This document arose out of frustration as someone who was born in 1981, and who in 2013 can barely make ends meet. I am the daughter of both a child of the Great Depression and of the Civil Rights Movement. I am a woman of the Great Recession in a post-911 and hurricane Katrina world. With this document, I intend to make the right reader angry. I open the Millennial Manifesta to what French cybertheorist Pierre Levy’s calls the collective intelligence, and to anyone else who has a vested interest in workers’ rights and economic sustainability. The Manifesta is far from complete. Do with it as you will. In fact, use it with radical intentions.
From the looks of it, the Millennial generation is broke. Upon graduating from college Millennials face an unemployment rate that is nearly double the national average. A Pew report shows that in 2010, 19% of US households owed on student loan debt, and of those families headed by someone under 35 years-old, 40% owe outstanding amounts on student loan debt. It would appear that Millennials make up nearly half of all student loan debt in the US. Because of low or no employment and rising debt, homeownership and travel are fleeting dreams for most Millennials.
The Millennial generation (or Generation Y) is the most connected and open-to-change generation of all others. We’re comfortable around technology and tend to adapt quickly to social and cultural changes. We are also a participatory generation, everything from our educational praxis to our media consumption practices involve some form of interactivity and collective engagement. Though we consume more than we produce, we tend to buy products because of social group influences and not because of 30-second television commercials or Facebook ads. We’re not so much apathetic as we are stuck trying to process what the hell is going on with our generation. We care about the world, and we want to make it better place, we just haven’t committed ourselves fully and collectively to radically shifting the political structure in the U.S. Despite being open to change, altruistic, adaptable, and strikingly optimistic, we’re poorer than our parents, we’re underemployed and unemployed, and, for many of us, we’re just tired.
Millennials work. We’re no different from any other capable working citizen in a consumer-driven economy. We extend our labor practices across service-producing and knowledge-producing sectors as innovators within creative and working class structures. We hold down two or more jobs while racking up thousands upon thousands of dollars of debt. We confess to our friends that despite it all, we still love what we do. We have our health. We are savvy. We have our books and our Kindles; our CD players and iPods. We have our youth. But what we don’t have is political representation.
Millenials have sat back and watched legislation pass against our interests by a two-party political system described by leaders wherein less than 7% of House members are born after 1978, and 0% of US Senators are born after 1978 .
Until Millennials are committed to organizing politically for fair and livable wages and governing representation we will continue to fight for nuggets, and the generations following us will wonder why we didn’t care enough.
In order to ensure that our generation and the generations that follow do not have to carry the burden of economic collapse, Millennials must demand the following from corporate executives, institutional elites, and elected officials:
Livable wages for labor.
In 1985, Stanley Aronowitz wrote about the failure of the left to devise effective strategies for workers’ rights; one being that unions focused too heavily upon saving jobs rather than fighting to guarantee income and decent livable wages. Aronowitz writes,
“The left and labor are so tied to politics as the art of the possible, so tied to economic expansion as a condition for social justice, so tied to the religious idea of labor as redemptive activity, that they have no alternatives in the face of the stagnation in capital accumulation.”
Millennials must demand that we re-shift our bottom line when it comes to workers’ rights and income inequality. Policy must not only work to create jobs that decrease the national unemployment rate, but also, and most importantly, function so that workers are guaranteed decent wages according to the labor they provide.
Millennials don’t mind paying dues in the workplace so long as we are able to enter into apprenticeship contracts that guarantee full employment and benefits once the apprenticeship has ended. We demand that employers be required by law to follow through with apprenticeship contractual obligations.
Millennials are indeed capable of loving the work we do, so long as we are fairly compensated for our labor. We will no longer accept unpaid internships from companies with over 10 employees. We can no longer accept less than minimum wage for graduate assistantship work at US universities and colleges. We can no longer accept working at US colleges and universities without union representation and/or while working as adjunct faculty without any job security whatsoever.
We will no longer give away our talent and expertise in exchange for free or low-wage labor just for the sake of exposure and experience. If it is our talent, expertise, endurance, and experience you want, even if temporarily, then we demand you pay us a fair wage for our labor.
We can no longer write or produce for free or for exposure. We will entertain a barter system. But if an entity collects profits from advertisements and/or subscriptions, then it is expected that writers and media makers receive something tangible in exchange for our time to construct words, images, music, and arguments.
A United Front
Millennials will not sit back and watch idly as elites, executives, and political leaders take advantage of workers. If a fellow worker and Millennial are being unfairly treated through labor practices, we will call out, boycott, and if necessary, take legal action.
Financial Aid for Students
Millennials make up a large majority of the student population currently enrolled in US colleges and universities. As such, we demand that our government stop cutting financial aid assistance for undergraduate and graduate students while making profits off of the interest rates. Furthermore, university presidents at both private and public institutions should be banned from earning million dollar salaries while these same schools are unable to fully fund its doctoral students.
Loan Forgiveness Restructuring
Millenials demand student loan forgiveness not only for public service workers, but also for workers who start small businesses in economically depressed US cities and rural towns, and who work in non-profit and green economy sectors.
Professional Development for Congress
Millennials demand that every member of Congress take the SNAP Challenge (i.e. living on $4.50 per day) as part of a newly implemented Congressional Professional Development requirement. Perhaps if members of Congress knew what it felt like to depend on a food stamps every month, (as opposed to feeding on steak, vodka, and caviar while on business trips), they would think twice about cutting $40 billion from the program. In the very least, if members of Congress were required to live the SNAP Challenge, in theory, they’d be forced to come up with more creative and effective strategies to ensure that we are taking care of our most vulnerable communities. Many Americans, Millennials or not, are quite literally one paycheck or emergency away from chronic financial instability.
Restructure the US Tax Code
Millennials demand a restructuring of the tax code to ensure that billions of corporate tax dollars are funneled back into the US economy in order to benefit the American working class, and not corporate elites.
Finally, Millennials demand governing representation at the local, state, and federal levels wherein the practice of governing is not only democratic, but also participatory. This means that members of the Millennial Party and their staff will meet frequently with her/his/their constituents to design best practices in the workplace. Government will work for us because we will work with the people.
My father grew up during the Great Depression. He’d tell me stories about rationing gasoline, hiding money under the mattress, and eating potatoes for breakfast and dinner. My mother, who was born a generation after my father told me stories about confronting deliberate acts of racism and sexism in the schools, workplace, and in her neighborhood. As a woman whose parents also suffered because of world wars, economic depression, racism, sexism, and xenophobia, I find myself decades later confronting almost the exact same problems within my generation. The Silent Generation of the Great Depression taught me how to persevere armed with nothing more than a will to survive. The Baby Boomers of the Civil Rights Movement taught me that it is possible to resist through the legacy of our children.
I expect that the Millennial Manifesta can support generations of workers that came before us (i.e. Generation X, Baby Boomers, and The Silent Generation) as well as those who continue to struggle for fair livable wages, adequate health care, full citizenship, and equality under the law. I hope that a generation from now, young people can look back at the Millennial generation and realize that we weren’t apathetic, lazy, unrealistically optimistic, or duped. I hope they will see that the Millennial generation was caught within the crosshairs of contradictions from previous generations. We are the children of children who had and who didn’t have, the offspring of hope and resistance; the successors of dislocation and connection, of constantly preserving and changing through unstable times.
Adapting the words of Lila Watson, an indigenous Australian artist, I end by saying to those generations who came before us and to those that will come after us: For your liberation is bound up with ours, so let us work together.
I welcome further amendments to this living document for those who have the Millennial generation’s economic sustainability and livable wage demands in mind. To edit this document, in real time, click HERE (please be thoughtful in your edits and mindful that others are watching and editing with you).