An Open Letter to Millennials and a Call to Action

I first noticed you across a crowded room. A convention center actually, where thousands of you turned out to support a most atypical candidate for President of the United States. The candidate is not particularly charismatic or polished in the way we’ve come to expect our aspiring presidents to be, but that did not deter you. You were clearly listening to the message, to the values he expressed. And I was impressed. Encouraged. Okay, let’s be honest; I was exhilarated. Not just by the message delivered by the speaker, but by the message conveyed by your presence in such huge numbers and with such energy and passion. This is where I first took serious notice of you and I’ve been watching you ever since.

You, as a generation, are atypical yourselves. You are the most educated generation so far, and the most diverse. Both details give me cause for optimism, even in these less-than-optimistic times. And I think perhaps your generation and my own (I am a Boomer) have more in common that you might think.

My generation stopped a war, unseated a president, started two civil rights movements, and launched a sexual revolution. I have witnessed firsthand what a sustained, robust social movement can do. It can dramatically shift the direction and the priorities of a society. It happened in the 60’s and 70’s when circumstances were such that young people rejected the status quo. It can happen again. In that era, we too had an endless and unpopular war fueled by lies and propaganda; we had police brutality and abuse of African American citizens; we had a president and a Congress that did not represent the will of the people, and we had courageous activists and whistleblowers who insured that we knew it.

Today, regrettably, many of those same conditions exist, and some of those conditions have grown worse. Today we have multiple unpopular wars “justified” by propaganda and lies. Today African Americans are not just beaten by police; they are killed in our streets. Today we again have a government that is unresponsive to the will of the people. We also have today a number of issues that were not part of that earlier revolution: climate change; soaring college costs; elections that can be bought (or stolen); and an unsustainable imbalance in wealth and income. Circumstances have, again, become intolerable, and I truly believe that your generation has the courage, the commitment and the capacity to once again shift our society in new and better directions. But it won’t be easy so steel yourselves for a fight. The forces against you are entrenched and armed; they have much to lose. But so do we.

Our two generations –Millennials and Boomers – are the biggest demographic blocs today, 28% and 23% of the population, respectively. We have the numbers and we have the power, if we use it. In the upcoming elections, we, and especially you, have the most to gain and the most to lose. If we continue to ignore human-caused climate change, what will that mean for you and your children? If we continue to allow extreme income inequality, what will that mean for the future stability of this country (and the world)? If we continue to allow our elections to be bought, what will that mean for democracy? If we continue to burden young people with college debt and handicap their career prospects after graduation, what does that mean for future prosperity? We have ignored too long these, and other, pressing issues. We have allowed too long the status quo to constrain our options and our opportunities. 2016 is our best (our last?) chance to reverse the course of our country.

It has been said that when people fear their government, you have tyranny; when the government fears the people, you have liberty.

It is time to reclaim our liberty.

7 Tips for Efficient Consumption of News for the Millennial Voter

Mark Twain said, “If you don’t read the newspaper, you’re uninformed. If you do read the newspaper, you’re mis-informed.” While humorous, this not entirely untrue. What follows are some strategies for consuming news with a critical eye — and a sense of humor.

 1.  Cast a wide net.

  • Do not rely on cable news. This is not news. It is theater, spectacle, talking heads and spin.
  • If the news is of national significance in the U.S., explore how it is covered in the international press. Check international news sources such as the BBC, The Guardian, Al Jazeera, Der Spiegel, Reuters.
  • Read blogs and opinion/commentary by educated, informed observers from various points of view.
  • Read alternative sources of news. News has become highly consolidated in the past 30 years. Today, 90% of news organizations are owned by just 6 corporations. This makes it more important than ever before to seek out alternative news sources, nonprofit entities that are not beholden to shareholders or advertisers, such as ProPublica, The Center for Investigative Reporting, Media Channel, Fair Warning, Grist, Health News Review, Free Speech TV, and Remapping Debate.
  • Check sites like Project Censored: The News that Didn’t Make the News to further expand your awareness.

2.  Fact Check! You do not need to fact check every news story, but certainly you will want to fact check those that affect you personally — e.g., those that impact or inform your voting decisions, purchase and investment decisions, education, health, parenting, and retirement decisions.

You don’t have to do all the work yourself. There are several respected and reputable non-partisan, non-profit organizations devoted to fact checking. For leads to some of these, see 7 links for voters and news consumers at top right of this blog. Many newspapers also offer this as a regular feature, including the Arizona Republic.

3.  Laugh! 

I offer this advice to both extremes: the news junkies and the news phobic. Watching or reading satirical  or “soft news”(Jon Stewart; Stephen Colbert; P.J. O”Rourke) can lend levity to the news addict’s over-consumption of news while increasing general news awareness in the news averse. As with all satire, it is best appreciated when one is familiar with what is being satirized, but nonetheless there is something here for even those who are not up-to-date with the news of the day.

4.  Re: candidates for elected office:

  • Do not rely on label or libel. Cast a cynical eye on all allegations made by the candidate’s opponents.
  • Instead, listen to what the candidate actually says. Then check that candidate’s record to see if it is consistent with his/her campaign rhetoric. Does s/he walk the talk? Check each candidate’s voting record on issues you find important. Go to http://votesmart.org for details on each office holder’s record. Many candidates are running for re-election or for a different office than the one they currently hold. However, if a candidate is not already in office, it may be harder to get this information.
  • Check to see who is providing financial support for the candidate. What is the source of his/her funding? Is it large banks or labor unions? Pharmaceutical companies or  environmental organizations? This detail might offer a glimpse into where the successful candidate might focus his/her allegiance once in office. Visit http://www.opensecrets.org/pres16 to see Campaign & Outside Committees; Lobbyist Donors; Super PAC Donors; and Financial Disclosures. For similar information on individual states, see The National Institute on Money in State Politics. This site tracks “political donations and their influence in all fifty states.

5.  Resist the temptation to be a single-issue voter. 

No matter how passionate you are about gun rights, the environment, abortion, or gay rights, consider each candidate’s full record before deciding who to support. There are many important issues, and candidates have been known to change position on a given issue. Identify several issues (at least 3 or 4) that matter most to you, then research which candidates best match your stance on those issues. Again, http://votesmart.org is a good site for this kind of information.

6.  Managing Information Overload

Use available tools to streamline news access and exposure. Set alerts on topics of ongoing interest, and use RSS feeds to keep up with preferred news aggregators. However, be aware of restricting your news too narrowly. You may have set limits in various social media that will limit your exposure to news. In addition, a search engine’s algorithms may profile you in order to feed you the news that it determines you want to hear or see. Make an effort to overcome these limits while still maintaining some control over the flood of news that comes your way. Yes, it is a balancing act, but with practice and persistence, you can refine it enough to fit your needs.

7.   Contextualizing and framing the news

Take advantage of opportunities to interact with and to rank/rate news stories by sharing, posting a comment, giving a thumbs up or thumbs down. This strategy might help your news-phobic friends take notice. If they see that you found a particular piece of news noteworthy, they might take a second look based on the weight of your recommendation.