Everything is Political

Michael Toland, NLC Columbus

Roughly 31 percent of Millennials say they definitely plan to vote, according to research by NBC and GenForward released on October 31. Another 26 percent will probably vote. That’s just over half of Millennials, with only a third who say they are committed.

When the stakes seem to be so big, and my progressive friends are all working tirelessly to drag apolitical folks to the polls, and knock on doors, and give their time; surely our friends don’t see this work and think it is for naught? However, it seems that many have lost sight of the connection between how our identities and actions interplay with our communities and civics.

Our identities are complex. Ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity, wealth, employment status, where we live, and the people we associate with all shape our world view, and the way we view others. However, our identities are shaping our communities, and often evolving our values in accordance. We intrinsically care about who we are, and that identity being valued. We associate with friends who are accepting of who we are, and many will bend to accommodate those who are different from us, because we recognize the importance of diversity and inclusion in our experiences.

Yet, we’re not voting to protect ourselves and our friends. If a third of us are dedicated to voting, that means two-thirds aren’t showing up to prioritize the importance of their identity, or the identity of those we care about?

Our current Congress is overwhelming white (78 percent), overwhelming male (79 percent), overwhelming heterosexual (99 percent) and with an average age of nearly 58. They are not reflective of us as Millennials — the single most diverse adult generation in the history of the United States, 44 percent of whom identify as nonwhite. But there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Young, women, people of color, members of the LGBTQ+ community are stepping up and running for office. This demographic divide, which is apparent from city halls to statehouses to Congress, continues to narrow. But it can only continue to do so, when we show up to vote.

Our communities are shaped by our collective actions. If you’re someone who takes time to volunteer, you’re most likely volunteering with an organization with which your values align — for instance: serving food to the homeless population because you believe in social equity, or you might have a deep love for the outdoors, so you work with a non-profit to help upkeep your local metro parks. Each of these decision affect our communities, working to improve them. On their face, they are not inherently political in the traditional sense. We’re not campaigning on behalf the organization, but rather, we’re doing what makes us feel good because we’re giving our time in ways we believe will improve our community overall. These actions engage and connect us with one another in service. However, there are individuals running to advances these causes. Ballot initiatives are decided upon that can directly impact the values we actively engage. And only one-third of our cohort shows up. Let’s focus on this more, and align our messaging to those values.

Let’s focus on connecting back our actions and identities to their impact on the day-to-day civics in our country. Let’s help frame our collective messaging to those who consider themselves apolitical — their actions and identities are inherently being decided on in politics. In our country, democracy and representation can only thrive when we all commit to show up to vote for people who represent our collective identities. We’re already often doing the hardest work of all, which is advancing our communities, but if we don’t elect those who share our values, then improvement becomes so much harder.

Politics is so much more than what happens in D.C. and state capitals all across the country. Municipal governments, and our day-to-day activities matter. Every day, we make conscious and unconscious choices. Each of these choices, in ways we often don’t think about, are political. I’d go so far as to say that everything is political.

So show up today, and cast your ballot in alignment to your values. Research where the candidates stand in relation to your identity, ensure you and your community are represented. The future is too important for only a third of Millennials to help decide. Go out and vote.

Michael is an in-house Finance Operations & Strategy consultant for a large telecommunications firm in Columbus, OH. He is a 2018 NLC Columbus fellow.