Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Civic Investment and Millenials: A Panacea?

**Note: this is just one of a series of entries I have planned about civic engagement in the run-up to the Inauguration.

There's an interesting post on Millenial Makeover about the Obama team's transition. While I don't agree with 100% of the historical assessment or the insinuation that there is wide-spread agreement on the 'fact' that administrations fall into either the 'idealist' or 'civil' categories (etc), I am intrigued by the author's analysis. I think the most important point made is about the impact of Generation Y, the "Millenials":
"The current realignment however, is a "civic" realignment, produced by the political emergence of America's newest civic generation, Millennials (born 1982-2003). Civic generations react against the efforts of divided idealist generations to advance their own moral causes. They expect their team to unify the country, focus on reenergizing political and governmental institutions and using those institutions to confront and solve pressing national issues left unattended and unresolved during the previous idealist era. The transition efforts of President-elect Obama should be measured against this set of expectations, not those of an idealist era like the one just ended."

As a proud Millenial and an individual working in the civic engagement field: this really is an exciting time and I hope the "Makeover" author is right. A lot of the public impression/conventional wisdom has been that young people don't get involved and are generally an apathetic age-group. The one recent exception has been the election, when we saw a great number of books, articles, columns, political commentary/strategy claim that the apathy trend was changing (with various levels of credit given to Sen. Obama). But that isn't the whole story.

The fact is we are seeing more and more Millenials get excited about their community, get engaged, and get active. Some of that has been election-based (or related to the outcome of the election, given Obama's strong youth following). But maybe part of the issue is the way in which we talk about and measure engagement.

For instance, many younger people choose to get involved in very innovative ways, particulary online. With the advent of Facebook (and "Causes" in particular), MySpace, ActBlue, and myriad others, the word "engagement" is gaining a whole new meaning. Older generations measure activism by attending rallies, signing physical petitions, going to community meetings. Millenials tend to measure it with email alerts, virtual petitions, facebook groups, etc. "Can you be engaged while sitting at a keyboard," has become a more and more relevant question (for more on this see a debate by the experts here.)

Furthermore, a record number of young people today are getting active, volunteering in their communities (especially in long-term service programs), and partaking in the political process. Just glance at the number of young people joining Teach For America, AmeriCorps, the Peace Corps, and other similar programs. Or look at revolutionary organizations like that were created by Millenials specifically to empower Millenials. Add to the mix the fact that a recent study by the National Conference on Citizenship(more on this in future posts...) shows that Millenials now are more committed and active in their communities than Baby Boomers (the most active age-group around these days) were at this point in their lives, and we may truly be headed for a greater civic realignment.

What's crucial here is to take the initiative and ensure that we don't miss an opportunity to help institutionalize/spread dedication to community, neighbor, and country. Just look at a snapshot of our situation: our infrastructureis outdated, our urban centers are crumbling (not to mention going bankrupt), and our economy is floundering, with no end in sight. Yet we have a new President buoyed to victory by hope and optimism and a generation of emerging leaders eager to get its hands dirty.

Let's marry the two by increasing the funding and our national investment in service initiatives. Creating an even more impressive corps of volunteers to help salvage our wrecked education system, to build a 21st century infrastructure, and combat the poverty gap will serve as a modern New Deal and help kick start the economy by providing jobs while creating some of the vital improvements we've been in need of for sometime.

I realize I'm not suggesting anything that hasn't already been proposed, my point is simply to lend my voice to the chorus of social innovaters that expect action from our new Congress and incoming President.


Anonymous said...

I recently came accross your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I dont know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.


Morgan said...

Thanks Sarah!

Murph said...

Amen, keep up this stuff. We need more people to join in service.