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Owning the Millennial Stereotype: Progressive Youth and Netroots Nation 2013

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June 27, 2013

Last week, I attended Netroots Nation in beautiful San Jose with my fellow correspondent Samantha and several members of the Choice USA staff. The four day-long conference brought together 6,000 organizers from around the United States to talk politics, social justice, new media, and the ways in which we go about furthering our progressive causes.

While Choice USA’s primary “cause” is reproductive justice, we also advocate for America’s youth. People under 35 are the most affected by legislation surrounding reproductive agency, gender identity, and sex education, yet we are the most likely to be excluded from these discussions. When a bill to ban abortions after 20 weeks enters a state legislature, we–the youth–are not the ones who directly vote on it, discard it, or make it into law. The senators and representatives who do have political power (many of whom are no longer of reproductive age) essentially hold our fate in their hands.

Our voices are an imperative part of these dialogues, and Choice USA works to make them heard. During Netroots Nation, the organization’s executive and field directors Kierra Johnson and Mari Shimmer facilitated a Youth Caucus for conference attendees. After situating ourselves in a tiny convention hall containing a handful of circular tables, we worked in small groups to answer questions about the assets, weaknesses, and challenges that are unique to our generation.

Because many of those who attended the Youth Caucus were between the ages of 16 and 35, a safe space was being fostered for young activists to talk among ourselves about the issues we face without fear of being talked over or ignored by those from other generations–a rarity. Whether you’re working in grassroots activism or the media, that resistance is reality. Inter-generational mudslinging is not a problem because it simply hurts Millennials’ feelings; it’s a problem because it derails the progressive work that we’re all trying to get accomplished. Fighting among ourselves only benefits our opponents.

Gatherings like Choice USA’s Youth Caucus are critical at conferences like Netroots where young people are the minority. We Millennials are painfully aware of the unfavorable light in which Silents, Baby Boomers, and even Gen Xers often view us. In 2006, Jean Twenge wrote Generation Me, a 300-page work of nonfiction about how narcissistic, egotistical, and entitled we are in comparison to previous generations. Last year, Derek Thompson and Jordan Weissman put our generation on full-blast in an article in The Atlantic in which the duo wrote the diss, “If the Millennials are not quite a post-­driving and post-owning generation, they’ll almost certainly be a less-­driving and less-­owning generation.”

Via The Atlantic

Less-owning. Narcissistic. Egotistic. Other choice adjectives to describe Millennials have included but aren’t limited to: Instantly-gratifying. Shortly attentive. Immature. Nostalgic. Fame whoring. Wired.

And here’s the thing: They’re right.

One of the ideas borne out of my group at the Youth Caucus is that every negative trait thrust on Millennials is 125% valid. However, what previous generations will not tell you is that–with every stereotype they’ve placed upon us–there is an equal and opposite one.

Consider this the Millennial Law Of Motion, if you will.

When our generation is deemed instantly gratifying, what this also means is that we’re faster. When we’re picked apart for constantly being on our iDevices, it just means that we’re infinitely more tech savvy. Less owning? Less materialistic. Egotistic? Confident in our generation and its ability to survive housing bubble bursts, domestic terrorism, and innumerable political scandals. Immature? We still have our collective sense of humor. Nostalgic? Not only do we keenly remember what it was like before technology, but we’re also able to juxtapose that with how things are today.

And so on.

These stereotypes were born out of insecurity that Millennials might just be the best and brightest generation yet. While working in a group, we realized that–rather than wasting our energy debunking generational stereotypes–we should be embracing them as strengths in our activism.

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