On Governance


The Knight Foundation just released a report titled “Why Millennials Don’t Vote For Mayor”, examining why younger voters don’t vote in local elections. “Millennials” is the label foisted by the labelers upon people born between the early 80’s and the early 2000’s.

You should download and read the report if you haven’t already, it can be found here:


The Knight Foundation also hosted a Twitter chat using the hash tag, #votelocal, the record of which is still visible on Twitter. It is definitely worth looking over to see what people are thinking about the Knight Foundation report as well as the broader discussion around Millennial participation in local elections.

Some of the findings of the report especially resonate:

  1. Millennials distrust Government and Broadcast Media
  2. Media doesn’t adequately cover local elections
  3. Millennials don’t feel well enough informed about local candidates or issues

It should be noted that the report is only looking at Millennial voting in local elections, and is not using voting in local elections as a general metric of Millennial participation in civic life. While it might be true that Millennials are less likely to vote in local elections than other age groups, it is also true that Millennials volunteer more than previous generations. (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/12/29/millennials-volunteering_n_6390446.html)

And while there is a strong, national, general distrust in Government, in many ways, Millennials are leading the charge to make Government more responsive to citizens. Projects like Code For America https://www.codeforamerica.org/ work to actively “hack” Government, to debug it, to make it work better. The MAYDAY.US https://mayday.us/ campagn finance reform initiative spearheaded by Harvard Professor Lawerence Lessig has bypassed traditional Broadcast Media and utilized the social media tools of the Millennials to form a broadbased crowdfunded and crowdsourced movement. It goes without saying that the #BlackLivesMatter uprising and protests and citizens with cell phone cameras have done more to galvanize police reform across the country than decades of elections.

Distrust in Broadcast News runs strong in Millennials not only because of perceived and demonstrable biases in Main Stream Media, but also because of the very nature of the medium: it’s broadcast. Millennials have grown up in an interactive information environment. Media without the ability to up or down vote or comment upon or share or embed and then discuss is irrelevant to Millennials. Millennials make full and effective use of Social Media because of the ability to dialog and share and coordinate and effect change.

Local news reporting in print and broadcast has suffered both from the evolution of news from paper to digital as well as roll up and acquisition by large hedge fund asset management entities. The end result is smaller staffs without the ability to do in depth explorations of local issues or provide information about candidates running for public office.

This failure of local news to satisfy the need to better understand the candidates in any specific election is compounded by the lack of information in the community about how things work, what issues are under consideration, and what the different proposals are to address the issues.

It’s easy enough to prescribe ways to get Millennials (and the electorate, in general…) to vote in local elections:

  1. Candidates, office holders, municipalities, governments, empires: engage in a real time dialog with your community. Hire ombudspersons/customer service reps to work social media to engage the electorate, get input on bugs and glitches, and fill potholes (short term) and engage initiatives (longer term) based on constituent feedback.
  2. News media would fulfill a great deal of its education function if it would just explain how your local government works. Seriously. Do you know how your local schools are funded? Do you understand what your local city government does, and how? How your tax dollars are spent? If the answer is no, you can ask your local newspaper, public radio station, or better yet, your local community television station, to produce snippets explaining how the local jurisdictions work, the responsibilities of local electeds and agencies, and so on. Millennials absorb information through video, so short, 3 minute snippets posted to YouTube or Vimeo are best, which is why your local television news station or community media coop is better suited to satisfy this particular civic itch.
  3. Civics needs to be emphasised in education. Explanations of the functions of the various jurisdictions of government is essential and basic to the sustaining of Democracy. If there is a choice between building a new football stadium or funding middle and high school civics classes, go with civics.

But that’s getting 2.0 Millennials to buy into and participate in a distinctly 1.0 form of governance.

Millennials are not content to be “users” in the old system. They’re rewriting governance and the functions of governing from the ground up, or, in some cases, avoiding governance altogether.

Impatient with taxation and the poor uses to which it is directed, Millennials invented crowdfunding. Unsatisfied by expensive software, Millennials provide millions of person hours of free labor working on open source projects. Unhappy with credit and currency and regulated and constrained marketplaces, Millennials created their own digital currency and their own darknet marketplaces. The so-called sharing economy is an example of Millennials rethinking the existing order and either repurposing resources and institutions or ignoring them completely in favor of building something new.

The fact of the matter is our system of representational democracy is the product of a time long past, before electricity, before the telephone, before the Internet. Millennials have woken up to the fact that they don’t need someone else in a capital city somewhere else to represent their interests. They can do it better themselves.

What they do with that knowledge is going to be very interesting.

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