By Luis Ruiz Dominguez
Mothers, children and workers were loudly chanting across the street from Rodman Serrano’s bus stop in North Bayshore, Long Island. They caught his attention and he decided to cross the street to listen to them, missing his ride to school. “It was the first time I saw a protest where I live so it was very special to me,” Serrano, a volunteer at Make the Road New York, said.
Seeing people speak out about the issues impacting them made Serrano want to take action himself. He began volunteering at Make the Road New York, an organization whose goal is to “build the power of Latino and working class communities to achieve dignity and justice through organizing, policy innovation, transformative education and survival services,” according to their website.
“I started becoming more active in my community that it is predominantly an undocumented Salvadoran community,” Serrano said. “These are workers, parents and students who are undocumented and face abuses from their bosses, the police or even from a school system that isn’t sensitive to their needs.”
Since then, Serrano has become a dedicated political activist. His goal is to speak on the behalf of those who are afraid to or cannot because of their immigration status in the U.S. He is one of many millennials that are becoming more active and outspoken on issues that they are passionate about.
For many millennials, the 2016 presidential election was a turning point that provoked them to get involved in politics. For many others, the election pushed them to aim to have a larger impact on a bigger scale.
“They can volunteer, they can stay educated and informed, they can be activists organizers and protestors,” Josh J. Jamieson, Communications Director for NYC Council Member Ben Kallos, said. “The point is to not become apathetic. This is a paramount time in American history, pay attention and fight for what’s yours.”
At 23, Josh Lazafan became the youngest public servant in New York State and will serve as a legislator for the 18th District for the Nassau County Legislature. He is no stranger to being the youngest among his colleagues; in 2012, he became the youngest elected official in New York State when he was voted to the Syosset Board of Education at 18 years-old.
“It is important to have young people elected to office because it gives hope to the other youth that have interest in politics to also run for office in their community,” Joseph Sarno, President of Huntington Young Democrats, said. “Lazafan has been a role model for many young people that have volunteered on his campaign.”
In 2018 millennials will pass baby boomers as the largest generation of Americans eligible to vote, according to the Center for American Progress. This change could reshape the political balance of power towards liberalism as millennials are increasingly identifying as liberal Democrats.
“I have seen more young people join the Democratic Party,” Kathleen Tobin, 13th Assembly District Leader for the Conservative Party of Nassau County, said. “The Republican and Conservative membership is not as popular with the millennials as far as I can tell.”
The potential change in the shift of power from baby boomers to millennials due to voter turnout could end the dominance the boomers have had for four decades as the biggest generation of Americans eligible to vote. However, despite having more numbers, data shows that millennials still had a lower voter turnout than baby boomers in the most recent election.
“It is important for young people to understand that their voice matters,” Sarno said. “In order to make real change for progressive issues, young people need to get involved, stay involved and vote, otherwise nothing will ever change.”
Younger generations have consistently had the lowest voter turnout in history, but they are actively finding new ways to engage in political issues and inform themselves on current news. From volunteering in campaigns to actively voting, millennials want to have their voices heard so change can begin to occur.
“It is important for young people to be involved in politics, especially if they can’t vote yet,” Jake Vincel, a millennial activist and voter, said. “The skill of engaging in constructive political dialogue is valuable, particularly in times of political unrest.”
President Donald J. Trump’s executive orders and policies have been heavily protested and fought in court. Millennials have taken it upon themselves to fight back in an era of political distress. “It is great that more millennials are getting involved, it is the only way for progressive values to rise to the top,” Jamieson said.
Newsgathering plays a big part in the way millennials stay educated and informed on politics and government. Through social media, millennials are the most connected generation ever and can connect with one another immediately.
69 percent of millennials get news daily from social media websites such as Facebook, while 85 percent say that keeping up with the news is at least somewhat important to them, according to research by the American Press Institute and the AP-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.
Social media has also played a big part in the way campaigns are run because more people are being reached simultaneously through such outlets and candidates are reaching the younger population through a platform that they are comfortable using. “Social media is by far the latest and greatest, as far as innovations to campaigning goes,” Tobin said.
Change, however, cannot occur if millennials continue to not turn out for elections. “I believe that if you want to see a change to happen, you can’t just sit back and expect it to be done by someone else,” Sarno said.
Some millennials are directly affected by policies and decisions that are being set in place. Because of this, many have taken it upon themselves to be more active through activism and by strongly fighting back and trying to make the world a better place.
“I’m being reminded every day of what’s at stake because I have family members and friends who are undocumented,” Serrano said. “It’s my responsibility to use my education and what I’ve learned to try to make a positive impact otherwise I’m just being selfish.”