Since the election of Donald Trump, protests have become increasingly commonplace in the United States, both in the nation’s capital and in towns and cities across the country. This recent wave of mass mobilization has led to growing considerations about how the new political climate might be changing civic engagement, particularly for young people. In June, Phase 1 of the 2017 Millennial Impact Report1 was released. The findings are based on interviews and focus groups with 16 millennials who previously downloaded the report; selecting for youth likely to be engaged. The press release for the report read “Will Millennials Turn Your Cause Into a Movement?” This is a complicated and potentially unanswerable question, but one whose answer could greatly impact movement scholarship. While the report cannot answer the long-standing question of how extensively youth drive social movements, it does offer some insights that are useful and potentially challenging to movement theory.
The main relevant findings are that 1) millennials have a “distinct vernacular” when they talk about engaging with social issues, 2) their general desire to help the “greater good” leads them to engage in issues even when they lack a personal connection or direct benefit, and 3) their “cause-engagement actions” have increased since 20162. These findings are especially interesting in light of the previous year’s findings that millennial participation was “muted and passive3.” Post-election, however, Millennials are interested in fighting for equality and equity for minority groups and marginalized populations. They’re fighting for these causes by participating more in protests and demonstrations, but also by contacting their representatives. Of particular note for social movement scholars, youth are participating in national-level issues, but they tend to do so through local channels.
The findings, though cursory, seem to point to the increased need for scholars to study youth participation in social movements. If young people are channeling an activist identity to support various causes to which they lack ideological or personal ties, perhaps they will turn your cause into a movement. And, as they increase in all civic behaviors–from volunteering and donating money to taking to the steps of city hall–there are likely emergent opportunities to analyze further whether and how millennial might be changing the way social movements operate.
1The Millennial Impact Project started in 2009 and is run by Achieve, a cause-based research and marketing agency. Data are based on research from over 100,000 millennials (defined as youth born from 1980 to 2000) using surveys, focus groups, and interviews. Their stated goal is “To accurately capture and comprehend this fearless generation’s cause engagement.” They seek a more favorable depiction of the millennial generation. To read more on the report and methods you can download it at http://www.themillennialimpact.com/sites/default/files/reports/Phase1Report_MIR2017_060217.pdf.
2(MIR 2017, p.1)
3(MIR 2017, p.4)