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The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.
By Selena Martinez
May 27, 2016
When President Barack Obama won the presidential election on Nov. 4, 2008, and delivered his victory speech in Chicago’s Grant Park, I was overwhelmed with emotion, inspired and incredibly hopeful. His speech still gives me goosebumps. As a millennial (b. 1983) voting for President Obama, I believed in an America renewed and basked in the idea of history in the making when President Obama said, “… because of what we did on this date in this election at this defining moment, change has come to America.” I remember that energy and believing that if we could come together and make our voices heard, amazing results can be achieved.
President Obama ran on platform of hope and change, making a path forward and breaking down barriers of social inequity. He championed ambitious legislation—but received stark push back. President Obama is still urging Congress to pass legislation that includes increases to the federal minimum wage, equal pay for women, federal paid parental leave, free college tuition and an aggressive climate change policy. Let us not forget his efforts to reform health care. Republicans recently made their 62nd attempt to repeal the Affordable Care Act.
One of President Obama’s consistent messages has been the notion of shared contribution, responsibility and equality—that “…this country does best when everyone gets their fair shot, does their fair share, and everyone plays by the same set of rules.” Yet, it has become increasingly apparent to me that the rules are not the same for everyone. People who do their fair share and work hard are not doing any better. The minimum wage has been stagnant for several decades while the cost of living continues to increase. The working poor have been demanding a $15 minimum wage. As an example of the severe social inequalities in this country, the Gini Coefficient (which provides an index to measure inequality) recently ranked San Francisco between Rwanda and Guatemala.
The lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community, women and people of color are also facing continued opposition. In conservative states, abortion restrictions are becoming tighter, religious freedom laws have been passed to discriminate against same-sex couples and transgender people and the Supreme Court struck down a central part of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Videos of police brutality against people of color further demonstrates our social divide. The Obama Era, as symbolic as his presidency has been, reveals that America still has a way to go in its quest toward a more “perfect and equal union.”
It is clear there are myriad social equity issues facing our nation. Sometimes, it can feel as if the progress we have made is going up in smoke. Yet, our biggest hope must lie with millennials. We are growing in number and by 2020 will make up 50 percent of the workforce. However, we are growing evermore wary of politicians. According to Wagner, six in 10 millennials think elected officials are motivated by selfish reasons. Fournier wrote that millennials do not trust government to solve their problems and reject the idea of entering public service unless they can radically can change it. This demographic is the most ethnically diverse group and thus more tolerant. We expect our leaders to be transparent and inclusive. We are also well-educated and want to feel that our contributions matter, as noted by Kuhl.
I am unlike most millennials. I still believe we can have an impact on our government and society. If we want to radically change Washington, we have to be a part of this imperfect system and change it from within. Why? Look at composition of the 114th Congress. Currently there are seven open LGBT members serving. According to Roll Call, nine percent are under the age of 40, 18 percent are women and 15 percent are nonwhite. How can we, as an ever changing demographic, have an impact on society if we are not equally represented in the current system? If we choose a path of public service, we can radically re-write the rules that govern our democracy. The future is up to us.
Our problems cannot be solved by individuals or government alone. It is going to take all stakeholders, including private sector partnerships with government and more nonprofits that help encourage civic participation, such as Code for America. As I am reminded by Obama’s victory speech, “It can’t happen without you… so let us summon a new spirit of patriotism, of responsibility, where each of us resolves to pitch in and work harder and look after not only ourselves but each other.” I believe now is an exciting time of endless opportunities to create a new and an inclusive America.
Author: Selena Martinez is currently pursuing her MBA and MPA in sustainability management at Presidio Graduate School. She received a B.S. in Cellular Biology from the University of California, Davis. She has given numerous talks and organized with nonprofit and for-profit organization in the field of medical genetics to raise awareness of hereditary colon cancer conditions. Email: [email protected]