As I write this, Occupy Wall Street is a nomadic protest, marching from the New York Stock Exchange to City Hall and for a few ambitious souls, a march all the way to Washington, D.C. I’ll go ahead and assume they know it’s going to be freaking freezing the entire way. Many of those Occupiers are our age; they’re students or recent grads struggling to find employment, casting about in search of the work opportunities they thought their education would provide them. I imagine they’ll organize a Thanksgiving meal, a pot luck feast resembling the first Thanksgiving closer than most events organized inside homes across the country. I hope they’ll be thankful, those of the Occupy movement. The problems highlighted on their signage are real, but they should be thankful so many others joined the movement. In many ways, they’re more “Change We Can Believe In” than the Obama White House. They should raise a glass, to toast those who showed up to Occupy.
Where I study, at George Washington University’s Trachtenberg School of Public Policy, lots of millennials have come to transition, to reinvent themselves. Many have worked for two, three or even ten years in jobs that were lucrative and stable. They saved up, and decided to use that cushion to study subjects that animate their hearts. Now is a good time to change direction as there’s labor market disruption everywhere. Best to step back, grow their skill sets and make a clean break for the careers they really want. I’m not in their boat; I’m leveraged more than Lehman Brothers with student loan debt. I’m not changing direction; I’m amplifying my potential in the career I felt called to when I was in high school, public service. Still, I love their perspective; their experience makes every class period a great learning experience. We all learn from each other. We millennial grad students should raise a glass this Thanksgiving, to toast the blessing of reinvention and intellectual curiosity.
Most millennials are trying to escape my state of Michigan. Every year, college grads add to the “brain drain” by moving away. Many of those grads have jobs in faraway places — the coastal enclaves in California, the Mid-Atlantic and New England. Some have jobs in other more prosperous Midwestern locales — Chicago and the Twin Cities. A few just picked up and moved, assuming there would be more jobs elsewhere. But Governor Snyder’s trying to reverse this trend, and some business leaders like Quicken Loans’ Dan Gilbert are moving businesses back to Detroit, expanding. Ann Arbor will always be an intellectual and economic powerhouse (Go Blue!). The Huffington Post just launched a Detroit-specific news site and the Sporting News just voted Detroit the best sports city in North America. We millennial Michiganders should raise a glass on Turkey Day to toast the future of the Great Lakes State.
Washington D.C. — where I live now — is vibrant with millennial energy. We’re the young professionals who staff the non-profits, do most of the research in the think tanks and make sure the grunt work of constituent correspondence gets done on Capitol Hill. Our city has a bad reputation in almost every other corner of the country. Some of that’s deserved. The office buildings along K Street and the halls of Congress are filled with economic inequity. Unpaid interns are everywhere struggling to break into entry-level jobs with salaries that barely pay rent (that’s me, too). The big figures, the Boehners and the Pelosis, the Abramoffs — they dominate the city. But they don’t give it its energy, the stirring which brings the real change to the governing institutions. That change comes from us, the millenials. Listen to happy hour conversations, to frustrations aired over sangria during jazz in the Sculpture Garden or at Ben’s Chili Bowl after a night out. We’re restless, we want change and we’re working for it. We millennials of D.C. should raise a glass this Thanksgiving, to toast the passion that enlivens our city and will restore trust in government for the benefit of the America in which our children will live.