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Welcome the new, politically engaged millennials

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Have Trump and his cockamamie cabinet unintentionally disturbed sleeping giants in all corners of the globe?

Rohan Stephens notices that millennials are suddenly engaging in all manner of political expression.


All of a sudden, it seems everybody is having a go at the Establishment, be it expressing our disagreement online against anything from Big Pharma to anti-vaxxers or joining in on marches for various civil rights groups. One demographic whom we didn’t think would be so passionately involved are millennials, who, all of a sudden appear to be everywhere, stating their case on all sorts of issues. But why now? And, in particular, in the USA, why are youth now complaining about an incapable president when many of them didn’t even vote on that fateful day last November?

According to Bloomberg, of the 24 million eligible voters considered within the American millennial cohort, less than half actually fronted the ballot box during the last US presidential election. Despite the ability of Bernie Sanders’ campaign to stir up some anti-establishment excitement amongst them, the voting demographic that had been the focus of such external obsession and scrutiny now proved themselves lacklustre in their supposed ability to significantly influence the outcome of the election.

But how can we account for the sudden mass mobilisation of millennials in these recent political demonstrations? Why are we seeing so many young people protesting passionately at airports and marching down streets with sassy but poignant placards when all of this could have been dealt with if they had just shown up on the day?

In early 2016, back when Donald Trump was still just a reality TV star with a dream, the Harvard Political Review published a report with some damning data about this generation’s political sentiments. According to their Public Opinion Project (HPOP) 70% of millennials did not actually consider themselves politically engaged or active, with 79% of them not even trusting Congress to do the right thing in most situations.

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Interestingly, however, another significant survey conducted by the Pew Research Centre the year before shows an incredibly heightened sense of social engagement by this generation. Where millennials seemingly neglect to directly engage with the political establishment, they appear overwhelmingly progressive about the contemporary social matters of our time. When asked about specific issues they were in favour or opposed to, 70% voted in favour of leaving the decision of abortion up to the personal choice of women, 83% voted in favour of criminal background checks for purchasing guns, and 80% voted in favour of renewable energy. When asked to identify two of the most important challenges they faced, as a country, the majority selected equality and economic opportunity.

It would seem then that millennials aren’t as apathetic about things as they are so often are described. So, instead of chastising them for their indifference towards politics, we should be lauding them for their ability to see these issues as innate social problems that are too precious, too pressing and too significant to be handed over to staunch politicians to debate. They aren’t seeing the relevance of why women’s rights or gay rights or environmental protection are, in 2017, still even requiring political debate.

Back in November, millennials made it clear at the time that they didn’t seem to care much if it was Trump or Clinton who was trying to take the reins of the US. They seemed to associate both camps with the same sense of convolution and obscure party politics that resulted in the usual sustained lack of significant change. But that was 2016…

Seeing now, however, the ferocious enthusiasm with which Donald Trump seems to be defecating on everything this generation cares about, has seemingly ignited fires under the asses of not only the 12 million once-were-disinterested American millennials who were absent on voting day, but the rest of the world. They may not care much for politics but they equally will not stand idly by while this man slowly unravels the world they will soon inherit.

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