The Democratic presidential primary has largely come down to a generational divide. Older Democrats — yesterday’s flower children — who grew up through the Civil Rights Era, the Vietnam War, and the southern realignment generally (but certainly not exclusively) prefer Hillary Clinton, while Millennials and younger Americans prefer Bernie Sanders by historic margins.
We have heard these older voters time and again in the media: They see the possibility of electing Clinton as a culmination of years of fighting for equality. Reagan’s Revolution tempered their expectations, so they view Sanders as a pie-in-the-sky candidate and characterize my generation as naive. Due to a lack of Millennial voices in the media, that characterization has stuck.
It is time to change the narrative, and explain why we Millennials overwhelmingly stand with Sanders.
My generation is cautiously optimistic about social issues. We have embraced legal equality, acceptance, and diversity. Popular culture reflects our attitudes. Though there are many necessary battles to fight — especially in terms of LGBTQ, women’s, and racial justice — we are slowly winning the culture war. However, this optimism does not extend to economic issues or political corruption. In an article titled, “Like It or Not, the Democratic Party Now Must Answer to Millennials,” Truthout notes:
As the 2016 State of the Millennial report noted in its assessment of the challenges facing young people, “48 percent of Millennials now believe that the American Dream is dead.”
We have many reasons for this pessimism. The United States has essentially become an oligarchy wherein public opinion is outweighed by the voices of the wealthy, in terms of affecting public policy. Such was the finding of a recent study by professor Martin Gilens of Princeton University, and Professor Benjamin I. Page of Northwestern University. Our government prioritizes the demands of the wealthy. Millennials understand that time will not solve that problem. Thanks to a series of damaging court decisions stemming from Buckley v. Valeo, the amount of money being spent on elections is, as Bernie Sanders says, “obscene,” and our elected representatives spend half their time fundraising. Moreover, lobbyists write legislation that gets passed into law by our elected officials, who often become lobbyists when they leave office. The system is broken.
Many of us graduated college expecting to be able to attain the kind of lives our parents told us we could have, but the job market we found ourselves in was next to impenetrable — part of the reason Millennials are underrepresented in the media.
Millions of us do not have health insurance because we do not qualify for subsidies under the Affordable Care Act. About half of us avoid medical treatment when we get sick to avoid the high cost. Wages have stagnated for decades, but the cost of living has risen steadily. A college degree today is the same as a high school diploma 40 years ago — and thanks the prospect of crippling debt, a large number of us aren’t even pursuing one. On top of these concerns, many of our family members, friends and peers are the soldiers dying overseas in conflicts which lack clear objectives.
Over the years we have seen that candidates who promise change while taking money from special interests fail to deliver on those promises. Matt Taibbi of Rolling Stone made this observation in a recent piece titled, “Why Young People Are Right About Hillary Clinton.” Transactional, neoliberal politics have largely failed us.
Yet older Democrats call us naive for demanding more, and assure us that this is how we have to win — through incremental change and plenty of compromise. After all, that has been the balance for years: Democrats win social progress while the Republicans seemingly win everything else.
Young progressives are challenging that balance. The changes we are demanding are economic and necessitate swift government action like the New Deal Era reforms — especially to maintain public support. Politically and financially, we cannot afford small victories touted as major successes.
Bernie Sanders’ unabashed populism is refreshing. He speaks earnestly and honestly about political and economic inequality while taking no money from Wall Street or special interests. He does not illegally coordinate with a super PAC. On foreign policy, he presents us with a choice that isn’t more endless, purposeless entanglement overseas. But most importantly, Sanders is reminding us of the power we have when we come together.
We do not accept the idea that what Sanders is proposing is impossible — just as our parents did not accept the social values of their parents. We know the history but did not live it, and have not been disillusioned.
And yet, as Truthout explains, attacking Millennials has become a common way to score political points. For our engagement, we have been met with condescension and disdain. Hillary Clinton said she felt “sorry” for us because we don’t do our “research.” Bill Clinton accused us of wanting to shoot “every third person on Wall Street.” John Catsimatidis, the chairman of the Philadelphia 2016 Host Committee for this summer’s Democratic National Convention said we had better “behave ourselves” when Bernie loses.
Through this primary we have seen the full extent of the establishment we are up against, and we do not believe the process is fair. We saw the media, the DNC, and corporate America line up behind Hillary Clinton, and watched as hundreds of thousands of voters were disenfranchised due to irregularities in a suspicious number of states including Arizona and New York. Still, all of that has only hardened our resolve. We’ve done our research, and we’re mad.