Congress is a Retirement Home For Old White Men & That Has to Change
In a country as divided as the United States, at least one thing is for certain: public interest in politics is high, no matter where you come from or how old you are. This past presidential election, the voting booth saw about the same amount of millennials as they did baby boomers. With the election of Donald Trump, it’s safe to say that the country was unhappy with the status quo, wanted a change, and to shake things up in the capital. Fresh perspectives, unpopular opinions, alternative ideas and cultural movements are often credited to younger minds.
White heterosexual men who average at the age of 60 make up 74% of the Senate, and 66% of the House of Representatives. Out of the 100 senators, 21 of them are women, and out of 435 politicians who serve in the U.S. House of Representatives, only 83 are women. While the 115th Congress is the most diverse in history, both chambers are incredibly disproportionate when comparing them to the population. Essentially, the vast majority of people who make decisions that impact the lives of the American people are made by white men who are out of touch with the modern voter.
When looking abroad, it’s interesting to note the countries who differ in this sense. For example, Justin Trudeau who is currently the 23rd Prime Minister of Canada, got elected at the age of 45. Even in France, presidential candidate Emmanuel Macron is under 40.
America needs younger and more diverse voices in politics who can relate to and connect with Generation Y. This generation of young voters is more educated than those of the past, and has sought higher degrees in the hopes of landing a better job than their parents and moving up the socio-economic latter. Instead, they are more often met with student loans that are increasingly more difficult to pay off in a struggling job market. When thinking of movements like Occupy Wall Street or Black Lives Matter, we think of youths; youths who are empowered and emboldened by moral, who see injustice and fight it using their rights as human beings.
The under 30 contingency in the country is more diverse than their parents when it comes to issues such as women’s rights, LGBTQ rights, racism, marijuana, and more. However, marching and tweeting is simply not enough. Political action is required, and not just once every four years.
One need to simply tune into 20 minutes of a senate hearing to see and hear that lack of diversity and the disconnect between the 60+-year-old white males and the millennial population. To connect with the modern world, we clearly need younger voices making political waves. The younger generations of voters need someone inspiring who they can level with in order to keep fighting for change in the country.
Here a few examples of models who are out there, asking tough questions and energizing those around them.
In 2016, Democrat Jewell Jones made history by being elected at the age of 21 to serve as the youngest State Representative in Michigan’s history. Representative Jones utilized his social media presence, particularly on his Instagram account, to mobilize his peers. His hashtag: #HOLLA.
Representing the state of Nevada, we have Yvanna Cancela, a 29-year-old who turned a historically red state blue. Before she was elected as Nevada’s first Latina Senator, Cancela, the daughter of Cuban immigrants, was the youngest political director of the Culinary Workers Union in Las Vegas, made of 57,000 people. The millennial young leader mobilized her state to vote for her, and is now using her voice to fight for working-class families.
Saira Blair, a Republican student and politician, proves that yes, you can do it all. Blair, who is at West Virginia University, made US history in 2014 as the youngest person ever to have been elected to state or federal office at the age of 18. The member of the West Virginia House of Delegates ran for re-election in 2016, and won.
A freshman at Harvard University and the founder of PERIOD, a nonprofit that works to provide clean safe menstrual products, Nadya Okamoto is a force to be reckoned with. The 19-year-old is running for Cambridge City Council, and it comes as no surprise that she is the youngest candidate campaigning to fill one of the nine positions.
“Cambridge is still facing the same issues it’s faced decades ago,” she told Global Citizen. “We’re still facing a lot of problems that I think I can add a lot of fresh perspective to.”
Hopefully, with a vast majority of young people being discontent by the current political turmoil, we’ll see more refreshing, motivating, and stimulating new young politicians in the future who are unhappy with the situation and ready to do something about it.