Believe it or not, discussions of the theory of government are not reserved for graduate seminars on Dahl or polite cocktail conversation in Davos. Rather, they are happening around you, every day. Perhaps even more shockingly, they’re happening among the millennials written off by the mainstream media as ‘apathetic’ and ‘disconnected’ from the political process.
Nothing could be farther from the truth. Since 2004, a dedicated group of young people have taken it upon themselves to ask deep, meaningful questions about the nature of American democracy—about whom it serves, how it communicates and where it’s heading. Through the infrastructure of the Roosevelt Institute Campus Network, the nation’s largest undergraduate public policy organization, we have consistently empowered millennials to engage in the highest levels of policy discussions, debates and negotiations. We’ve collectively authored a fully functional federal budget, made recommendations on gun violence prevention, organized student-run conferences and supported countless community impact projects.
This fall we started a new project timed to coincide with the inauguration of the next administration. We wanted to think deeply and critically about what it meant to live in a democratic society, what duties and obligations we had as citizens, and where we thought existing policies were ineffective, unjust or simply outdated. We wanted to outline a democratic system that empowers all of us to work proactively, creatively and collectively—a robust system that reflected the progressive values of our generation, and was effective in moving our country forward. Drawing on our own experiences with Voter ID bills, the Occupy Movement, getting money out of politics, and higher education advocacy, we also wanted to create a vision of a millennial America that would reflect the diversity of issues, identities and opinions that make up our generation.
The result of this brainstorming manifested itself in Government By and For Millennial America, a manifesto of the millennial generations’ vision of governance, social justice and pragmatic policy change.
To complete this project, we engaged 600 millennials in face-to-face conversations about the future of our democracy while connecting with 400 additional young people online or indirectly. We developed an inclusive infrastructure for the project that epitomized the breadth and depth of our campus network and drew on student experts from Ivy League institutions, public flagships, liberal arts schools and community colleges.
Our proposals are—at once—visionary and practical. They engage questions like participatory budgeting in local government, re-imagining the poverty line, resisting the corporatization of higher education and confronting class inequalities. They highlight little-known programs with tremendous potential and emphasize the importance of socially conscious metrics, communications technologies and social innovation. Most of all, though, our proposals expand upon a vision of government that seems to have been forgotten: that a government by the people and for the people is not only a catchphrase, it is a mandate—a blueprint for governance, participation and values at every level of society.
The Government By and For Millennial America aims to offer a thorough response to current policy dilemmas. It seeks to abandons the polemic rhetoric of right and left. Discussions of small or large government played no role in our discussions. Rather, our piece focused on better government, on what works.
The Millennial generation refuses to give up on America’s democratic experience of government by and for the people. We’re not looking to over-simplify the collective action problems of our time. We’re hoping to begin a conversation we can have with members of the administration, local and state governments, key figures in civil society and concerned citizens everywhere. We’re not sitting around waiting for the conventional discourse to recognize young people as legitimate political operatives. Rather, we’re creating our own narrative—an innovative, diverse and, above all visionary narrative of governance in the twenty-first century. Join us.