Don’t mourn, organize! Three ways millennials can build a better post-Trump future

Still in shock from last night’s US election? It’s time to turn those negative emotions into optimistic energy.

Kieran Ford
9 November 2016

President-elect Donald Trump speaks on election night. Evan Vucci AP/Press Association Images. All rights reserved.

Populism Trumped—literally.

Whether waking up, or staying up, many of us faced a future on Wednesday of which we had not dared conceive—Donald Trump walking into the White House as the 45th President of the United States. Emotions were high. Some felt anger, others sadness, depression, frustration, despair. Some stared blankly as the news rolled in, unable to conjure up words with which to respond to the events in front of them.

People everywhere quickly entered what appeared to be a period of mourning. This piece is written to turn those negative emotions into an energised optimism. It is written for those who may have cried, who feel empty in their stomach, and are unsure of what the future holds. But it has a simple message: don't mourn, organise.

Trump's victory is yet another plot twist in a chapter of global politics governed by a turn to the extremes, and away from the Establishment. Whether one looks to the Brexit vote in the UK, the election of Duterte in the Phillipines, the rise of right-wing political parties in France, Germany and Austria, one could easily conclude that the world is taking a turn to the right. Yet, concurrently, the world is also looking left. The UK Labour party recently re-elected the left-wing candidate Jeremy Corbyn as leader. The Democratic Primaries were dominated by the astounding support received by Bernie Sanders. In Spain and Greece, left wing parties have played key roles in political life since the 2008 recession. Politics is parting like the Red Sea, and it is the Establishment, not the Left that sits powerless in the drought. 

But it is not the Left that is in power. The US is to be led by Trump, Alternative for Germany are making gains against Merkel's Christian Democrats, and polls suggest Corbyn's Labour party is making little headway in gaining widespread support in the UK, while the anti-EU and anti-immigration UK Independence Party continues to retain support. But rather than sending us into a period of mourning, the news that Trump has entered the White House should offer a well-needed wake up call. Lessons need to be learned about why, despite what appears to be popular support for left-wing candidates, when it comes to a vote, those candidates are left for dust, while populist right-wing candidates can sweep up a whirlwind of support.

Who is it in this Red Sea moment in politics that is turning left, and who is turning right? Here, the results of the Brexit vote are helpful in our understanding. While younger generations, like millennials, were enthusiastic about remaining in the EU, older generations voted to leave. The young remain pro-immigration, while the elderly want greater control. Yet, while older generations voted in large numbers, voter turnout amongst younger generations remains low. Furthermore, the vote displayed economic divisions.

Anti-immigration sentiment was highest amongst the former industrial powerhouse communities of Northern England, home to largely poor communities suffering from high unemployment. The middle class millennials, mostly living in urban areas, voted to stay in the EU. During the Democratic and Republican primaries such demographic differences were mirrored. While the largely middle-class millennial generation supported Sanders, Trump found his greatest support amongst the poorer and more rural communities of the US. It was the young who voted for Sanders, and later, for the most part, shifted their vote to Clinton. Trump relied on older voters.

As a millennial myself, the question seems particularly pertinent: how do we, our generation, get our voices heard in this seemingly uncertain political time? How do we regain a sense of balance across communities and across demographics when it comes to who should be in power?

Here are three things that we can do straight away.

Trump's victory was built on two factors: money and fear. On both those factors, millennials can beat him. Trump will be the least politically experienced US President of all time. His sole experience is in business and money-making. Whether Trump's money-making abilities are as strong as he says they are is debatable, but one thing is clear: it was wealth that brought Trump to the debates and to the ballot paper. Yet, it was also wealth that brought Sanders to the debate too. However, it was wealth of a different kind.

Rather than being funded largely from personal funds like Trump, or large corporate donations like Clinton, Sanders' candidacy was funded predominantly through thousands of small donations from individuals like you and me. Sanders was truly a crowd-sourced candidate. And this is the first thing that we can be doing as millennials.

The 2008 financial crisis taught the world a key lesson: leaving financial wealth in the hands of the few leads only to the abuse of power. Collectively putting wealth into the hands of the many can change how politics operates and for whose advantage it seeks to work. We can start by putting our money where our mouth is, and start funding political organisations that seek a better future. Whether that is supporting a political party, or supporting small organisations helping keep refugees safe in the Mediterranean, task number one is to kick start a more just world.

Secondly, Trump's candidacy was based on fear. Whether fear based on ethnicity, religion, gender or sexuality, Trump presented a black and white world in which scapegoats were easy to notice and stigmatise. It was a narrative that told people that their world was not how it needed to be, that their poverty was not the work of nature, but of greed. But it was a narrative that shielded the real villains and instead pointed to other victims: the refugees, the Muslims, the people of Mexico.

Yet, while fear holds great political capital, it has nothing on hope. However, hope alone cannot retain the political capital as a grand vision of a better future. While fear can be universalised, hope needs to be personalised. While fear is a narrative that feeds off tearing people apart, hope is nourished when we bring people together. The greatest and easiest way to respond to Trump's victory is simply to be together, to build community.

Whether it is smiling to someone on the bus, or saying hello to a neighbour, greeting the homeless on the street, or joining a community garden, this coming together builds hope. By recognising the commonality in us all, and particularly with those in whom we might predominantly recognise difference, the fear on which Trump's candidacy was built will wither and fade. So task number two is to build community.

However, such community-building and hope-nurturing will falter unless a third task is acknowledged: the need to bridge those divides that the Red Sea of politics has created. While Sanders in the US could bring thousands of supporters to overcrowded stadium rallies, and Corbyn in the UK can fill city squares with activists shouting his name, this mass support has not translated into votes on election day. There is a clear and distinct gap between the web of support that encircles left-wing candidates and the wider electorate.

Indeed these two groups stare uncertainly at each other from each side of the political chasm that’s in front of us. This gap requires critical attention, and it is us millennials who need to be at the forefront of bridging this divide. Because the simple fact of the matter is: we fear the unknown, and we put hope in the known. As the millennial generation, we need to build hope in those communities isolated from years of economic and social deprivation. If not, then they will continue to vote against our—and indeed, their—best interests. So task number three is bridging these divides.

As the days and weeks ahead unfold, and the reality of what a Trump Presidency might look like begins to become clear, we must resist the desire to blame, to shame and to shout at those who voted for him. Instead, if we take a step back, there are plenty of signs for optimism. But it will take every single one of us to stand up and be counted. So millennials I ask you: don't mourn, organize!

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