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Millennials, Activism and Race

millennials1By Dominique Apollan, Ph.D.

Through a series of focus groups in key cities with Occupy participants and other activists aged 18-30, the Applied Research Center today released findings on young people’s motivations for engaging in activism, concerns about electoral politics, and thoughts on the extent to which race and racism should be an explicit part of current struggles for economic justice. The report also provides recommendations on key ways to engage millennials of all races/ethnicities in social justice work. An accompanying article on young progressives was published by ARC President and Colorlines Publisher Rinku Sen, and an informational webinar will be presented to coincide with the release. "From a researcher's perspective, it was a dream to hear from some of the most engaged progressive young people in the country," said report author and ARC Research Director Dominique Apollon. "And to provide a forum for them to express themselves freely, in ways that we hope readers of all ages and races will appreciate." In ARC’s report Millennials, Activism and Race, results show that the most significant influence for young progressives to engage in social justice work is their own personal and family experience, particularly for young people of color. In discussing what makes an ideal society, there were varied descriptions, but all agreed that it is one based on community and cooperation -- and that primary barriers include: (1) a dominant ideology based on individualism (especially economic), which too often causes people to be left to fend for themselves, without sufficient public resources and supports, and (2) a general lack of awareness of histories of oppression with political and economic analyses, that the general public doesn't have an analytic framework to critique our political and economic system. Additionally, Occupy protesters were more explicitly anti-capitalism, and more profoundly disillusioned by the electoral process than social justice advocates who had not participated in the Occupy movement.