On May 3, 2016, Democratic primary candidate Bernie Sanders convinced the group with the lowest civic engagement to vote for a progressive and inclusive America. Less than a fifth of Indiana's Democratic Primary voters were under 30. But as Bernie and (for the time being) Mike Pence have exited from Indiana's political sphere, so have the majority of millennial progressives.
What is troubling about young people not paying attention to local elections? On the surface, it may seem like a lost cause. Why waste valuable money and time on such a volatile demographic? It's no surprise that young people historically have lower voting rates than their older cohorts. It makes sense that older generations prioritize voting and make more of an effort to be informed about candidates, especially in a local background where there's a higher chance they know someone running. This is evident if you attend any phone-banking event or canvass.
In an effort to gather more insight, I surveyed a freshman English class at my school. Even if some of them were out of state, they could tell me something about Indiana politics — in the past year and a half Indiana and its governor have made national news countless times, specifically with 2015's Religious Freedom Restoration Act and again in May with a restrictive abortion bill. Our governor's controversial policies were never out of media focus when Trump picked him as his running mate in July.
But no one could correctly tell me who was running for governor, let alone any policies. "Mike Pence, not sure," wrote one person. Another didn't even know that the governor's race was this year. For clarification, Republican Lt. Governor Eric Holcomb and Democrat John Gregg are the gubernatorial candidates this year. Rex Bell is the Libertarian candidate.
Shocking, considering millennials of the past few years have shown they are highly engaged. They care about progressive topics like corporate greed, student debt, racial injustice, reproductive rights, LGBTQ+ rights and climate change. Even if they are not voting, the most progressive movements of the past decade are filled with college kids and recent grads. I remember lying on a busy street in the winter with dozens of my friends at a Black Lives Matter student demonstration, a minute for every hour that Michael Brown's body was left on the street. Planned Parenthood has a whole young activist sect of their organization for millennials. College kids regularly lobby D.C. representatives about reproductive rights and better healthcare for lower-class families. Their slogan is "We are the Planned Parenthood Generation."
Think again of the Bernie Sanders movement a few months ago. He came and went out of this election like the political version of Pokemon Go. His anti-establishment rhetoric and unwavering promise of sociopolitical reform made an impact — on Indy college kids and on Hillary Clinton's campaign. Dozens of Bernie Sanders bumper stickers can still be seen on Indianapolis campuses. A line of some 2,000 students wrapped all the way around Purdue's massive recreational center in the frigid April morning to hear the senator speak. Later that day at IU, hundreds of students could not get into the auditorium, standing outside and waiting in the rain to hear the senator from Vermont.
This is a powerful generation. This is the most racially diverse generation America has ever seen. Pew Research Center confirmed in April what we've anticipated for a long time — millennials are now the largest generation, overtaking baby boomers by half a million as of 2015. And if that does not entice Indiana campaigns to make a valid effort to win over this demographic, this will bring it closer to home — the millennial generation makes up over a fourth of Indiana's population.
Yes, 25.9 percent statewide (identical rate nationally). And they're all eligible to cast their vote in November, according to Pew Research Center, who says they will range in age group 18-35 this year.Older generations are always saying that "children are the future," but rarely do baby boomers and millennials, the parents and children, actually sit down and discuss how best to meet each other's needs. Both can make allowances. Our current state and local elections are still too conservative and devoid of social justice topics for a majority of left-leaning youth. Indiana progressive leaders need to get with the times and not be afraid to be more vocal on social issues.