2017-05-10 / Opinion

Millennials should engage in political process full time

Special to Florida Weekly

NEWELL NEWELL For many, the political process is incomprehensible, and as a generation, Millennials have yet to define where we fit into the process. Opinions are deeply divided on whether Millennials will be the downfall or the saviors of American politics. Titles of opinion pieces can be described only as sensationalist: “Millennials are in Election Hell Because Politics Has Become Their God (The Federalist),” “Godless Millennials could end the political power of the religious right (The Guardian),” and “When it Comes to Politics, Do Millennials Care About Anything? (The Atlantic).”

The Women’s Foundation of Southwest Florida sent a delegation to Tallahassee in March to attend Women’s Day at the Capitol. In addition to the panels organized by the conference, we met with some of our legislators from Southwest Florida and sat in on a senate session.

I consider myself politically knowledgeable. But I was embarrassed that I’d never attended a Florida government session other than local school board meetings. For all my talk about the importance of local and state politics, shouldn’t I be more involved? So before the conference, I thought that this was it — I was going to see the legislative process in action and earn my “politically engaged” badge. Look out Florida — here comes Charlotte, the Engaged Millennial. In retrospect, that was incredibly naïve of me, and I left without my badge.

The first thing I observed during the senate session was the ruthless efficiency with which they passed bills. Bills were introduced with a one-sentence summary, and the sponsor was invited to further explain them. Often, that consisted solely of “This is the bill I described yesterday.” The process continued with no debate — all disagreements had been smoothed out in committee or behind closed doors. Every vote was unanimous or split cleanly along party lines (which meant that any time there was disagreement, Republicans won with no competition — looking at the makeup of our state legislature, you’d never believe that Florida has been a swing state since 1992). Since Millennials are decreasingly tied to party affiliation, this only adds to our frustration with politics.

So where can we get involved without getting swallowed up by the melee? We, as a generation, must get involved at the beginning of the process, and then stay involved. Call your representative and let them know what issues concern you and why. Outside of the legislative session is the best time to talk to them, because they have more time.

This commitment takes more effort than most people have the ability or desire to give, but involvement isn’t something you can do once. There is no “political engagement” badge to earn, because effective engagement never truly ends. This isn’t easy, but it’s one of the most important tasks facing our generation, and it’s one we cannot ignore. One way or another, the political baton is in the process of being passed to Millennials. We need to show everyone that we’re ready to carry its weight. ¦

— Charlotte Newell is programs coordinator at the Women’s Foundation of Southwest Florida and is a graduate of the Jackson Institute for Global Affairs at Yale University. The foundation elevates women and girls by investing in programs that educate, boost security and entrepreneurship and advocate from a woman’s perspective. www.FundWomenFL. org.

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