Here’s the issue: I’m not young by most stretches of the imagination, but I’m not old yet either. Millennials, which I am proud to include myself as one of, were born between ’81 and ’96. I sit in the center at ’89. Growing up I was what many would consider a moderate Republican (for the time period), up until I hit college and had reached voting age in ’08, the year Obama and McCain ran. Rather than follow blindly in the footsteps of family, I looked into candidates about issues that were important to me. Given access to their platforms through the world wide web, I found myself agreeing that Obama was more in line with the world views I had developed—though for the record, I was (and still technically am) friends with the John McCain campaign page on Myspace. I felt and saw my voice heard with a candidate who openly spoke to my struggles and desires to improve a country I had spent my life being a part of, something I felt was missing in his Republican counterpart.
Enter Senator Sanders, a man who popularized the term “Democratic Socialist” and who ignited the fire to engage in politics in a younger generation. I’ll be the first to say it: Statistics show Millenials just don’t show up to vote anywhere near the numbers Baby Boomers and Gen X do. According to pewresearch.org Gen Z, Gen X and Millennials cast 62.2 million votes in the 2018 midterms, while Boomers and older generations cast 60.1 million. It was the first time our generations actually outvoted the older demographics, and it was just barely. For reference, in 2014, only approximately 32 million votes by younger demographics were counted, versus 58 million from Boomers and up, with eligible voters being 126 million and 98 million, respectively. This is to say, it’s getting better rapidly. Finally, younger voices are actively challenging the older generations, and research shows they are far more left-leaning than those who came before.
Why is any of this important to the upcoming election? It’s because while society is moving left, candidates aren’t. Senator Sanders, AKA My Boy Bernard, is arguably the most well-known leftist candidate. He has run two surprisingly successful primary campaigns that ended in established Democrats taking the nomination in the end. But he did what other candidates in the party haven’t been able to do since Obama, which is get young people excited to be heard. The benefit to his campaigns has been pushing the Democrats’ platform more to the left, but not enough to affect any real party change. Biden, for all his history, is fairly centrist when you get to the brass tacks of his campaign. Looking at the social progressive programs instituted in the past, you can clearly see a disparity. So what’s the deal?
At the end of the day, it comes down to party lines. A gallup.com poll shows that “57 percent say there is a need for a third, major political party, while 38 percent of Americans believe the current two-party system does an adequate job of representing the people.” We as a country need to have a “come to Jesus” talk about the two-party system. To believe Americans are either A or B, with only negligible portions of the population being third-party or independent, is an all-together wild concept. Diversity is reigning king of America, but for many of us, we shoehorn ourselves and each other into one of two columns and call it a day. Biden right now is failing to speak to younger voters, who have shown that they are eager to speak and be heard. His platform has yet to hit a chord and resonate with those of us under 50, and his votes from this generation are being cast as anti-Trump, not pro-Biden, myself included. Even Jo Jorgensen, the Libertarian candidate, isn’t speaking to the wants of the younger generation en masse, opting to stand with the party ideals of less government, less tax and more power to corporations to exist unfettered.
The Party for Socialism and Liberation has been making waves in the political scene and gaining slow traction, but they want to exist more left of Sanders, which is a hard sell considering Sanders himself is considered “too extreme” for many. We’ve reached a point as a country where we can no longer functionally find balance because of extremes, and it’s reaching a boiling point where no one is truly happy. Even many Republicans are (finally) starting to distance themselves from Trump-style Republicanism. The Washington Post found that, since March, his approval rating with Republicans has slowly been declining. There are not hard and fast numbers to directly point to and say “Ah-ha! It’s happening!” but there is enough evidence to support that the cult of personality is losing its glamour.
But let’s look at the Democratic National Committee. With the Republican party moving aggressively right in the past election cycle, why are Democrats holding the middle ground? If Democrats continue to stay in the middle with the counterparty moving right, all compromises will just continue sitting in Republican territory. The party will eventually be pulled in the same direction in order to continue their compromise, and before we know it, the DNC will look like the Republican party of the ’80s. How do we make a change?
The biggest step forward is to hold our officials accountable. If younger voters want to be heard and want to be considered, then speaking up for a more progressive platform is key. Thankfully, with social media, that has never been easier. Being able to reach out to your representatives on social channels means you can easily speak out and be heard. Messages can gain traction and become loud enough that they can’t be ignored. For all the dangers social media has created in the political scene, it’s given people a voice to truly impact change.
Speaking of being heard, when voting for candidates, learn their platforms and support those that are pushing for change. With the power of the Sanders campaign, we began seeing more progressive Democrats sweeping wins out from centrist candidates. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has become one of the poster children for this movement, being a vocal voice for younger generations and their representation and holding truly progressive values. Even on the homefront here in New Mexico, Deb Haaland, who holds office in NM’s 1st Congressional District, is another well-known progressive. In office she has fought for a living wage of $15 an hour, free healthcare and college as a human right and has addressed climate change as an immediate problem that needs to be dealt with.
Teresa Leger Fernandez is another on-the-rise candidate, running for the 3rd Congressional District. Standing for Medicare for All, the Green New Deal, immigration rights and providing free education for undergraduates, she’s got a solid progressive platform. By pushing candidates who support a platform that is further left than what the DNC is pushing in their presidential candidates, we the people can begin to affect change at higher levels from grassroots and up.
This inevitably brings us back to Biden. Does he stand a chance against Trump with his current platform? It’s easy to say yes, but the issue is more complicated. Right now, amidst a pandemic that has left 36 million filing for unemployment while COVID-19 cases continue to rise, slowing any reopening plans states might have had, Trump’s approval rating has gone down. Polls show Biden winning in an election if it took place right now, but things can change in the next four months. Alternatively, polls showed Clinton winning the last election, and look at how that turned out. (A discussion for a later date about the popular vote and electoral college might be in the works.) We can comment and speculate all we want, but it comes down to two things at the end of the day; both of which we can actively work to help make happen.
The first is to encourage voter turnouts. If that means talking to everyone you know to make sure they’re registered, to help them learn about the candidates and policies and how they’ll affect their lives and get them off the couches and into the polling stations (if the world is still functional and operating by then). The second is to call for policies to be on the platform of our candidates. I get it. I earnestly feel the frustration of looking at the US budget. I feel the anger of knowing our younger generations calling for basic needs in the middle of an economy that won’t give the majority of us access to jobs that amount to anything. I feel the exhaustion of supporting candidates and watching as they’re overtaken overnight because a party solidified around someone else when they saw no one else they offered was doing it on their own. But that’s the system we have, and we have to continue to operate within it until we can make large structural changes.
The power of Gen X and younger is that our voices can coalesce nationally easier than ever before. Through Facebook Live and Twitter threads, from Tik Tok videos calling for recognition to Instagram Stories spreading the word of policy ideas and paths to enactment, we’ve found a way to communicate a message to the masses in a way that has never been done before. Strength comes from unity, and unity comes from being on the same page. We’re moving there. We’re speaking up, we’re showing up and we haven’t given up yet. The work we’re doing now is laying the groundwork for a much bigger movement, and starting at grassroots is what is going to make changes happen at the top.
Joe Biden may not be the ideal candidate, and it may be hard to watch another moderate hold a position we feel needs to be moving in a different direction. But from the ground up, we are changing the platform. We’re electing candidates who speak to the new vision many of us see, and that will matter. The DNC of today is dying, and that’s a good thing. It’s making way for growth and candidates who can take the torch and move it towards a more progressive culture. We’re generations of change, and it’s never been closer to being realized than it is today.