Some researchers have reported that millennials are the most socially concerned group since the baby boomers came of age in the 60s. They are issue-oriented and care about each other and society at large. This commitment was highlighted by the support many of them showed for the Democratic Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders and his “social revolution.”
Yet, when young people were interviewed about their support of Sanders, and asked which issues were most important, they often mentioned ones that were personally relevant. These included free college tuition and reduction in college loans. The media played into, and enhanced, the stereotype that millennials are self-focused. Finding ways to pay for exorbitant college costs is a critical issue for students and young professionals today, but affordable education is only one part of the social and economic problems this generation faces.
It’s hard to sort out and rank all of the areas that need change. We can talk about increasing the minimum wage, or reforming the justice system, or providing health care for everyone. Or the focus can be on helping immigrants, or on ensuring human rights, or protecting women’s reproductive rights, or advancing the rights of the LGBT population. The list is very long, and the opportunities for public service abound.
The most important thing for millennials (and for all of us) is to choose an issue and decide how to work for positive change in that area. Activism can take many forms. It can be as simple as sending a text message to a legislator, or participating in a fundraising event for a cause. It can be working on behalf of a political nominee or attending a local hearing about a community concern. Or it can mean volunteering to help an agency provide needed services or seeking employment in a field that can have an impact.
Each generation leaves its imprint on our social structure and the way people are treated and problems are addressed. The millennials, and the generation closely following them, do appear to care about social justice and reform. Surely no one can take issue with that.