My first conscious thoughts of anything as grand as a Milluminati came to me shortly after the 2008 presidential election. Some friends of mine and I were having lunch when one of them commented on the elation [I] “must have felt…” at having a black man elected to the presidency of the United States- “what a vindication!”- they gushed. Although I did appreciate the spirit of my friend’s assumptions, I’d have to admit that I was just as befuddled as anyone… I couldn’t understand how it had happened! Nothing revealed itself during my twice-a- week visits to the local barbershop… there was no hint that the sleeping spirit of united political action had swept through the African- American community, moving all 14 million of us to vote as one. As usual, my friends and relatives in Texas were withholding their support, deferring to the time tested wisdom of “Aint no way these white folk gonna let a black-man be President!” We more “progressive” blacks, by and large, were split down the middle… “Obama’s too inexperienced and liberal…” “Too bad he’s a democrat…”, and my personal favorite “he’s not even “truly” black…” were just a few reasons some African-Americans didn’t celebrate Obama’s ascent. Yes, it’s true that many of us were absolutely in favor of the campaign for “Change”, but just as many were not in favor of Marriage Equality, a Pro-Choice agenda, or gay rights.
For some weeks afterwards I did what curious people, like myself, do when confronted with impossible puzzles: I carried it with me everywhere I went. One day I found myself having an energetic discussion with a friend of mine who was an ardent supporter of the GOP; he was [patiently] explaining to me that, due to his relative political inexperience, Obama would soon be “out of his depth.” This idea had been widely circulated on FOX, and other conservative news outlets after the elections, so I had been given ample opportunity to develop a counter-argument and was preparing to launch it when… “Dad, you’re just saying that because he’s black…” his son huffed, as if exasperated by his father’s lack of insight. “That’s not why- his color has nothing to do with anything!” was the very predictable (and somewhat feeble) response from my friend. I could take you through the next hour or so of ideological bludgeoning inflicted upon my friend by his son, but I won’t. What’s important is this: where did this kid come from, and why was he so informed?
After the young man was done educating his father on the finer points of political debate, he donned his favorite “slouchy” beanie, skinny jeans, Jimi Hendrix t-shirt, iPhone, backpack, and skateboard before riding off into the kind of Winter night that only exist in places like Corona Del Mar California.
Putting It All Together
My friend’s son was 16 at the time- not even old enough to vote, and yet… Not only did he exhibit a depth of knowledge and enthusiasm for politics- uncommon for Americans of any age, I could tell that he had given his father a thing or two to think about… I was onto something! I felt my “impossible puzzle” shrink to the size of something slightly better than an improbable riddle. Is it possible that a group of kids like my friend’s son came together to elect Americas first “black” President, less than 50 years after MLK’s march on Selma? A group of kids hanging out at a Starbucks in Newport Beach supplied me with all the intel I needed.
There were about 15 of them, all in their late teens, early 20’s; apparently they had all gathered here to participate in a “Magic the Gathering” tournament. (Find a millennial, they’ll tell you all about it.) Their faces were black, white, brown, pink, and beige. “Where’s Farhan?” A very pretty, pink member of the group inquired while making her way to one of the available tables. “He just “snap-chatted” me a picture of him,in traffic, coming from L.A…. he’s gonna be awhile!” a young man, whose skin was the color of dark coffee, answered, never looking away from a match between an Asian young man, and an Indian-Asian young woman. “Oh yeah… I got that too…” a tall black boy supplied, ” “…sucks to be him!” he finished as those around him laughed their agreement.
There, in Starbucks, over the bubbly voices of espresso machines plying their trade, and the muted chatter of commerce being conducted men in ties, I heard another voice…bold, unapologetic, its accent universal, its timbre deep and powerful… a thunder-clap resonating through space and time, vibrant with the energy of youth… I could hear the future.
Millennials is the term used to describe the group of people born between 1982 and the year 2000, and depending on who you ask they are either “civic minded and aware” or “narcissistic and entitled”; “depressed and detached” or “upbeat and connected.”
It seems that where ever one looks, someone is trying to find a way to harness the lightning-strike power that the millennials under my roof have dubbed The “Milluminati.”
The Illuminati is a secret society, composed of a handful of the most powerful people in the world, and their goal is to control everything from birth to death, war to wealth, and all things in-between…all while remaining perfectly invisible. See where I’m going with this? Whether or not the Illuminati actually exist depends on who you ask. Urban legend has it that their agendas unfold by degrees and can take decades to come to fruition. Not so for the Milluminati.
The similarities between the Illuminati and its 21 century redux are non-existent save, of course, for both groups relative invisibility. For instance, where the former is isolated, calculating, patient, and self-serving; the latter is networked, impatient, operates in plain sight, and has a decidedly altruistic bent. One works through established institutions to accomplish its goals while the other works to deconstruct, re-imagine, or enervate any institution that it finds to be archaic or obsolete. The Illuminati (if you believe in such a thing) goes to great length to maintain their veil of secrecy and anonymity, the other is shielded by nothing more than the casual way it executes its agenda. Those not aligned with millennials will perceive its actions as nothing more than random, lazy attempts to be relevant.
Well let’s take a look at a few of the “random” things that have happened since the first of these young people started voting:
- Legalization of Marijuana- A conversation that has been relatively one-sided since the 1930’s when the federal government implemented the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937. Without boring you to death with a lot of history, people have received 20 year prison sentences for possessing 10 joints. Although federal law still lags… many states are starting to see, with the help of their 18-29 year old constituents, the upside to legalizing marijuana, chiefly the $1.3 billion to be made from simply taxing it. Additionally, 60% of that same age group is in favor of legalization – a trend that has been surging upwards since around 2010.
- Marriage Equality- It’s been on the back burner since the 70’s. The rise of “Gay Pride,” with it’s in- your face assertion that it was not only “ok” to be gay, but that it could be down-right “fabulous!” Artist and entertainers rammed the topic into the national psyche, and there it languished, never achieving the full integration that had been the goal. 2000 saw the first states legalizing same-sex unions. By 2004 a few states were actually choosing to recognize marriage equality. 2009 saw the first federal laws actually making “Pathologization or attempted treatment of sexual orientation with minors by mental health professionals illegal in some states.” Finally, in 2015 the Supreme Court of the United States in a 5-4 decision ruled that state level bans on same-sex marriages were unconstitutional.
- Elected A Black President- I could just leave it there, but I want to take a few lines to illuminate the relevance of this. As far as presidents go, Obama is fairly moderate… never straying too far from the policies, or the governmental structure, that had been put in place long before he came into office. He was never going to be a revolutionary. But what was revolutionary was what he symbolized- in a word… “Change!” The act of electing an African-American as the P.O.T.U.S. is tantamount to the ancient Egyptians electing a Jew to be Pharaoh and illustrates the revolutionary changes expected by this generation in a way that can’t be measured by polls, studies, or statistics.
We All Get Old…If We’re Lucky…
Generally speaking, as we become older, human beings tend to “settle-down” into communities of people that reflect our beliefs and values. While in our youth we are interested in exploring, developing, and defining what those beliefs and values are. What makes this generation so uniquely formidable is its ability to create networks, share information, connect, and mobilize on a scale never seen in all of human history… all while remaining virtually invisible. I recently had a conversation with a young man- himself no older than 23. He assured me that “kids” from his generation hadn’t the slightest idea what they were voting for, because they were too lazy to look up the issues themselves. In his sage and sober observation he observed that instead of engaging in the “real” work of analysis and research, they simply chose whatever looked “…coolest…” The good news is according to prevailing trends and research, my young friend is a little off the mark. According to the Pew Research Center for Politics and Policy in 2008:
Young voters are more diverse racially and ethnically than older voters and more secular in their religious orientation. These characteristics, as well as the climate in which they have come of age politically, incline them not only toward Democratic Party affiliation but also toward greater support of activist government, greater opposition to the war in Iraq, less social conservatism, and a greater willingness to describe themselves as liberal politically.
The Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE) published the following report after the elections of 2012:
An estimated 23 million young Americans under the age of 30 voted in the 2012 presidential election which is on par with voting rates during the 2008 presidential election. CIRCLE estimates that youth voter turnout was 50 percent of those (18-to-29) eligible to vote. This was very close to the 2008 youth turnout rate of 52 percent, indicating that youth held steady in their participation.
Liberal or conservative, republican or democrat… these concepts are being bent, broken, and re-imagined in ways that they haven’t before… the muscle behind the morphosis is young, proud, enigmatic, quick to act, and technologically sleek. Capable of looking bored- even aloof ,one minute, and then with a keystroke, change the course of history. And yes, I think that’s pretty cool!
Now for the bad news… various polls show that the Millennials political fire is starting to wane or at least modulate toward a more conservative center. There are plenty of reasons for this… polls are notoriously prone to being manipulated to fit agendas, and there are a lot of agendas centered around controlling a group of people with massive political capital, youthful idealism, and the tools to recreate the world… now. So, by telling you that you are more conservative the hope is that you will become more conservative- think “Jedi-mind-trick.”
Another possible reason the millennial fire may be cooling a bit is… simply put… we get old. As we live life, we become more invested in the stability afforded by upholding the status quo; relationships, marriages, mortgages, kids in college, careers, business interest… these things require a certain amount of physical, fiscal, and political focus in order to be maintained.
Curious People Like Me
The puzzle of the Milluminati- who they are, and what they mean for the world we live in, went from being impossible to solve to being sublimely easy to accept. Who knows why young people do the things they do: why the children of plantation owners fought so hard to abolish their birth right; or how the children of slaves decided they were entitled to their humanity; or how the children of segregation, both, black and white, decided it was time to live as one… who knows! But it works… and today that’s good enough for a curious person like me.