At this point, we’ve all heard the tired tropes about millennials. We’re lazy, whiny and politically disengaged, a generation more prone to bellyaching about our feelings than to effecting political change like our hard working forefathers. These perceptions have reached a fever pitch in the wake of the Emory University incident, where several students protested a “Trump 2016” sidewalk chalk message found on campus. Yet these patronizing and overarching talking points belie the true character of the millennial generation: morally convicted, politically savvy and socially active.
Two weeks ago, the Chicago District Attorney Democratic primary garnered national attention when challenger Kim Foxx defeated incumbent Anita Alvarez by an unprecedented 29 percent of the vote. Underscoring this seemingly unimportant race was the controversial murder of LaQuan McDonald, in which dashcam footage showing the police shooting and killing 17-year-old LaQuan was suppressed by authorities until after Chicago’s mayoral election. Alvarez played a significant role in delaying the release of the footage until after incumbent Rahm Emanuel’s re-election bid for mayor ended in success. Also, Alvarez has made a point of publicly denying that any mistakes were made in the handling of the McDonald investigation, despite the footage directly contradicting police testimony.
Yet this phenomenon did not occur on its own; it was spearheaded by largely millennial activist groups such as Assata’s Daughters and Black Youth Project 100, among others. Their efforts included flying anti-Alvarez banners, getting #ByeAnita to trend on Twitter, and canvassing over 2,500 voters to spread their message. And in the past, these groups successfully lobbied for a bill that granted reparations to victims of Chicago Police torture.
It is safe to say that without the collective efforts of these millennial activists, Anita Alvarez would have faced a much easier re-election fight. Even more impressive is just how rare an incumbent prosecutor losing in a primary is, especially in a city renowned for its deeply entrenched political regimes. It is hard to imagine any examples that combat the common millennial stereotypes than the work done by these incredible people. These groups of millennial activists set their eyes on a concrete political goal, and achieved it through dogged determination and hard work.
So although it is easy to give in to the pithy rhetoric employed in describing millennials, doing so is wildly inaccurate. Young people, especially young people of color, are turning their political visions into reality in profound ways across the nation. Their advocacy is not constrained solely to social media and protesting chalked messages — it directly yields tangible political change. The best thing about that is that our generation has made a habit out of institutionalizing their moral wills. The leaders that buy into the myth of the lazy millennial should know that they are doing so at their own peril.
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