2014 was a rough year for politics. It marked the first time the top issues among American voters were “lack of leadership and government conflict.” And while the United States has never been so politically polarized than now, one 24-year-old is trying to change the status quo in Washington D.C. by engaging the only generation that stands a chance at solving these pressing issues – millennials.
The Millennial Action Project
Steven Olikara started the Millennial Action Project (MAP) as a way to restore democracy through the next generation of leaders. According to Olikara, 50 percent of millennials identify as independents, and party affiliation is steeply on the decline. But as more entrepreneurs in their 20s and 30s are driven to make change through private social ventures, MAP is making the case that in order to scale the most innovative solutions to our country’s problems, it is necessary to engage in public policy.
“We need a new generation of political entrepreneurs to fix the political dysfunction and revitalize our government,” Olikara tells MiLLENNiAL. He describes the organization’s ultimate vision as one of political cooperation. “We can make public policy sexy by making government work better,” he says.
Millennials in Office are Changing Politics
Partnering with millennials in elected positions across the nation, Olikara describes this new generation of leadership as “idealistic about making change, but very pragmatic about how they make change…this is the new millennial governing philosophy.”
He stresses the power of “seeing is believing,” pointing out that the more millennials see their peers in office, the more likely they will be encouraged to run themselves.
More importantly, this generation has a responsibility to inspire generations down the line to feel a sense of pride for public service. “When you see millennials in office making a difference you start thinking maybe I could do that too,” he adds.
One of MAP’s James Madison Fellows, Alex Torpey, the youngest elected mayor at 23 in New Jersey, regularly appoints one child from the local community to be Mayor for the Day in South Orange. This not only teaches kids about the internal workings of their town, but also offers insight into government from an early age.
The Future Caucus
Joining MAP’s BiPartisan Congressional Future Caucus as Board Chairs are Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI), 33, and Congressman Aaron Schock (R-IL), 33. Both are the token representatives connecting with America’s youth culture and taking a stand for initiatives that affect our immediate future.
To further take immediate action and make the claim for millennial leadership, MAP has embarked on pushing forward four large legislative agendas.
The Social Impact Bonds Act
As Olikara states, “Social impact bonds are the next generation of public-private partnerships.” The proposed legislation would allow private investors to front the cost for a range of social programs including childhood education and workforce development programs. They would only see a return on their investment if they are successful in fixing the problem.
“This bill represents not just bipartisanship but post-partisanship…it makes sense to only pay for what works.” He suggests that if children are better taken care of at earlier ages they most likely will require less resources from the government over the course of their life.
The Immigration Amendment for Investors
Bill, H.R. 4659, is a bipartisan piece of legislation that has been successfully included in the main reform bill. It specifically amends the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1990 by eliminating per-country caps on employment visas and permanently extending the EB-5 visa program, also known as the Immigrant Investor Program.
Currently, the EB-5 program is a way for foreigners to obtain green cards and permanent residency by investing “at risk” capital in a for-profit company. Each applicant must choose between investing $500,000 in a targeted employment area or $1,000,000 if invested elsewhere. All investments must lead to the creation of 10 fulltime jobs in the U.S. for at least two years.
“If [this bill] passes, it will support a lot of foreign investment and create a lot of jobs in this countries.”
Finding Employment For Our Vets
With the wars in the Middle East, we have become a generation of veterans. And the unemployment rate for veterans has remained stagnant for the last 10 years.
MAP is using “the power of open data to address this problem facing veterans.” They brought the Department of Labor and the Department of Defense together with private sector businesses like LinkedIn and Monster to open proprietary data on skills and job openings to the public. Now an open data collaborative can start tackling the problem of veteran unemployment.
VeteransTalent.io was created to pair veteran skills with job openings. As Olikara says, “Why not leverage the strengths of the public and private sectors and obtain bipartisan support at the same time.”
Proving how the private and public sectors can work together to improve situations, MAP proudly stands behind the fact that their public-private partnership didn’t require legislation.
#GivingTuesday was created in 2011 as the follow up answer to the Black Friday and Cyber Monday craze. What started as a hashtag has become a commemorated day in which everyone is encouraged to give.
Olikara tells us, “It was meant to promote philanthropy and volunteerism at a time when we are thinking about ourselves and getting a lot of consumer goods around that time of year.”
The Government of Tomorrow
Thomas Jefferson suggested every 20 years or so, Americans ought to rethink their government. He believed in reinventing our government. To this point, Olikara says, “Today it is clear that our public institutions are outdated and are in dire need of revitalization.”
Making the observation, he says the Founding Fathers were in their 20s and 30s when they created this country. They would be millennials if they lived today.
What would the country look like if it were run by millennials?
MAP’s Millennial Action Council Member, Dan Kessler, who has led the effort in creating Pennsylvania’s first Future Caucus, tells us, “A congress with real millennial representation would undoubtedly result in a more fluid operation where ideas are openly discussed amongst colleagues and constituencies alike.”
UPDATE: On March 17, 2015, Aaron Schock resigned his position of Illnois Representative due to allegations of misusing campaign funds and taxpayer dollars.