Based on stereotype alone, twenty-somethings are far more interested in tweeting about safe spaces than actually doing the hard work of inspiring political change. Though this idea is grossly oversimplified, there is, unfortunately, a kernel of truth to this characterization. Many millennials recognize how social issues affect their day-to-day lives, but feel disengaged from the mechanics of the political process. This phenomenon, however, could be changing — the U.S. Census Bureau found that even though 18-29 year-olds are still the least likely age group to vote, they are the only age group to see voting rates increase since 2012. The need for more young people to be more involved in government still exists, however. It is important to vote and stay informed on relevant local issues. It is also essential for more young people to donate their time to local campaigns. In fact, this kind of volunteering may be the most valuable and impactful way an individual can serve the community.
For many, the dirty work of politics feels like the antithesis of the altruism of community service. Compromise is an inherent part of politics and it’s difficult for most people to find a candidate who exactly matches their personal beliefs. In an increasingly bitter and divisive political climate, avoiding the issue altogether can feel like both adopting the most sensible option and taking the moral high ground.
This reluctance is understandable, but it has real consequences for communities. Federal, state and local policies have a profound impact on everyone’s day-to-day lives, especially members of marginalized communities. All types of advocacy work are affected, both directly and indirectly, by the decisions of lawmakers. While the work of nonprofit organizations brings valuable contributions to society, their work is limited without the support of politicians who are willing to make lasting reform. It is great to lend a hand at a homeless shelter, but it is also important to elect representatives willing to raise the minimum wage and reduce poverty throughout the state. Local schools can always use passionate volunteers, but they could also use more funding. Many volunteers provide necessary service to Utah patients, but we should all be asking why the legislature is voting against the voter-approved plan to expand Medicaid.
In this particularly consequential time in American history, nobody has the option of complacency. It is important for bright, idealistic young people to lend their time and talents to help elect ethical leaders or lobby for necessary works of legislation. You don’t have to be a politics junkie to participate in this process — it is valuable for people with a wide variety of interests to lend their expertise. College students are particularly well-equipped to volunteer on political campaigns. College is a time for students to become engaged with the community and with the world at large, and students provide a valuable perspective to potential candidates. Plus, every area of study is associated with specific policy issues and vital political debates.
Like many Americans, I am disturbed by the infiltration of corporate interests at all levels of the political process. A government that exclusively caters to the wealthy and powerful undermines democratic principles and impedes genuine progress. To counteract this trend, everyday people must sacrifice their own time and money to politicians who are willing to listen to everyday people. While it can seem impossible to fight against the will of wealthy donors, grassroots movements can push back and represent the actual will of the people. These movements can only move forward with the support of large groups of volunteers working at the local level.
Obviously, most of us are not able to work full-time on a campaign or track every major piece of legislation. Luckily, there are lots of little ways everyone can volunteer their time. On any major issue, multiple advocacy groups work to lobby legislators and push for reforms. During the election season, campaigns rely on volunteers to talk with voters and ask for donations. The Andrew Goodman Foundation pushes for young voters to get involved on campus with initiatives like voter registration and leadership training. Much of this work can be difficult, and at times it seems like there is little payoff. But young people have a tremendous opportunity to inspire change that will last for generations to come. To truly engage with our communities, we must treat politics as a tool, not an impediment.