Taking Back the City

by Glen

millennialsTHINGS ARE HEATING UP.  WITH CIVIC elections coming in the fall, subtle energies are presently brewing that are destined to come to a head in time for some pivotal elections.

In London, Ontario, a number of candidates have already announced they are running.  Most are from the younger generation, inspired by numerous initiatives such as Women and Politics and Pints and Politics.  They are finding energy in their own demographic and they mean business about their intentions.  The pressing consciousness of how our community has suffered under a harsh and dysfunctional City Council has caused many of these grassroots efforts to take wing months in advance of the big date. 

I was at City Hall yesterday to accept a donation to the London Food Bank and encountered one senior politician who said he wasn’t very concerned about the upcoming challengers because nobody really knows who they are anyway.  I informed him directly that he was making a significant mistake.  What he was missing was the kind of community these potential politicians were fighting for and how the efforts of the present council didn’t even come close to giving it to them. 

If this were just about economics, it would be bad enough.  London is currently struggling through stubborn unemployment and a sense that our best days might be in the past.  But the angst felt by the new candidates is about more than that, much more.  And they now have some new research to back them, providing definition and campaign platforms in the process.

A study, commissioned by the global group Deloitte, polled more than 7,000 Millennials (born from the early-1980s to the early 2000s) in 28 countries and what they found surprised them.  It had been assumed that economic growth would constitute the main concern for those studied.  What they discovered instead was that, though economic struggles were obviously of concern, the key issue for the Millennials related to social issues, not financial.  Only 3 in 10 voiced the economy as their key concern.  Almost 37% worried about unemployment, and income inequality registered with 28%.  But a greater number were concerned about resource scarcity, climate change, and poverty.

Interestingly, the emphasis on social over economic challenges facing societies today was found to be consistent among Millennials in both developing and developed countries.  And for those aspiring to politics from that age group, the study provided some key ideas.  When asked what was the purpose of government, Millennials prioritized education, health access, and employment above improving the economy.  Those studied consistently saw the role of governments as “advancing social progress rather than just providing economic opportunity and trusting that everything else of value will automatically follow from economic growth.”

Such findings enforce what the comprehensive study called the Social Progress Index is about ready to release in April – economic growth alone is not sufficient to bring about social progress.  Interestingly, such reasoning mirrors that of the post-World War Two generation that sought the enhancement of their respective communities over just their own material benefit.

The Deloitte study revealed that Millennials don’t just believe that the responsibility for social progress lies with governments, but with the business community.  In other words, they believe it is time to bring business back to the community table for social good as opposed to feting it just to bring economic growth.  This is a significant development, one sure to become more pronounced as the new generation of young politicians express this out in their policies.  There was the clear sentiment that businesses must begin the process of looking beyond the bottom line.

It is an interesting coincidence that the Deloitte study is being released around the same time as the 80th anniversary of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) – the fundamental economic measure used by the majority of nations.  The Millennials are saying that the GDP wasn’t enough and that there must be balancing indicators to ensure the health of any modern society.

What we are discovering about the Millennials is that they are indeed ambitious, but not necessarily for the things their parents reached for.  They are pushing for an equitable society, the eradication of poverty, effective environmental policies, increased investment in educational opportunities, and the expansion of the possibilities of civil society.

We can see where all this is heading.  Older politicians, stuck in first gear in their compulsive emphasis on the economy, are quickly getting outflanked by a new generation of emerging leaders equally, and increasingly, concerned with sustainability, true gender equality, poverty alleviation, transparency in government, community engagement, and the drive towards businesses increasingly interested in the larger social good.

Gone are the days when politicians would campaign by merely claiming to make people’s material lives better.  They still do it, but look more like straw people than public servants who comprehend the true wealth in any community is actually housed in its people.  There’s a new day coming, and even if some of the younger candidates aren’t successful come election time, they have served notice that they aren’t going anywhere and will continue to stress that commerce must never supersede community.  They will change politics, whether they win or not, because they’ve already maintained that it’s time to find a new way of being as communities and that we want to write our own stories  as opposed to those deciding our future for us.  These young leaders aren’t opting out but weighing in with regards to politics.  That fact alone should provide any community more hope than an economic/political alliance that historically rewards the few at the expense of those places where we live.  The times?  They really are a-changing.