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Fighting political apathy in millennials

Tuesday, April 11, Rollins hosted a panel titled Entrepreneurship and Politics in the 21st Century, which was accompanied by California’s District 15 Congressman Eric Swalwell and Florida’s very own District 7 Congresswoman Stephanie Murphy.  As advertised, the panel centered on issues faced by the twenty-first century generation, especially in civic engagement, standard of living, and politics. The predominant question was “how can we engage millennials?” Swalwell, in fact, forms part of Future Forum, an organization operating so far in 38 cities with the aim of understanding the concerns of millennials and youth.

Millennials, individualistic as we are, have lost touch with the fervent sense of belonging political parties used to inspire. Congresswoman Murphy describes it as, “They’re looking at the Democratic party and the Republican party and saying ‘neither of those groups represents who I am.’”

Much of this stems from the pressure to find a well-paying while fulfilling career. “The prospects out there for work are changing every day,” says Swalwell. “The pillars of the American Dream…starting a family, buying a home…they seem farther and farther out of reach.” What are the possible new pillars, then?

The majority of the discussion followed an interactive exercise conducted by the moderator, in which audience members texted their responses to the question “What issue concerns you the most right now?” and saw their responses on a visually artistic and deeply distracting array behind the speakers.

Education quickly took precedence as the most agreed-upon issue, and the cost of it in particular was addressed. The speakers asked for a show of hands as to how many students in the room expected to be dealing with at least $50,000 of debt from loans, and few hands remained lowered. “Student debt really hold[s] so many people back. What we’re trying to do in Congress is refinance student debt,” explains Congressman Swalwell. “A lot of people are seeing what careers they go into based on their debt.” Housing prices are no minor concern either. “I want to make enough that I can graduate and actually afford an apartment in DC,” admits current SGA president Matthew Cassidy ‘17.

The fate of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) also appeared to keep millennials awake at night. The US presidential administration has recently made drastic cuts to the EPA’s budget, foreshadowing future environmental disaster to many. Murphy assured the public, however, that this does not mean the definite sinking of the Floridian peninsula underwater.

“We have bills out there addressing the Everglades, water issues…despite the wishes of the administration.” Swalwell notes that the tension concerning environmental protection often stems from workers in professions such as mining, who feel that environmental concerns risk costing them their jobs. “We’re going to make investments in clean-energy jobs. I think we can put people to work and still keep water and air clean without attacking anyone’s job.”

Congresswoman Murphy recounted her own family’s immigrant past when the topic moved to immigration. “At the time,” she recalls, “the idea of Vietnamese refugees was polling negatively in the US, at 66% against. Despite this, President Carter raised the number of refugees allowed into the United States.”

To this, Murphy attributed much of her subsequent patriotism.  “Nothing would be more powerful than to stand with our Jordanian allies, our Israeli allies, our Turkish allies, and say we’re fighting [terrorism] together.”

It’s refreshing to see that women’s issues ranked among these primary concerns. Congresswoman Murphy acknowledged the underrepresentation of women in the political boardrooms. “We see a tragically low number of women in these areas,” she said.

Swalwell added that “A young woman should be able to look at her mom and see that she had those opportunities, and that she does.” Theirs was a call for women to engage more in the political scene, where they are sorely needed.

“What can we do to help on the national scene?” asked one audience member towards the end. It is only fair to acknowledge that the panel concerns what millennials can do for the nation just as much as what can be done for us.

“We’re able to listen to young people, to listen to them, but we need to hear them first,” Swalwell explained. In that spirit, Swalwell provided us with his Twitter and Snapchat that we might offer to him ideas and dialogue, @repswalwell. Murphy’s own Twitter is titled @repstephmurphy.

It only seems fair that we millennials get busy, then.

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