By Greg Jackson
Like many of you, when I was in elementary school we played a number of games that involved a large group of kids seeking to one-up the other. One such game that you may recall was musical chairs. For those who never played the game or forgot how it is played, the basic premise is that music will play as a group of kids walk around a set of chairs. To keep things interesting, there is always at least one less chair than the number of kids playing the game. When the music stops, the kids all rush toward the open seats and the ones who fail to get a seat are out of the game. You may also recall those kids who found the idea of circling chairs to music and pouncing for a seat when the music stopped ridiculous; so, they sat out of the game. There were also times when older kids, with more experience playing musical chairs, entered the game and changed the outcome of the winner. Though we may not have realized it at the time, the game of musical chairs could be applied to various phases of life: how to seize the opportunity, outmaneuver the competition, or push your way to success. Like musical chairs, some of us thrive on the competition, while others were turned off by it.
In a recent conversation with a young man in the “Millennial” generation, I found that the game of musical chairs, in a sense, may explain why the younger generation is becoming less and less interested in politics or even voting. Just looking here, in Central Florida, the proverbial “music” of campaign season is starting to pick-up and already we are seeing the old players circling to see what seats they can land in. Before their terms have ended we are hearing about elected officials vying for the next elected office. We are also seeing the typical cast of characters from Generation “X”, as well as some “Baby Boomers” stepping forward to run for elected office. But, what we also see is that one of the most important generations, “Millennials”, are showing no interest. Those in Generation ‘X” and the “Baby Boomers” have shown time and time again that we thrive on competition. We fought for first place trophies and hated the thought of not being number one at everything we set our minds to. We are ambitious to a fault, as some will say, because we have no problem working 60 hours per week for the next 50 years, to call it a success at the end of our lives. However, the Millennials are a bit different. For them, everyone’s input matters and there is no number one because we should all be treated and viewed equally. This new generation thrives more on happiness, which could be a job in a coffee shop and living with mom and dad, rather than work on a competitive job to one day buy their dream home with the white picket fence. So with that in mind, we have to approach Millennials differently when seeking ways to get them involved politically. As the young man expressed to me: “Why should we vote, it’s the same people running for office and trying to just stay in power. They bring the same old ideas, and no one is giving us a reason to care.”
If we truly want to get Millennials to care about the political process locally, we must find ways to get them interested in what is taking place around them. One thing for certain, Millennials appear to be turned off by what they perceive as constant power grabs; people getting in the political game and staying in the game with no real purpose except to hold a seat until the next one comes along. To engage Millennials, we must move away from the old way of doing things; we must stop telling them to vote based on party lines, race, organization affiliation, etc. This new generation has a desire to know why and to feel good about the reason giving. We must be willing to think outside-of-the-box and take chances on supporting new ideas and new people. The reality of the situation is this when it comes to a shift in power, the Millennials are next up. The generation before mine will die out and my generation will follow shortly thereafter. To leave a better world for our children and the generations to come, we must prepare the Millennials by getting them excited about the political process and the good that can be done. It is not enough to have power now if we leave chaos for the future – in humble opinion
Greg Jackson is a former Assistant Attorney General for the State of Florida, a military veteran, current Orange County District 2 Representative on the Board of Zoning Adjustments, and General Counsel for the Community Redevelopment Agency. He has been as an active member of the Central Florida community for nearly 20 years. He was most recently a candidate for the Florida House District 45 seat.