Eighty percent of life's most defining moments take place by the time you are 35. For millennials, this election is one of them.
For many of us, this has been an extremely frustrating cycle. The media focuses on petty disagreements, twitter fails, and old news rather than policy ideas. Add to those two candidates with imperfect track records and personalities and it's no wonder pollsters say the youth vote will be depressed this cycle.
One thing is certain: if we don't show up at the polls, we lose our power. Period. Millennials match Baby Boomers as the largest generation in the electorate and could easily sway the election, but unfortunately, we continue to have the lowest voter turnout of any age group. This has to change.
I think young voters are quick to dismiss the power of their collective voice. The Electoral College makes it hard to feel like your one vote for president counts unless you happen to live in one of the eleven-or-so swing states. But there is strength in numbers—and the more millennials vote, the more politicians will recognize that they must listen to our needs if they want to stay in office.
Keep in mind that this year, more than 80 percent of Congress is up for grabs. (34 sen-ate seats and all of the 435 chairs in the House of Representatives.) Together with the president, the legislative branch will also impact who is chosen to be our next Supreme Court justice, a position held for life. The decisions made in November will affect your life for far more than one or two presidential terms. It's worth showing up, even if you only plan to vote for Congress.
But think before you cast a protest vote for a third-party candidate, or write in Bernie Sanders name. A protest vote isn't a demand for change; it's just a wasted opportunity. The only way to demand change is to show your voice has power and make sure that the politicians know who put them into office. Once our leaders respect young voters, we can move beyond protest to make real change to policy.
As a 33-year old black, middle class, graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, and small business owner, I have a whole lot at stake in who wins this next elec-tion. Personally, I'm not voting for perfection. Perfection doesn't exist in 2016, no more than it existed in any other election year, ever. I'm not voting on one-liners, tweets or tag lines. I'm not voting against a candidate, either, like #NeverTrump or #CrookedHillary. I'm voting FOR someone who I think will devote every fiber in their body to doing one of the most difficult jobs in the world. To make my choice, I made a list of my most important voting criteria and determined who fit. Next month, I plan to vote with no reservations.
My criteria were simple:
- Competence. By that I mean understanding how to govern. Governing means knowing how to build a framework to impact policy. That means having the ability to prepare and articulate a concrete idea and plan, and how to influence a bill, then see that plan through the House and Senate. I'm looking for the candidate who understands how government works and knows how to get to work quickly.
- Humility, Maturity, Empathy. A President needs to be aware of their words and actions, mature enough to know their limitations and humble enough to listen to advisors. In the same way, the President needs to be able to speak for Americans while being empathetic towards others.
- Lifetime of Service. My friends in government and the military may disagree on specific points of policy, but they agree on how difficult it must be to be president. It's important for the nation's leader to have clear intentions and a commitment to serving others. I admire past presidents who have put country before self and have devoted their lives to strengthening the greatest nation in the world.
- Team builder and leader. The next President's first order of business will be to build a team and set the culture of government. I want to see a leader in the Oval Office that builds a diverse cabinet that represents ethnic, gender, religious, age and socioeconomic diversity, as well as a diversity of thought with modern ideas and historical understanding. I believe a leader with a track record of inclusion will do the best job to build teams that represent the whole of the nation, not just a segment.
A friend of mine, Carrie Twigg, a former White House advisor, once told me that "poli-tics is about opening or closing access to opportunities." Business is about capitalizing on those opportunities.
"It can take five or ten or even a twenty-year horizon for change to take shape in government," Twigg says. "Soon, millennials will be the ones running our country, and if we want to have a society and a government that reflects who we are, we have to start building that society and that government now."
I realize that neither candidate is exactly like me and neither candidate is perfect. But one candidate scored higher among my criteria and has a track record of opening access to opportunities for the nation. That person is Hillary Clinton.Though imperfect, Secretary Clinton has the competence, maturity and leadership experience needed to do the job well.
I don't ask that you agree with me, in fact, I know about half of you won't. I simply ask that you make a list of your own criteria, make a decision, and get out and vote on No-vember 8th.
Millennials, it's time to make your voices heard. Your future is in your hands.