In a rare treat, I was able to venture outside of the office Monday. I sent myself to cover a listening session held by Wisconsin Sen. Jennifer Shilling and Rep. Jill Billings, rather than a member of my reporting staff.
All was going well. Shilling and Billings who wanted to know how their constituents felt about Foxconn Technology Group’s plans to build a display screen plant in the state. People in La Crosse County are none too thrilled about the Foxconn deal passed by the state Assembly on Thursday. They had some interesting things to say, as politically savvy people often do, so I didn’t mind too much that it was standing room only, and I spent two hours from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. packed in with about 70 other people.
Then I heard the words that always seem to come up at every political gathering, “How do we get millennials to be politically active? Why aren’t they here? They don’t seem to care about anything but themselves and their phones, the selfish, narcissistic jerks.”
OK, I’m paraphrasing, but the phone thing definitely came up, as if nearly everyone over the age of 30 doesn’t also have a cell phone in their pocket right this second and none of them ever checked a text while someone else was talking.
The question sparked more complaints, with people echoing the sentiment that young people today just don’t care about anything, derailing the conversation for several minutes until Shilling was able to bring it back to the topic at hand — something for which my sanity thanks her tremendously (To be clear, I’m not accusing either Shilling or Billings of participating in this nonsense).
After years and years of articles and complaints explaining everything that could possibly be wrong with my generation, several of which are contradictory and let’s just say dubiously sourced, I’m positive I’m not alone in being sick to death of hearing, “How do we get millennials to care?”
There’s something about the question that feels dehumanizing to me, like someday I can expect a Steve Irwin lookalike to pop up behind me and say, “What we have here is an elusive millennial in the wild. See how she’s enjoying an avocado toast on the smoking remains of a chain restaurant she killed off? Ain’t she a beaut? How do we capture her?”
It’s especially annoying because young people today are in truth plenty politically active. Not only were there a couple at this actual event, not even including those who were working for various media outlets like yours truly, but also you’ll find them at nearly every political event in the area. A few have even started their own political activist organizations. Take a look at the make-up of Indivisible La Crosse and La Crosse Area Showing Up for Racial Justice events close to home or the health care protests in Washington, D.C., last month.
Not to say Generations X and Y or the Baby Boomers don’t also show up for those things, but they don’t have a monopoly on them.
According to a 2016 American Press Institute study, 69 percent of millennials get the news daily and even more of them say keeping up with it is important. While they access their news differently, primarily reading it on the web, according to a Pew Research Study I’ve written about before, they are informed. What’s more, they’re only too happy to share that information.
The Millennial Impact Project found the majority of millennials are vocal about their political views, speaking out on issues they care about on social media. I can already hear naysayers dismissing the importance of things like Facebook posts and tweets, but more and more, those voices are being heard.
Calls to phone elected officials about the GOP’s health care bill made the Facebook and Twitter rounds and people responded. See how the Affordable Care Act isn’t being dismantled at this very moment?
Anyway, I digress. I’ll stipulate that people of my generation aren’t coming to your events, whatever they happen to be. If you want them to show up, maybe don’t spend your allotted time to speak complaining about them. It’s super easy to do. Instead, try treating them like the adults that even the youngest of them are now, with ideas of value.