As the country has seemingly gone to shit the last few months, there’s been plenty of hootin’ ’n’ hollerin’ from upset millennials, both on social media and in the streets. It’s all justified forms of activism and valid points have been made in poignant tweets and passionate Facebook rants, plus the organized protests in cities across the country have made plenty of headlines. However, as some have pointed out, if millennials are really going to have an impact and change the world for the better, it’s time for us to get off the Internet, get out of the streets and get on the ballot — and into elected office — ourselves.
Now I recognize the hypocrisy of putting this column on the internet, but the fact is for my fellow millennials to see this and get inspired, the internet is the best way to do it! Plus the point here is that it’s not enough to just rant within your social media echo chamber anymore.
It’s not enough to march in the streets with catchy chants and signs. It’s not enough to just support a candidate who you respect — as so many millennials did with Bernie Sanders — whether that be through volunteering or donating. It’s finally time to jump in the game ourselves and become the elected officials who implement the policies and create the changes we need.
As a millennial who ran for office myself, I’m only recommending this based on my personal experience. In 2007, I ran for mayor of my hometown in Ohio in a non-partisan race and used that experience to run for U.S. Congress in Central Ohio in 2010. Spoiler alert: I did not win either race. But, thanks to the fact that I ran at all, my neighbors were able to gain representation in city hall and have their issues and grievances addressed, plus we made a documentary about the local election process called American Mayor, which was shown at the Cannes Film Festival.
With the congressional race, the feat was a bit tougher, but my congressman was forced to learn what issues were important to millennials and our campaign videos got national attention from outlets like “The Jay Leno Show” and PBS’ “NewsHour.”
The point here is that no matter if you win or lose, your attempt to run for office can and will make a difference, not only in your own life, but within your community. When millennials run, the people who typically vote — older folks — love to at least listen to what you have to say, even if they disagree with you.
They will respect you for getting involved and it’s important to interact with them so they understand what issues are important to millennials. And even if you lose your first race, you can always jump in again later on after you have the initial name recognition to show people that you’re serious about public service.
Most importantly, 2017 is the year to run for local offices! Whether it’s city council, school board, borough president or whatever other offices your town has, this is the year to do it. Just go to your county’s board of elections to find out the requirements, how many signatures you’ll need and if there’s a filing fee. You can run in your hometown, your college town or newly-adopted city of residence, and since local races are usually non-partisan, you may not even have to deal with a political party.
If you do, pick the one that best represents you — you can run against an incumbent in a primary or run with a minor party if you want. Pretty much everything about our political system is outdated at this point so don’t be afraid to shake it up. If millions of millennials dare to finally get involved by running for office this year (and even winning!) the tide in American politics will change forever — and for the better.
(Editor’s Note: This column originally appeared in the Huffington Post, in February 2017. Photo of conservative activist Hannah Lott, center, ordering food with friends at a debate watch party, by Daniel Marans.)