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Turn On, Tune In, Don't Drop Out



While national news syndicates are busy projecting the exact moment at which millennials will have a significant impact on government affairs, given the lack of participation I see on even the most local levels—the ones where your voice can actually count—I'm not holding out much hope for said takeover.

In the past year of covering various city councils on assignment for a local publication, I have been surprised at the lack of involvement by both the Gen X and millennial crowd.

Regularly scheduled council meetings aside, public participation at town halls is concerning. Though these events are able to put more butts in the seats (unless it's a night with Jason Chaffetz), the age demographic is not representative of our population.

Considering that city councils regularly adopt development plans by thinking 15-plus years into the future, the lack of involvement from the population that will be most affected is concerning. The worry is not mine alone. Many city councils are attempting to make it easier for Gen Xers and millennials to air their views on public transit, roads, master plans, development and green space.

To be fair, as an individual who barely made the start date of being considered a millennial, I tend to live a more Gen X lifestyle. Having first-hand experience of an individual in their 30s with a young family—in addition to the close proximity of my college memories and the nonstop schedule I had as a student—I understand how difficult it is to carve out time.

Recent articles, like one published by The Washington Post titled "Millennials aren't taking over politics just yet," will have you believe the lack of political involvement has more to do with the younger generation needing to "grow up," without taking into account the majority of these individuals are either starting families, climbing the job ladder or in the depths of college study. Regardless of if one has a newborn or is in the midst of finals, the mode in which millenials live is the same—basic survival and complete sleep deprivation.

Some cities are taking into account the over-scheduled lives of the citizens they wish to gain more perspective from. They're attempting to make it easier for these two generations by providing online coverage of council meetings, as well as having active social media pages to keep residents in the loop.

In addition to city attempts to broaden their audience, organizations like Emerging Leaders Initiative (ELI) and Real Women Run (RWR) have embarked on a mission of recruiting a more diverse group of civic leaders.

According to ELI, a local nonprofit dedicated to increasing millennial political involvement, Utah ranks No. 1 in being both the youngest state in the nation, as well as having the fastest growing population. Additionally, ELI reports high percentages of millennials who wish to make a difference in their communities (98 percent), with 88 percent reporting they value community leadership. Yet despite these numbers, in the last general election, only 37 percent of millennials turned out at Utah polls—a statistic ELI hopes to improve.

It's not that the priorities of older generations are ill-intentioned or fuddy-duddy. In fact, I often wish my generational counterparts were at council meetings to hear the experiences of previous generations. It's difficult to plan for a generation that is not part of the decision-making process—but that you can bet money on will voice their annoyance once plans are carried out and paid for.

The notion that one generation should plan what is best for another is flawed simply on the principle that their ideals and priorities are bound to clash. While we should look at the past for guidelines of what did or did not work, and why, the varying life experience from one generation to the next is bound to result in differing priorities and preferences.

If you can't attend meetings, at least try to catch the latest council recording. It might require swapping out a favorite podcast for the week, but will be well worth the time when you realize a project is taking place that you can offer insight to. From there, emailing or calling your local district representative takes mere minutes, and they can be easily accessed on the official website of the city in which you reside.

Community involvement and political process goes beyond the notion that if you didn't vote, you can't complain. If you don't participate at some level—even if it means just showing up for debates on larger-scale projects—your city is unlikely to reflect your needs.

I have been in meetings where residents voice complaints of conspiracy over a project already in the works, without taking any ownership of their inability to attend even one of the five advertised town halls regarding said project. At some point, we need to realize it is not the fault of the city for listening to the voices of those who bothered to show up. That was our bad.

Aspen Perry is a Salt Lake City-based aspiring author and self-proclaimed "philosophical genius." Send feedback to comments@cityweekly.net