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
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1349 GMT (2149 HKT)
Patrick Cronin and Kelley Sayler say the world is seeing nonstate groups such as Ukraine's rebels wielding more power to do harm than ever before
July 23, 2014 -- Updated 2205 GMT (0605 HKT)
Ukraine ambassador Olexander Motsyk places blame for the MH17 tragedy squarely at the door of Russia
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1142 GMT (1942 HKT)
Mark Kramer says Russia and its proxies have a history of shooting down civilian aircraft, often with few repercussions
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1701 GMT (0101 HKT)
Les Abend says, with rockets flying over Tel Aviv and missiles shooting down MH17 over Ukraine, a commercial pilot's pre-flight checklist just got much more complicated
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1317 GMT (2117 HKT)
Mark Kramer says Russia and its proxies have a history of shooting down civilian aircraft, often with few repercussions
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1637 GMT (0037 HKT)
Gerard Jacobs says grieving families and nations need the comfort of traditional rituals to honor the remains of loved ones, particularly in a mass disaster
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1413 GMT (2213 HKT)
The idea is difficult to stomach, but John Sutter writes that eating dog is morally equivalent to eating pig, another intelligent animal. If Americans oppose it, they should question their own eating habits as well.
July 23, 2014 -- Updated 1630 GMT (0030 HKT)
Bill van Esveld says under the laws of war, civilians who do not join in the fight are always to be protected. An International Criminal Court could rule on whether Israeli airstrikes and Hamas rocketing are war crimes.
July 23, 2014 -- Updated 1205 GMT (2005 HKT)
LZ Granderson says Ronald Reagan went horseback riding and took a vacation after the Korean Air Crash of 1983. So why does the GOP keep airbrushing history to bash Obama?
July 23, 2014 -- Updated 1338 GMT (2138 HKT)
Aaron Miller says Kerry needs the cooperation of Hamas, Israel, Egypt and others if he is to succeed in his peacemaking efforts
July 23, 2014 -- Updated 1251 GMT (2051 HKT)
Errol Louis says the tragic death of Eric Garner at the hands of the NYPD has its roots in the "broken windows" police strategy from the crime-ridden '80s.
July 23, 2014 -- Updated 1408 GMT (2208 HKT)
Gordon Brown says the kidnapped Nigerian girls have been in captivity for 100 days, but the world has not forgotten them.
July 23, 2014 -- Updated 1127 GMT (1927 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says Texas Gov. Rick Perry is right to immediately send 1,000 National Guard troops to the U.S.-Mexico border in response to the border children crisis.
July 22, 2014 -- Updated 1356 GMT (2156 HKT)
Ukraine's president says the downing of MH17 was a terrorist act, but Richard Barrett says it would be considered terrorism only if it was intentional
July 22, 2014 -- Updated 2015 GMT (0415 HKT)
Robert McIntyre says the loophole that lets firms avoid taxes should be closed
July 22, 2014 -- Updated 1535 GMT (2335 HKT)
Jeronimo Saldana and Malik Burnett say Gov. Perry's plan to send National Guard to the border won't solve the escalating immigration problem.
July 22, 2014 -- Updated 1742 GMT (0142 HKT)
Sally Kohn: The world's fish and waters are polluted and under threat. Be very careful what fish you eat
July 22, 2014 -- Updated 1242 GMT (2042 HKT)
Les Abend says threat information that pilots respond to is only as good as the intelligence from air traffic controllers. And none of it is a match for a radar-guided missile
July 21, 2014 -- Updated 1235 GMT (2035 HKT)
Frida Ghitis: Anger over MH17 is growing against pro-Russia separatists. It's time for the Dutch government to lead, she writes
July 21, 2014 -- Updated 1227 GMT (2027 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says President Obama called inequality the "defining challenge" of our time but hasn't followed through.
July 21, 2014 -- Updated 1157 GMT (1957 HKT)
Gene Seymour says the 'Rockford Files' actor worked the persona of the principled coward, charming audiences on big and small screen for generations
July 21, 2014 -- Updated 1417 GMT (2217 HKT)
Daniel Treisman says that when the Russian leader tied his fate to the Ukraine separatists, he set the stage for his current risky predicament
July 18, 2014 -- Updated 1642 GMT (0042 HKT)
Andrew Kuchins says urgent diplomacy -- not sanctions -- is needed to de-escalate the conflict in Ukraine that helped lead to the downing of an airliner there.
July 19, 2014 -- Updated 0150 GMT (0950 HKT)
Jim Hall and Peter Goelz say there should be an immediate and thorough investigation into what happened to MH17.
July 18, 2014 -- Updated 1507 GMT (2307 HKT)
Pilot Bill Palmer says main defense commercial jets have against missiles is to avoid flying over conflict areas.
July 20, 2014 -- Updated 1755 GMT (0155 HKT)
Valerie Jarrett says that working women should not be discriminated against because they are pregnant.
July 21, 2014 -- Updated 1953 GMT (0353 HKT)
David Wheeler says the next time you get a difficult customer representative, think about recording the call.
July 18, 2014 -- Updated 1933 GMT (0333 HKT)
Newt Gingrich says the more dangerous the world becomes the more Obama hides in a fantasy world.
July 18, 2014 -- Updated 1011 GMT (1811 HKT)
Michael Desch: It's hard to see why anyone, including Russia and its local allies, would have intentionally targeted the Malaysian Airlines flight
July 17, 2014 -- Updated 1914 GMT (0314 HKT)
LZ Granderson says we must remember our visceral horror at the news of children killed in an airstrike on a Gaza beach next time our politicians talk of war
July 17, 2014 -- Updated 1206 GMT (2006 HKT)
Sally Kohn says now the House GOP wants to sue Obama for not implementing a law fast enough, a law they voted down 50 times, all reason has left the room.
July 17, 2014 -- Updated 1214 GMT (2014 HKT)
A street sign for Wall Street
Sens. Elizabeth Warren, John McCain and others want to scale back the "too big to fail" banks that put us at risk of another financial collapse.
July 17, 2014 -- Updated 2016 GMT (0416 HKT)
Newt Gingrich writes an open letter to Robert McDonald, the nominee to head the Veterans Administration.
July 18, 2014 -- Updated 1601 GMT (0001 HKT)
Paul Begala says Dick Cheney has caused an inordinate amount of damage yet continues in a relentless effort to revise the history of his failures.
July 18, 2014 -- Updated 1404 GMT (2204 HKT)
Kids who takes cell phones to bed are not sleeping, says Mel Robbins. Make them park their phones with the parents at night.
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1625 GMT (0025 HKT)
Buzz Aldrin looked at planet Earth as he stood on talcum-like lunar dust 45 years ago. He thinks the next frontier should be Mars.
July 16, 2014 -- Updated 1804 GMT (0204 HKT)
Mark Zeller never thought my Afghan translator would save his life by killing two Taliban fighters who were about to kill him. The Taliban retaliated by placing him on the top of its kill list.
July 17, 2014 -- Updated 1518 GMT (2318 HKT)
Jeff Yang says an all-white cast of Asian characters in cartoonish costumes is racially offensive.
July 17, 2014 -- Updated 0124 GMT (0924 HKT)
Gary Ginsberg says the late John F. Kennedy Jr.'s reaction to an event in 1995 summed up his character
July 16, 2014 -- Updated 1641 GMT (0041 HKT)
Meg Urry says most falling space debris lands on the planet harmlessly and with no witnesses.
ADVERTISEMENT