By Elena Cleaves
Millennials, now between 23-39 years old, have experienced a lifetime of crises including seemingly never-ending wars and multiple economic recessions. In The Unluckiest Generation in US History, The Washington Post details how millennials have been set up to fail financially and may never recover nor reach various lifetime milestones. This year, the sweeping chaos of Coronavirus across the US and the ensuing business closures, record unemployment rates, and overwhelming lack of concern for the livelihood of its citizens finally shattered the illusion of the American dream.
We’re losing our already low incomes while Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos rakes in another estimated $48 billion. We’re watching NBA players get daily Coronavirus tests in a socially-distanced bubble with zero positive cases while frontline healthcare workers did not receive sufficient PPE, even during the virus’s peak. We’re preparing for an election while the president is threatening our democracy with an admitted attack on the US Postal Service to block mail-in voting.
We’re demanding justice for Breonna Taylor and other victims of police brutality and we’re being given murals, street name changes, magazine covers, settlements, documentaries — and even more murders of Black citizens on camera – in return. We’re warning older generations about their ignorance to climate change while experiencing apocalyptic orange skies on the west coast as California burns.
For so long we have been stuck in a cycle of denial and complacency – keeping busy with work to earn a paycheck that never comes close to covering all the bills, afraid to ask for an earned PTO day because those are reserved for emergency sick days more than vacation, never being able to step away long enough to see the flaws in surrounding systems or at least not being able to afford to.
But now, after being laid off by corporations that don’t care about us, after having the freedom to march in the streets day after day after day, after watching 200,000 of our own die avoidable deaths at the hands of our government – now we have all the time and clarity in the world.
No matter your personal politics or party affiliations thus far, no one can reasonably look back at the past four years, 2020 particularly, and think another four in that direction would be in the country’s best interest. While voting alone is not an end-all solution, it is a crucial first step in the right direction to progress.
I haven’t always been a perfect voter, or even a voter at all. I’m guilty of apathy in the past and not showing up, either because it felt futile or it was too inconvenient to bother. It wasn’t until 2016 when I saw everything I ever wanted in a candidate in Bernie Sanders. Even then, I failed to show up when it mattered. I let primaries and rallies come and go, assuming enough other young voters would show up for me, now knowing that they probably sat at home assuming I would show up for them.
When we decide that others will do the work for us, that we have the luxury and convenience to stay home while others are on the ground voting, we are shamefully exercising a privilege that has been granted to and wasted on us. We can only be heard if we come together, and if there’s anything to be learned from the 2016 election, it’s that not even a 2.9 million popular vote lead can defeat our controversial electoral college process.
It’s difficult to preach the importance of voting when the system is knowingly biased. The criticisms of those screaming, “Vote!” while the Democratic hopefuls Joe Biden and Kamala Harris have their respective problematic track records are valid and not lost in the conversation. There is a feeling though that we can more easily dismantle a flawed system once we have had a chance to recoup. With support of the Green New Deal to combat climate change and a plan to get Coronavirus in the US under control, the pair at least have the potential to create a better foundation for further change in the future.
Progress doesn’t begin and end with voting. Electing government officials that move us even an inch closer in any right direction is the first step, followed by holding them accountable, challenging them, demanding more from them, and continuing to hold them to a high standard of expectation. It is imperative that we remember our elected government are public servants employed by the people. We must require more of them at every level and it is our duty to stay educated about and involved in every election we can. When we come together to demand more, we can be unstoppable, but our generation has a history of failing to get out and do the groundwork.
As a Sanders supporter heartbroken to see his chance come and go, my biggest plea to young voters is simply to show up and show up EARLY. The absolute least we can do, for those of us privileged enough to be granted the right, is to vote. Not just in this election or every four years, but any election you can: your local school board, your mayor’s office, your local newspaper’s “Best Of” feature. Your voice deserves to be heard in every possible facet it can be.
Attend marches and rallies, not only to support candidates and causes you believe in, but also to further your political social circles. You will be amazed by the people you meet and the resources you discover when you are out in the trenches. Witnessing the energy felt at a campaign rally or a social justice protest will remind you why you are there in the first place.
Make a plan to vote this year and encourage your friends, your parents, your coworkers, and everyone you interact with to do the same. Talk to your peers about their voting stances, discuss the issues that matter most, research everyone on the ballot from the local to federal levels and see how they measure up to the changes you want to see made. Decide how and when you will vote and establish a plan for transportation, taking off work, receiving an advance ballot if necessary, etc. Set reminders for important election deadlines and hold each other accountable to show up.
Those who feel comfortable to do so are also encouraged to volunteer to work polls, as in-person voting will be critical this election. Find local volunteer opportunities and consider getting involved – your donated time could ensure a smoother election day process for voters in your city!
The deadline to register to vote is Oct. 7 in Missouri and Oct. 13 in Kansas. Check registration status, register to vote, request an absentee / advance ballot, volunteer to work polls, find polling locations near you, and more at vote.org.