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Millennials Can No Longer Be Silent About Our Broken System. They Are Moving, Demonstrating and Revitalizing Movements for Social Change

Fifty years ago, young people inspired and moved our whole country away from Jim Crow, war and McCarthyism in the 60s. Today a new generation of young activists are inspiring and moving our country. Today's youth are active for justice, jobs, immigrant rights, against police murder and racism, peace, and are revitalizing the labor movement. Just this week, from Missouri to the Fight for $15 actions, young people are again inspiring a generation and the whole country.

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Civil disobedience action for higher wages, improved working conditions., Photo: David Nehrt-Flores // Common Dreams
by Yong Jung Cho, Waleed Shahid, Devontae Torriente, Sara Blazevic
November 2, 2015
It's election season. One side promises incremental reforms without a plan for how they would get an agenda passed through a gridlocked Congress. The other side uses thinly-veiled racist language about immigrants to talk about plans to bring our country back to a fictionalized, lily-white version of our nation's history. Too often, both parties put the demands of big money over the hopes of real people. Despite the campaign rhetoric and the noise of the 24-hour news cycle, most Americans will tell you that they think our political system is broken. 83 percent of young people say they have no faith in Congress.
Today we face a true crisis of democracy: the will of the people is no longer the priority of our political system. Our government is failing us. Democrats keep letting us down. Republicans are terrifying. Politicians continue to blame each other, failing to act on the most pressing issues of our time. It's no surprise why: from every side, we see cynical pitches to Americans' worst instincts and modest solutions proposed to big problems. Common sense measures on immigration, student debt, gun safety, incarceration, policing, and climate change have no chance of passing our broken system. Any visionary piece of legislation is threatened by a small number of Tea Party members refusing to pass any laws or gets stuck for years bouncing back and forth between closed-door committee hearings. As democracy is thrown to the wayside, we have ended up with the clearest signs of plutocracy: government by and for the wealthy determined to preserve the status quo and emboldened by procedural gridlock.
Meanwhile, politicians continue to throw away billions of dollars incarcerating people, deporting mothers and fathers, and polluting our people and our planet. They continue to saddle us with student debt. They aren't helping create real jobs that can sustain us. They stand by as many of our friends live in daily fear of police and immigration enforcement. And they continue subsidizing polluting fossil fuel companies who destroy the land we live on and the air we breathe.
We are running out of patience. After years of political inaction and failure, young people are taking these crises into their own hands. The Occupy movement, Black Lives Matter, the climate justice movement, the immigrant rights movement, Moral Mondays led by people of faith, and fast food workers on strike have captured the attention of the American people, but not of Congress. Now our movements are starting to come together to begin to speak with one voice.
On November 9, one year ahead of the presidential election, hundreds of young people will take part in the largest-ever civil disobedience for racial, climate, and immigrant justice. The choice is clear: politicians are failing to take our country to where it needs to go, so a movement of young people will lead us there. While politicians and the media continue to talk about left versus right, the Millennial Movements are talking about a different direction: forward.
We are not talking about some sort of beltway consensus between the parties and big business where the interests of the American people are compromised. We are talking about something completely outside the current confines of political debate.
It takes courage and dramatic action from ordinary people to do that. As politicians risk away our lives, we risk jail time to inspire urgency and courage from our elected leaders. We are taking to the streets of Washington, D.C. to demand that we keep fossil fuels in the ground; protect and respect the dignity and lives of immigrants, and black, brown, and poor communities; reinvest in healthy jobs, renewable energy, and an economy that works for all of us.
Politicians aren't the only voices with power. We have power, too. And we have more power when we act together. Young people don't live single-issue lives. We live at the intersection of the most pressing problems today. Our movements are connected and our purpose is huge. Martin Luther King described the civil rights movement as a time when the "people moved their leaders, not the leaders who moved the people." If enough of us push together toward a new vision, the world will begin to move.
Young people aren't just the future - we are the present. We are at the forefront of the fight for a more just, equitable, and stable world. Throughout history, a country founded to maintain the wealth and privilege of a few has been transformed by powerful movements that have expanded the meaning and practice of the "we" in "we the people." Now, it is our turn.
The average age of a Senator is 62. Today's Congress is the most diverse it has ever been: 80% white, 80% male, 92% Christian. But a coalition of millennials, people of color, unmarried women, immigrants, queer and trans people will make up a majority of voters for the first time in 2016. Young people are at the forefront of movements for social change, and are becoming increasingly engaged in the political process. And we are already winning. After years of action, our issues were at the forefront of the first Democratic debate. Candidates now have to speak on their plans to take on climate change, racial injustice, mass deportations, and economic inequality.
But shifting the debate won't be enough. If politicians won't lead this country forward from an economy in crisis to a society that works for all people, then we will. We take action to tell the American people: let's get it done together. Our generation. Our choice.
[Yong Jung Cho is the Campaign Coordinator for, a global climate action organization. She tweets @yongjungc.
Waleed Shahid is the Political Director of PA Working Families Party and a movement-building trainer with Momentum. He tweets at @waleed2go.
Devontae Torriente is the campus organizer of Million Hoodies, a national racial justice network, at American University in Washington D.C.
Sara Blazevic is the campaign coordinator for the Fossil Fuel Student Divestment Network.]
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License
By Amy B. Dean
November 11, 2015
photo: Mark Apollo / Pacific Press / LightRocket / Getty Images // Aljazeera America
Millennials are often made out to be selfish and individualistic, but they appear to be taking a greater interest in social movements and dramatic social change than some previous generations. A series of polls suggests that, compared with other demographic groups, Americans in their 20s have less favorable views of capitalism and higher opinions of unions and government intervention in the economy. Millennials are also the first generation in a long time to feel a sense of common purpose in the economy and to look toward collective action as a means of improving their circumstances. Millennials are entering the workforce during the worst economic situation since the Great Depression, so it's harder to buy into the myth that working hard and narrowly focusing on your own fortunes will be enough to ensure success.
In a recent Atlantic story, Jonathan Timm wrote a story on the hopeful, if fragile, signs of millennial engagement with the labor movement, as well as the substantial structural issues facing a union resurgence. The article focused on the story of an employee at Peet's Coffee in a relatively poorly paid service-sector job and her attempts to organize her workplace. The effort failed, coming to ruin on the shoals of intractable management and high turnover, but he featured very high profile victories at digital news companies such as Gawker and Vice that have garnered substantial attention in recent months (Al Jazeera America's digital staff unionized in October.)
The Peet's Coffee story is far more representative of the current state of the labor movement than Gawker's successful drive. The service sector, in which so many young people are employed, remains overwhelmingly nonunion. Still, the article isn't wrong to focus on millennial engagement. Young people are taking the lead not only in union organizing drives such as Fast Food Forward and the adjunct campaigns in higher education but also in movements against student debt and in Black Lives Matter. These young people are not just mostly white, college-educated young professionals; the faces of these movements also include African-American security guards in Philadelphia, Hispanic construction workers in Houston and African immigrant Uber drivers in Seattle.
This reflects today's workforce, which is far more diverse in terms of race and gender than it was during labor's postwar heyday. It also comes out of vastly different employment practices. The New Deal laws of the 1930s primarily targeted industrial workplaces, where workers often punched in under the same roof and stayed with the company for their entire lives. Agricultural and domestic labor was excluded. Millennials, on the other hand, work in an economic context in which fewer and fewer people are likely to work in the same location or stay at the same company for their entire working life. Many companies misclassify their workers as independent contractors in an attempt to discourage organizing and avoid providing required benefits or overtime payment. And everywhere average wages stagnate while inequality increases. 
Organized labor and young people who have recently entered the workforce have common cause.
Traditional unions still face an uphill battle when trying to expand their ranks in the face of overwhelming employer opposition and weak labor laws. But alt-labor groups such as the Restaurant Opportunities Center and the Workers Defense Project and movements without fixed membership rosters such as the Fight for $15 are more easily able to rally millennials to their cause. The labor movement would make a lot of sense for a generation caught on the edge of the new perilous economic order and sympathetic to collective action. 
Moreover, the movement's rhetoric and political action exhibit a more racially inclusive mindset. Black Lives Matter and the minimum-wage-focused Fight for $15 have cross-pollinated, to the benefit of both movements, ignoring calls that they limit themselves to their separate issues.
"We see a real national trend of younger workers really pushing the labor movement to the left in a number of ways," says Katy Fox-Hodess, a former campus chairwoman of graduate student union UAW 2865, in an interview with Timm. "We have to stand up on issues of racism, xenophobia, women's issues, LGBT issues, foreign policy issues. We have to have a broader politics."
The lamentable state of labor law, in which employers always hold the upper hand and can fire worker activists with impunity, has prevented this activism and favorable attitudes toward unions from directly benefiting labor as much as it should. Even though the Service Employees International Union is the biggest supporter of the Fight for $15, few millennials are union members. In the case of Gawker, the union drive of the workers at Gawker faced unusually weak management opposition to their organizing campaign.
Nevertheless, there's a new sense that the challenges millennials are facing - from increasing debt loads to stagnating wages to a lack of job prospects - can be tackled only by collective action. Organized labor and young people who have recently entered the workforce have common cause. By championing the issues millennials care about most, unions not only promote a more just economy for a new generation; they also chart a course for their own revival. 
[Amy B. Dean is a fellow of the Century Foundation and a principal of ABD Ventures, a consulting firm that works to develop innovative strategies for organizations devoted to social change. She is a co-author, with David Reynolds, of "A New New Deal: How Regional Activism Will Reshape the American Labor Movement."]