Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on
 

Millennials to candidates: Talk to us

By Valarie Kaur, Special to CNN
October 5, 2012 -- Updated 1746 GMT (0146 HKT)
College students in Northfield, Minnesota, react on November 4, 2008, as it's announced Barack Obama was elected president.
College students in Northfield, Minnesota, react on November 4, 2008, as it's announced Barack Obama was elected president.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • A politically active Millennial, Valarie Kaur was bored by debate
  • Kaur: Jobs, health care are very important to her generation, but so are social challenges
  • Civil rights, immigration, women's issues, climate change were unaddressed, she says

Editor's note: Valarie Kaur is an award-winning filmmaker, civil rights advocate, and interfaith organizer. She is the founding director of Groundswell, an initiative at Auburn Theological Seminary that combines storytelling and advocacy to mobilize faith communities in social action. Her documentary "Divided We Fall" (2008 with Sharat Raju) is the first feature film on hate crimes against Sikh Americans after 9/11. Kaur directs the Yale Visual Law Project. You can find her at www.valariekaur.com/blog and @valariekaur.

(CNN) -- As a politically active Millennial invested in this year's election, I was surprised by my own response to the first presidential debate: I was bored.

But not for all the reasons the pundits are talking about. To be sure, President Barack Obama's lackluster performance and Mitt Romney's free rein over the moderator led us into the weeds of policy without a compass. But that wasn't the only reason the candidates didn't speak to me.

The debate was supposed to be about domestic issues, but focused exclusively on economic policies and health care plans. As a Millennial, or a member of the generation born in the 1980s and 1990s, I care deeply about the economy and health care. My generation faces crushing educational debt of $904 billion in 2012, up from $241 billion a decade ago; many of us don't have health insurance; and we face an unemployment rate that, at 12%, is 50% above the national average.

Valarie Kaur
Valarie Kaur

But we also want our leaders to connect the dots.

Opinion: A plea to millennials -- get out the vote

Obama: 'The real Mitt Romney'
Analyzing the 1st presidential debate

Among my own Millennial friends, we don't debate economic reform without addressing the immigrant labor force. We never discuss health care without also grappling with women's rights. And yet, the candidates Wednesday night managed to debate fine points of policy while missing the big picture. We can't build a moral economy or health care system without considering the major social challenges of our time: civil liberties, immigration, women's rights, domestic extremism and climate change. None of these issues was even mentioned in the debate.

The failure to speak clearly and consistently to our generation's concerns about the world we will inherit has consequences in this election. In the 2008 election, Millennials made up 17% of the electorate and voted 66% for Obama, compared with 32% for John McCain. We were responsible for Obama's decisive seven-point victory, accounting for 80% of Obama's national popular vote margin over McCain.

Our generation now makes up 24% of the electorate and could make up the deciding vote again, but only if we make it to the polls. We are not nearly as engaged this election season as the last time around. We lag behind older voters in interest in the election and intention to vote. Only 18 percent of us under 30 are following this election closely, down from 35% four years ago. Just 63% of those of us registered say we will vote, down from 72% last time around. While these numbers hold for both young Democrats and Republicans, a dip in voter turnout is most consequential for Obama, who leads among our peers.

Why are we losing interest? Let's put this election in context. For the majority of us who voted for Barack Obama, electing the president in 2008 felt like changing the course of history.

Opinion: Who are millennials?

Our generation came of age in the shadow of catastrophe -- the aftermath of 9/11, the genocide in Darfur, Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath, the wars in Afghanistan and in Iraq, and a faltering economy. We had hoped that the historic election of our first African-American president, a candidate who embodied our diversity in being and breath, would initiate a new era that broke from Bush-era politics.

Instead, the president inherited a punishing economic recession and GOP obstructionism that made even modest reforms challenging. Even worse, his administration continued some Bush-era national security policies he promised to end, from indefinite detention at home to drone warfare abroad.

As a result, Millennials I know have become disillusioned about national political change, turned to local politics and community engagement instead and focused on getting through tough times.

Still, many, like me, are not giving up.

This election year, I've sobered up about the meaning of hope. Hope requires action beyond casting a vote; it requires holding our elected leaders to task. The president repealed Don't Ask Don't Tell, came out for marriage equality and created a program that allows undocumented youth to live and work legally in the U.S.

I believe that Millennials can be critical of the political process and still have faith that incremental change is possible if we organize before and after Election Day.

Opinion: Why this election is so personal

Of course, it's difficult to organize if our candidates are not even discussing our concerns. No matter who we support, let's ask that our candidates debate all the issues that determine the future of our nation. No one has more at stake than the generation who will inherit it.

Imran Siddiqui, a South Florida-based attorney, Muslim American activist and community organizer with Emerge USA, contributed to this essay.

Follow @CNNOpinion on Twitter

Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Valarie Kaur.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
April 16, 2014 -- Updated 1642 GMT (0042 HKT)
Rick McGahey says Rep. Paul Ryan is signaling his presidential ambitions by appealing to hard core Republican values
April 16, 2014 -- Updated 1539 GMT (2339 HKT)
Paul Saffo says current Google Glasses are doomed to become eBay collectibles, but they are only the leading edge of a surge in wearable tech that will change our lives
April 15, 2014 -- Updated 1849 GMT (0249 HKT)
Kathleen Blee says the KKK and white power or neo-Nazi groups give haters the purpose and urgency to use violence.
April 16, 2014 -- Updated 1156 GMT (1956 HKT)
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse and Rep. Henry Waxman say read deep, and you'll see the federal Keystone pipeline report spells out the pipeline is bad news
April 16, 2014 -- Updated 1153 GMT (1953 HKT)
Frida Ghitis says President Obama needs to stop making empty threats against Russia and consider other options
April 15, 2014 -- Updated 2129 GMT (0529 HKT)
Peter Bergen and David Sterman say the Kansas Jewish Center killings are part of a string of lethal violence in the U.S. that outstrips al Qaeda-influenced attacks. Why don't we pay more attention?
April 15, 2014 -- Updated 1641 GMT (0041 HKT)
Danny Cevallos says families of the passengers on Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 need legal counsel
April 14, 2014 -- Updated 1523 GMT (2323 HKT)
David Frum says Russia is on a rampage of mischief while Western leaders and Western alliances charged with keeping the peace hem and haw
April 14, 2014 -- Updated 1156 GMT (1956 HKT)
Most adults make the mistakes of hitting the snooze button and of checking emails first thing in the morning, writes Mel Robbins
April 14, 2014 -- Updated 1754 GMT (0154 HKT)
David Wheeler says as middle-class careers continue to disappear, we need a monthly cash payment to everyone
April 14, 2014 -- Updated 1155 GMT (1955 HKT)
Democrats need to show more political spine when it comes to the issue of taxes.
April 14, 2014 -- Updated 1555 GMT (2355 HKT)
Donna Brazile recalls the 50th Anniversary of the Civil Rights Act as four presidents honored the heroes of the movement and Lyndon Johnson, who signed the law
April 14, 2014 -- Updated 1317 GMT (2117 HKT)
Elmer Smith remembers Chuck Stone, the legendary journalist from Philadelphia who was known as a thorn in the side of police and an advocate for the little guy
April 13, 2014 -- Updated 1856 GMT (0256 HKT)
Al Franken says Comcast, the nation's largest cable provider, wants to acquire Time Warner Cable, the nation's second-largest cable provider. Should we be concerned?
April 11, 2014 -- Updated 1522 GMT (2322 HKT)
Philip Cook and Kristin Goss says the Pennsylvania stabbing attack, which caused grave injury -- but not death, carries a lesson on guns for policymakers
April 11, 2014 -- Updated 1906 GMT (0306 HKT)
Wikipedia lists 105 football movies, but all too many of them are forgettable, writes Mike Downey
April 11, 2014 -- Updated 1432 GMT (2232 HKT)
John Sutter and hundreds of iReporters set out to run marathons after the bombings -- and learned a lot about the culture of running
April 11, 2014 -- Updated 1649 GMT (0049 HKT)
Timothy Stanley says it was cowardly to withdraw the offer of an honorary degree to Ayaan Hirsi Ali. The university should have done its homework on her narrow views and not made the offer
April 11, 2014 -- Updated 1416 GMT (2216 HKT)
Al Awlaki
Almost three years after his death in a 2011 CIA drone strike in Yemen, Anwar al-Awlaki continues to inspire violent jihadist extremists in the U.S, writes Peter Bergen
April 12, 2014 -- Updated 0121 GMT (0921 HKT)
David Bianculli says Colbert is a smart, funny interviewer, but ditching his blowhard persona to take over the mainstream late-night role may cost him fans
April 10, 2014 -- Updated 1731 GMT (0131 HKT)
Rep. Paul Ryan says the Republican budget places its trust in the people, not in Washington
April 10, 2014 -- Updated 2128 GMT (0528 HKT)
Aaron David Miller says Obama isn't to blame for Kerry's lack of progress in resolving Mideast talks
April 14, 2014 -- Updated 1522 GMT (2322 HKT)
David Weinberger says beyond focusing on the horrors of the attack a year ago, it's worth remembering the lessons it taught about strength, the dangers of idle speculation and Boston's solidarity
April 10, 2014 -- Updated 1632 GMT (0032 HKT)
Katherine Newman says the motive for the school stabbing attack in Pennsylvania is not yet known, but research on such rampages turns up similarities in suspects and circumstances
April 11, 2014 -- Updated 1103 GMT (1903 HKT)
Simon Tisdall: Has John Kerry's recent track record left Russia's wily leader ever more convinced of U.S. weakness?
April 10, 2014 -- Updated 1640 GMT (0040 HKT)
Mel Robbins says Nate Scimio deserves credit for acting bravely in a frightening attack and shouldn't be criticized for posting a selfie afterward
April 9, 2014 -- Updated 1839 GMT (0239 HKT)
Wendy Townsend says the Rattlesnake Roundup -- where thousands of pounds of snakes are killed and tormented -- is barbaric
April 10, 2014 -- Updated 1345 GMT (2145 HKT)
Dr. Mary Mulcahy says doctors who tell their patients the truth risk getting bad ratings from them
April 9, 2014 -- Updated 1328 GMT (2128 HKT)
Peggy Drexler says the married Rep. McAllister, caught on video making out with a staffer, won't get a pass from voters who elected him as a Christian conservative with family values
April 9, 2014 -- Updated 1143 GMT (1943 HKT)
David Frum says the president has failed to react strongly to crises in Iran, Syria, Ukraine and Venezuela, encouraging others to act out
April 9, 2014 -- Updated 2057 GMT (0457 HKT)
Eric Liu says Paul Ryan gets it very wrong: The U.S.'s problem is not a culture of poverty, it is a culture of wealth that is destroying the American value linking work and reward
April 9, 2014 -- Updated 1151 GMT (1951 HKT)
Frida Ghitis writes: "We are still seeing the world mostly through men's eyes. We are still hearing it explained to us mostly by men."
April 10, 2014 -- Updated 1408 GMT (2208 HKT)
Chester Wisniewski says the Heartbleed bug shows how we're all tangled together, relying on each other for Internet security
April 9, 2014 -- Updated 1926 GMT (0326 HKT)
Danny Cevallos says an Ohio school that suspended a little kid for pointing his finger at another kid and pretending to shoot shows the growth in "zero tolerance" policies at school run amok
ADVERTISEMENT