At Least I Have Street Cred - and a Snazzy Suit

April 18, 2011

Check this out:

"The Millennial Generation (born 1980-2000) is the largest, most diverse, most open-minded, most tech-savvy, most eco-conscious generation in American history..."

We are?! Golly gee, thanks! I'm blushing.

When I first read that quote from Van Jones & Lindsay McCluskey's Huffington Post article "Graduating Off a Cliff: The Millenial Generation's Fight for Its Future," I gave myself a little pat on the back.  It was nice to hear my generation summed up with such compliments. So I kept reading:

"... Millennials are also the most unemployed, in debt and generally screwed over. Despite their desire to contribute to this country's greatness, Millennials may be the first generation in decades to face worse economic prospects than our parents and even grandparents."

Oh yeah, that.  Well, at least I have some bragging rights, right?   Do you think I could put my status as a Millennial on my resume?  But no, really.

I must admit, it was refreshing to read about my generation's dilemma right there in black and white for everybody to see in this article.  Take it from me: things are cut-throat out here in the job market. More than ever, where you end up relies more on luck of timing, place, and who you know than the degree and experience on your resume.

Considering the years of academic butt-kicking I have behind me, that is quite discouraging.  And this is coming from a girl who was privileged to go to a decent public school district and then immediately to a four-year, private, prestigious university, so I know that my struggles only chip the tip of this massive iceberg. That's what worries me the most about this whole thing.

My mother usually has advice for everything, but even she couldn't help me out much with this "real world" crisis.  I think this is true for many Millennials—our moms, dads, mentors, teachers,etc., entered the job market in an almost incomparably different market; even those older peers who graduated during past recessions or the dot com crash haven't seen it this bad, as recent data shows.

This crisis isn't just about income. Sure, we Millennials dream of the days we can be financially independent, and we'd love to see some money for investing and spending start to accumulate in our bank accounts.  But our ambitions go beyond the dollars—they extend to a desire to contribute to the economy and help make America the strong, pride-worthy country that we once were.  Amid the deficit, war and constant political battles, fundamental and physical infrastructures are falling slowly to pieces.  Without jobs, we can't help our country rebuild.

As Jones and McCluskey say:

"Young people and students aren't asking for any special favors or handouts. They just want the same opportunities that the Baby Boomers and other previous generations had: The opportunity to work hard, get an education, make a living and give their kids a better life. In short, a chance to live the American Dream."

Okay, so, we're "screwed over" as Van Jones put it.

What now, then? What do we do about it?

In part, Millennials, we gotta take this on ourselves.  This is new territory for everybody, and we have no choice but to charge into it. And when things don't work out, dust yourself off and try again (if you immediately started hearing Aaliyah's "Try Again" in your head after you read that, you're definitely a Millennial!) As Jones and McCluskey brag on our behalf (thanks, guys), this economic crisis has revealed the Millennials' steadfast attitude—and that we know how to persevere.

Act out! Young, unemployed Americans will take to the streets on April 27. Learn more.

Young people have been speaking out more than ever, and it feels like the powers that be are really starting to listen. The Obama administration in particular has been taking young voices seriously, and allowing them a platform to interact with high-level officials who can actually get things done. I saw this firsthand at the National Youth Summit, an event run by the US Department of Education, which brought over 300 middle- and high-school students to Washington D.C. to share their concerns about education with White House and Department of Education staff, including the Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.

At the Summit, Duncan praised the proactive approach that students across the country are taking and said he hoped that we'll continue to mobilize to get our voices heard in a grassroots fashion (watch Alberto Retana, organizer of the Summit and Director of Community Outreach in the Department of Education, talk more about the White House's hopes for young voices in action here). 

To keep the Summit from being a one-off, the White House has launched a "100 Youth Roundtables" initiative, which encourages young people to get together to talk about relevant issues with a promise that a White House official (maybe even President Obama himself) will make an appearance. They also regularly hold online town halls and live discussions on social media sites like Facebook. 

This is not only in line with the technology-driven times; these are also actions that make participation accessible and appealing to my generation, tech-savvy (and tech-dependent) as we are.  Screens, in all shapes and sizes, are how my generation gets our information and how we interact with each other. Whether or not you agree with what they're saying, the fact that our country's leadership—in the administration and in Congress—is using technology in innovative ways is both refreshing and much-needed.

Suit Up: Briefcase Brigades!

So, we're putting our smarts to action and are ready to be taken seriously. The "perfect storm" of technology, economic crisis and young talent is leading to, among other things, some pretty creative protest. 

On April 27, Millennials around the country will take part in a super cool, youth-led event called the Briefcase Brigades.

Now, Millennials can't get the credit for the whole idea of the Briefcase Brigades—an event in 1970 in which lawyers stormed Washington to argue President Nixon's decisions on the Vietnam War was coined with the same name.  However, this is the first time that a Briefcase Brigade will take the form of a demonstration, and the suits will be worn by cleaned-up, young, unemployed Americans as a symbol of their readiness to be employed but disappointment that jobs are being cut. 

I can just imagine how it will look: Millennials looking all fancy and professional as they demonstrate for jobs.  It'll be a powerful a visual representation of what the economy is missing out on by having an under-employed Millennial generation. 

And while the Brigade won't solve the fiscal problems that our nation is facing, it will make a statement and help ambitious, energetic young people  make connections and get information to stay actively involved. It can spark some fresh new thought about what we need to do legislatively to invest in jobs and the future.  Because guess what, America?  We're all going to have to take action. The Millennial generation IS your future.  Ready or not, here we come.  And we're armed ... with briefcases.

    Get all the details on the Briefcase Brigade on the official website and prepare to get super excited about the event from this "trailer":

    Alison Beth Waldman is a recent graduate of Denison University and an Editorial & Policy intern with SparkAction.

    Alison Beth Waldman