively little real-world experience outside of that field. This wouldn’t have been the case had they chose to participate in any number of internships while in college, but lets face it, who can afford to work for free when you’ve got to worry about paying rent and keeping the electricity turned on?

In many ways this is our own fault.  We should have known what we were getting into beforehand. As 18 year old kids we should have had the foresight to better plan for our own future.  We should have noticed that many of our parents didn’t go to college simply because they couldn’t afford it. We should have realized that if we didn’t want to struggle throughout our twenties and probably well into our thirties, we would need to start our “careers” straight out of high-school, just as our parents had.  We should have realized this and taken the safe road. But we didn’t.

For some reason we thought attending college was important. Maybe it was because every teacher and authority figure we had ever come across reiterated this fact seamlessly and without hesitation. Maybe it was the plethora of after school specials and post He-Man “morals of the story” that told us that we really didn’t have a choice.  Either way, we all knew that if we wanted to make anything of our lives, college was the most important step.

For some reason we also refused to work jobs that we genuinely hated and spent much more time focusing on ourselves, than we spent worrying about the world around us.  This realization would be un-excusable if not for the fact that we did so in our youth. We did so un-apologetically and for the most part un-intentially, but did so as kids. This is important because that focus on self (which includes a strong connection with our direct peers) largely shaped the culture of our generation. We care deeply about our own happiness, but realize that much of that is dependent on the happiness of those around us. It made us who we are collectively and I think paved the way for the voice that our generation would eventually develop.

You don’t have to look far to realize the political climate is changing within our generation.  The Occupy movement that swept the nation almost exactly three months ago is a perfect example.  Starting initially on message boards and in closed chat rooms, the idea of speaking out against government corruption and the flow of money into and out of the political process, unexpectedly united millions of American youth in a common cause. A cause that eventually lead them to the streets in protest in over 100 cities across the nation, for weeks on end.

For the first time in my life kids all across America were standing together crying foul. Finally calling out the very leaders and institutions that had previously ignored them for over two decades.

Although it is unclear what the Occupy movement has accomplished politically at this point, one thing that cannot be denied is the passion and the ingenuity it’s participants have shown. An entire generation of kids raised on the internet with unparalleled social networking expertise, graphic design skills and an untapped potential for activism (not to mention plenty of time on their hands to utilize it). These kids can mobilize in an instant and can do so with unsurpassed charisma.

Another example of youth activism was in the news a few days ago. SOPA (the Stop Online Piracy Act) was being voted on in Congress. The bill is highly backed by corporations who feel that their bottom lines are being effected by sites like mega-upload and others.  The bill would essentially give corporations and government agencies the unchecked power to censor what is on the internet by shutting down any sites that they feel are infringing on copyrighted material.  It faced strong criticism from experts representing companies like google and facebook who say that it could essentially kill the internet as we know it.

This sparked an internet campaign from thousands of concerned youth across the globe, causing a standstill in congress and successfully postponing the vote on the bill.  Although the battle is not completely won, there is one thing that can’t be denied.  A few thousand kids, armed only with the internet, literally halted legislature in congress in just a matter of days.

This is encouraging news if like me, you’ve been anticipating a collective voice to emerge among our generation. After-all, we have plenty of common causes to get behind. We have student loans owned by banks that received billions of dollars in bail-outs, yet congress fought tooth-and-nail to stop a loan consolidation program that would lower our interest rates. We have the highest unemployment rates of any age group and the highest number of uninsured.  We care deeply about issues like the environment, yet don’t care at all if our homosexual friends want to get married. We want science and technology to again be a mainstay of American education, but we also want our children to be able to enter those fields without going into debt for the rest of their lives at the same time.  Most of all, we want elected officials to represent our views and to do so without having to be paid off in the process.

So, what are we doing to make these things known?

On the National level you have candidates like Ron Paul, who’s base is primarily college aged kids who are fed up with bipartisan bickering and idolize his no-nonsense approach to politics. You also have a slew of disenfranchised youth who backed the Obama campaign in ’08 and are dis-satisfied with his actions thus far, many of whom have made that point well known.  All of this with a Presidential election less than a year away and at a time when the public knows that American youth are willing and able to take to the streets in support of their cause.

But aren’t there more pressing issues, issues that are closer to home that we should be focusing on as well?

At the state level (in Oklahoma) we have a highly conservative congress that has put things like the “Sharia-Law bill”, “health-care opt-out bill”, “voter registration bill”, multiple anti-abortion bills and countless other frivolous and inappropriate pieces of legislation at the very top of their agenda. They do so with complete disregard to the legality or the over-all effectiveness of these bills, simply because they can. Simply because no-one has the power or political will to stop them.

On the local level (in Tulsa) we have a City Council and Mayor who can’t seem to collaborate on anything.  We have a highly progressive downtown culture that can’t get funding for bike lanes or mass transit, but can somehow give tax incentives and “vision 2025” handouts numbering in the millions, to property owners who continue to sit on some of the largest and most economically viable buildings in the city. Many of which have surprisingly been “under construction” for close to a decade. We have business owners in positions of political power that need to be checked and rechecked daily to ensure the best is being done for those who actually live in the neighborhoods these people were elected to represent. Each of these things very important and right under our noses.

I touch on them only to show that most of us, most of the 20 to 30 somethings in this city, probably don’t agree with the way our elected officials are representing us on many levels.  Up until now they have had no reason to listen to us, essentially because none of us were talking. But that has to change.  It’s time to start talking.

Last week I wrote about Senator Inhofe as did many others across the state. He currently holds the First Congressional Districts Federal Senate seat and will be up for re-election in 2014.  He may or may not choose to run (he’ll be 79), but either way that election will be an opportunity that we cannot pass up.

As a U.S. Senator he holds one of the most powerful positions in our government. That means replacing him with someone who is willing to listen to the voice of American youth could be a great opportunity for our generation to make a difference on a national level.

It just so happens that we have a couple of young representatives in our State-House that may be perfect for the job.

Eric Proctor, a Democrat from Oklahoma’s 77th House district is one of the youngest State Representatives to ever be elected. He was actually a high-school class-mate of mine and is an all around great person. He’s always been active in the community and was a history teacher before getting elected. Although I stand behind most of his policies, he may be a bit too young for a Federal Senate seat.

Seneca Scott may be a much more viable candidate for us to consider. He is also a young Democratic State Representative from Tulsa, who has been representing the 72nd district since 2008. He’s a graduate from the University of Oklahoma with a degree in History and a background in Native American Studies. If you’ve ever met him, you know he is an articulate speaker and genuinely nice guy. More importantly, he is a young progressive who loves Tulsa as much as we do. I think with the right support he could be exactly what we need at the Federal level.

I understand that the U.S. Senate may be a lofty goal, but we have 3 years to work on it. In the meantime we have a Presidential election, City Council meetings, School Board elections and any number of other civic duties available to hone our skills and develop our voice.

These issues may seem complicated and my views a bit too idealistic, but in the end my reason for writing this is simple.

The political process in this country has become diluted with lobby groups and partisan politics on a level that has made it almost completely ineffective.  Those who have retained power for the majority of our lifetime have done so with complete disregard to the issues that directly affect our generation as a whole. Education, health-care, inner city infrastructure and poverty, all have taken a back seat to various wars.  Wars on drugs and on countries. Wars between insurance lobbyists and pharmaceutical companies. Various wars that are paid for and fought by kids like you and I, yet are not in any of our best interests. It is time that we recognize this simple fact and take steps to prove that our generation has the numbers, the education and the leverage needed to become a viable political force. To prove that our generation has a collective voice…and that we are willing to use it.