Millennials have grown up in a time when the lines between science and fiction, advertising and journalism, and culture and irony, just to name a few, are blurry at best. To save ourselves, we’re retreating to the margins and between the lines of corporate domination to seek the authenticity that’s steadily slipping away from our daily experience. Almost universally, we are craving something real, essential; something that comes without strings – something non-advertorial (or at least subtle enough to let us think otherwise). We’re sick of being sold to in the traditional, mass consumption, new-better-more way that is western capitalism’s modern trademark.
Nearly every Millennial trend reflects this: From the popularity of artisanal and local products, to the culinary flight toward organic, whole, “clean”, or exotic (read: untainted by chemicals and mass production) meals. It extends to our social sphere too: we are the internet generation: creators and users of Facebook and Twitter. We are the crowd-source, crowd-fund and DIY generation, too: Etsy, Kickstarter, Uber, AirBnB show off Millenials’ more cooperative and self-starting tendencies. While it’s likely that every generation has the desire and will to shake up the old way of doing things, Millennials are actually different, because we have a powerful tool never before seen on planet Earth: a massive network of info centralization and dissemination, global and largely open-source. We have the Internet, and we can and do use it for social purposes: for connection, social justice, news-sharing and organizing. This fact truly is, and will continue to be, changing everything substantially. One of the first issues up on the chopping block: Politics as Usual.
For members of this typically politically disengaged group, the usual reaction to election season is to groan, give a good eye-roll and slowly become increasingly fed-up with the constant media onslaught of gaffes, attack ads, racist/sexist headlines and other outrageously petty and stupid behavior from the people who are supposed to be (or are trying to be) our leaders. It’s the same as last time, and the same as it ever was. As seekers of authenticity, Millennials are beyond jaded with this political song and dance; and as a group of young people who are more educated, more unemployed and under-employed, more in debt and poorer than those previous, we don’t have time or patience to listen to political squabbling. We just want straightforward answers, and our bullshit detectors are exceptionally finely tuned.
That’s why this election season’s happenings are so utterly surprising to anyone that’s paying attention: Millennials are starting to give a shit, and when that happens, huge change is not long to follow (if you don’t think so, look at how quickly the social landscape shifted recently: before 2013, establishment Powerhouses, even Democrats like Hillary Clinton, were politically safe opposing same-sex marriage. Then Millennials spoke up, and by 2015 we’ve not just made opposition to same-sex rights political suicide; we’ve legalized same-sex marriage).
It seems so far that only one candidate in the millennial memory has recognized this political zeitgeist for what it is and stepped up: Bernie Sanders. As a local organizer in my city (which, at this time, does not even have an official campaign office — it’s all handled by a set of incredibly dedicated and enthusiastic local volunteers) I attend and organize events for and with other Millennials; and the genuine, ground-level enthusiasm for Bernie Sanders’ campaign is honestly jaw-dropping. The level of interest, commitment, excitement and engagement is unprecedented in recent memory. Because here’s the thing: Sanders is, essentially, the hand-crafted, artisanal, organic candidate in a simple and un-fussy package, for those of us who are as thoroughly disgusted by canned politicians as we are by canned whole chicken (ew).
Sanders stand apart from the milieu of pushy corporate candidates specifically because his campaign resonates with both the concerns and methods that Millennials hold dear to their hearts. His platform is based on cooperative rather than divisive rhetoric, and his campaign is run in an accordingly populist and open manner that hooks Millennials’ trust: such as grassroots activism and crowd-sourced funding. In short, Sanders has a resource that other candidates not only don’t have, but can’t contrive: his financial independence from corporate interests leaves him free to offer something real, organic and relatively unfettered by political strings, and nothing at all is more important to young voters who find themselves in a crisis of authenticity.
Sanders has been spades smarter than his opponents both in the current election and the past by paying attention to, and recognizing the power for change that that honesty and authenticity offers. His laser-focus on issues and issues alone, (watch him shut down Bill O’Reilly’s attempt to suck him into the vortex of stupidity that is The O’Reilly Factor) and absolute and utter refusal to engage in attacks, answer frivolous questions about his hair, or participate in any other aspect of the political bread-and-circus that has itself become a wonderful example of the shrinking distinction between serious public discourse and ironic media spectacle.
It’s no wonder Millennials are famously apathetic voters – their collective votes could vastly alter the outcome of an election. Unlocking those votes is the key to this election, and the key to unlocking those votes is really, really, simple: Be. Real. Bernie Sanders has this figured out, and so far he’s the only one. So keep your eyes peeled: Things are about to get really interesting.