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SparkAction  September 21, 2011


Millennial Momentum: What's in Store?

By Alison Beth Waldman


To look at Michael D. Hais and Morley Winograd—two jolly, middle-aged men in snazzy suits—you wouldn't immediately assume they are two of the most prominent, recognized and brilliant writers about the Millennial generation. But in my view, they certainly are.
My colleague Tara and I spent an afternoon last week with them, hanging at the offices of NDN, a left-leaning advocacy think tank, for the launch of their new book, Millennial Momentum: How A New Generation is Remaking America.
Mike and Morley's 2008 book Millennial Makeover: MySpace, YouTube, and the Future of American Politics was named as one of The New York Times' ten favorite books of the year. (So yeah, they're legit.)
Referencing baseball legends and rap songs, the authors sounded genuinely connected to our Millennial culture. Their stories and bits of data led to a fascinating discussion about the power of the Millennial generation—a generation that will soon warm the seats of Congressional and CEO suites. 
And although it was a left-leaning venue, Millennials are not necessarily left leaning as a whole. They're a diverse group.
So, what's the deal with Millennials? Mike and Morley frequently use these words to describe the generation: sheltered, confident, "treated as special," team-oriented, high-achieving, pressured and conventional. 
Conventional? As a Millennial, I was interested to hear my generation defined this way. After all, I can't really imagine life any other way.
Millennials' political affiliations in the United States differ from past generations. Mike and Morley explained that as a whole, Americans are divided along a spectrum between strongly liberal and strongly conservative.  However, at closer look, Americans simultaneously embody preferences of two ideal approaches: conservative in ideology, but liberal in programs.  In other words, we want to operate under the idea that we are free to make our own decisions, say whatever we want, and not live lives puppets of the government.  At the same time, American has formed in the frame of helping each other out, and ensuring that racial and religious minorities, those in poverty, and children aren't left to fend for themselves when put in unfortunate circumstances due to elements outside their power. Channeling a happy medium between these two ideologies is where political parties, both moderate and radical, form their plaforms.
So how can Millennials help achieve that balance in a deeply divided world? I'll give you a hint: they rely on their team-oriented habits, and aren't likely to change that when they are in positions of power.  I guess we'll all have to read the book to find out more.
Another thought-provoking segment of their argument: every so often—every 80 years or so—America reasseses our collective values and redefines our social contract. These "civic ethos" debates shape our policies and approaches for the next several decades. Right now, it's fair to say, we're in one of those moments—and the Millennials, the largest generation to date, have a shot at helping define our ethos.
This is not the first time America has ben deeply divided.  Mike and Morley point to periods in our history from the Revolutionary War and the Civil War to the Great Depression. These times typically begin with a rising sense of fear, uncertainty and doubt among citizens. Sound familiar? If you buy the 80-year-cycle theory, we're due for our next civic ethos crisis in 2011.
These debates are not quick ones.  Mike and Morley say they usually take about ten years to run their course.  If history is a guide, Progressives, Independents, tea-party Conservatives, and everyone in between will be playing tug-of-war over modern politics for the rest of the decade.
Are these debates a good or a bad thing for America?  Is it good that we take a step back and evaluate the traditions we have lived by, and the foundations on which our country was built? Or do these debates only lead to unnecessary generational and partisan divides that push compromise to a seemingly impossible place? 
As a Millennial, I'm not sure. What I do know, though, is that this time around, my generation is at the center of it all.  Mike and Morley offer an energizing call-to-arms for my generation to help ensure our country doesn't crumble into the gulf that is growing between segments of our society. I left the book launch feeling invigorated, which in these tense partisan times is no small feat. Big props to Mike and Morley! 
But don't settle for my Cliff's notes here. Read the book for yourself and let me know what you think. It's at your local library, or you can order it online (and check out the book's website).


Original Sparkaction article is here.


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