When it comes to politics, millennials are often maligned. While campaigns love to have millennials volunteer to knock doors and make phone calls, their opinions are rarely sought. Even though the politicians know that the millennials are the largest generation, the politicians are busy focusing upon the major voting blocks like the baby boomers and the retirees. Everyone knows that the millennials are one day going to be the largest voting block, but as long as millennials are more focused on starting careers and families and not focused upon politics, there is little need for politicians to focus upon millennials.
For a millennial who dislikes the direction that this country is going in, it can be very frustrating to be ignored, or if you are lucky, to be viewed as grunt labor. How can you help change the direction of this country when no one is willing to give you the time of day? Yes, you may not have the gray hair of the baby boomers, but your vote and opinion should count. Besides, you are going to be the generation left to pay the debt of prior generations, you should have some say in the direction the country goes.
Having great ideas yet being ignored by your elders is not a problem unique to millennials. The problem you face today is the same problem faced by every idealist for the last millennium.
After peace was negotiated between Great Britton and the American Colonies, there was a young politician who understood that this fledgling country could not survive very long. This young politician had served the last three years of the war as a delegate to the Congress of the Confederation. He had spent these years working on political compromises to handle the massive debt that the colonies were accruing.
This politician had two problems. First, the Congress of the Confederation had no mechanism to obtain revenues absent the complete agreement of all 13 colonies. Second, by the time he was starting to gain some headway on this issue, he was term limited out because no Congressman could serve more than three years in office.
By the time this young politician had been termed out of Congress, he had reached his 32nd birthday. However, this politician was not willing to sit on the sidelines while he watched his country be destroyed by massive debts that it had no ability to repay.
This young politician went back to his home state where he was elected to the state house. He used his position as a state representative to start a national dialogue about the weaknesses of the Confederation and how the Articles of Confederation needed to be amended. This young politician attended the Annapolis convention. Just because the Annapolis convention failed, this politician was not going to give up.
This young politician was going to be 36 years old by the time he attended the Philadelphia Convention. This politician understood that while many politicians around the country respected him as a knowledgeable individual when it comes to how the governments run, this wisdom did not translate into political sway. This young politician was still just too wet behind the ears for the elder statesman to take seriously.
This young politician came to Philadelphia with a plan. However, before he even came to Philadelphia, he spent a lot of time talking to George Washington encouraging Washington to attend the convention. This young politician understood that if Washington attended the Philadelphia convention, it would be harder for the colonies to avoid sending a delegation. This young politician did not know if Washington was going to attend until Washington appeared on the streets of Philadelphia. His efforts were not in vain.
Understanding that his opinion still did not have national sway, this young politician gave his plan for amending the Articles of Confederation with a brand new Constitution to Edmund Randolph, the governor of Virginia. This young politician understood that if the plan was introduced as the Randolph plan, it had a much better chance of succeeding than if it were introduced as the Madison plan.
James Madison’s efforts proved successful and while a majority of Americans do not know who Edmund Randolph is today, many Americans know that James Madison is the Father of the United States Constitution.
James Madison may have been young, but there are several lessons that today’s millennials who desire to be involved in politics can learn.
First, Madison took the time to become an expert on a current problem. There was no doubt throughout the country that the most studied scholar in the country when it came to how governments worked was none other than James Madison. Madison would receive trunks of books from around the world containing information on how ancient and current governments operated.
Second, Madison made sure that he communicated the problem to potential delegates around the country to help build momentum for a convention. Madison saw a problem with the Articles of Confederation and he broadcasted those deficiencies throughout the colonies to educate politicians.
Third, rather than just sitting by waiting for the older politicians who had created the Articles of Confederation to come up with solutions to the problems that had been pointed out by Madison, Madison drafted his own solutions. This was not something that one would draw up in a few hours. Madison relied upon his knowledge of how governments worked and the need for checks and balances to establish a revolutionary form of government that had never been tried before.
Fourth, Madison understood that he could get a lot more accomplished if he did not care who received the credit. By inviting Washington to the convention, Madison was able to put the spotlight upon the older statesman who received much of the praise during and after the convention. Also, by sharing his plan with Randolph, Madison let another receive the credit for all his hard work.
Fifth, Madison understood that in order to keep the debates on track, he would need to volunteer to be the secretary of the convention. Even though Madison needed to be available to manage the floor fight to maintain the ideas that he had laid out in his new constitution, he needed to volunteer to be the secretary so that when debates arose over compromises reached, the argument could be quickly resolved. Being secretary meant that he would have to stay up late each night reviewing his shorthand notes and transcribing them into a more legible form. Nonetheless, Madison desired to solve this country’s problems so he made the sacrifices necessary.
Sixth, Madison recruited fellow patriots to assist him in debating the merits of the new Constitution. Madison could not win this battle on his own and with him was a team of individuals who actively argued on the floor of the Philadelphia Convention for Madison’s ideas.
Seventh, even after Madison won the battle at Philadelphia, he did not rest on his successes. The Constitution had passed the convention, but it still needed to be ratified by the states. Madison was needed in Virginia where he had to fight against legionary debaters like Patrick Henry. Madison also wrote essays to be printed in New York newspapers promoting the principles of the Constitution. Madison’s efforts in both Virginia and New York helped ensure that those two states ratified the Constitution.
Millennials, you are not too young to make a difference in your country today. You see the massive debt piling up and you are the generation that is going to have to pay the bill. It is time for you to rise up and make sure that your voice is heard. Just like Baby Boomers and retirees have made their voice heard in the ballot box, so also, you need to make sure that your voice is heard.
Learn from the life of James Madison and understand that you can make a difference. Do not allow your elders to sideline you just because you are wet behind the ears. Become an expert and write about your expertise so that others will know that you are an expert. Form coalitions and encourage others to get involved. If you do not succeed this year, do not give up the fight but instead learn from your failures and see what you can do next time so that you can succeed.