We millennials showed up at the polls because we’re tired of the status quo

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Millennial voters voted at a higher rate in the 2022 general election than some experts predicted.

Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times file

There has been considerable speculation about the surprisingly high engagement of millennial voters in the midterm election. Pundits are considering why their staunch predictions about a red wave failed to materialize, as they evaluate for whom this election might have the greatest impact.

We millennials may not be certain about what the future holds. But we are clear about the past — and we are not eager to travel backward in time or give up the hard-won victories of previous generations.

It wasn’t rage that fueled our enthusiasm to vote. I contend it was more akin to a recalibration, and that this millennial reckoning is not just a short-term data point.

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Just like the Baby Boomers left their mark in the 1960s and the decades following, we millennials will have that same focus on political engagement throughout this century.

Two weeks ago, my husband and I went to see “Punch 9,” the film that documents Harold Washington’s historic rise and the movement of diverse civic engagement. While we were in the theater lobby, we ran into former alderperson, activist and radio host Cliff Kelley, who was visibly emotional from the movie’s recounting of his old friend’s pioneering life. I, too, left the theater yearning to be transported back to that time.

The movie made me think of my grandparents. Then young college coeds, they sat at lunch counters, with the goal of contributing to integration of the Appalachian region. A generation later, my father shattered a glass ceiling by becoming an auto industry executive, while my mother rallied her peers around reproductive rights for Black and brown women.

My grandparents and parents were trailblazers. But despite their achievements, the same rights they fought for — social equality, employment opportunity, reproductive rights — have resurfaced today. They were on the minds of voters when they cast their ballots in the Nov. 8 election.

In Chicago, millennials comprised 34 % of the voter turnout, a sign that young adults have embraced their agency and their ability to stand up for rights and opportunity. They are not willing to cancel the gains they now enjoy.

We are driven, which is not the usual stereotype typically assigned to us. As millennials, we have seen 9/11, the housing crash, skyrocketing student loan debt, a global pandemic, rampant gun violence and now the rise of right-wing extremism and fascism here in America and abroad.

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Our voter turnout on Nov. 8 is evidence of our impatience and fatigue with the status quo – and determination to bring about positive change.

Next up is the city’s mayoral and municipal elections in February; the outcome will shape our day-to-day lives. From clean streets to police brutality, millennials care about the issues. Our voice and our vote will reflect our values.

The candidates who acknowledge the millennial vote and design solutions to address the challenges we care about, such as investing in improving the lives of the most vulnerable, will earn our vote and our confidence.

We are looking for that potent blend of clarity, audacity and coalition building, just like that of former President Barack Obama. His leadership was an example of that “secret sauce,” and we now know it when we see it in others.

The ballot box is a channel for change. When we use it, we honor Fannie Lou Hamer and other tireless individuals to whom we owe so much, including the inspiration to be our best selves.

Many millennials have found a fountain of strength, stamina and unapologetic audacity to make the world better by voting, despite the obstacles.

Alexandra P. Sims is president of APS & Associates and founder of Black Bench Chicago.

The Sun-Times welcomes letters to the editor and op-eds. See our guidelines.

The views and opinions expressed by contributors are their own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Chicago Sun-Times or any of its affiliates.

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November 19, 2022 at 04:06AM

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