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Why Politics Needs a Millennial Moment

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Imagine for just a moment a United States Congress that tackled our nation's problems, put aside petty bigotry and division, worked together to build an economy that created jobs and reduced inequality, expanded and improved education for every citizen, embraced technology to improve health care and reduce costs, addressed the threat of climate change and actually lived up to the ideals of our Constitution.

How can we make that happen?

By getting more millennials to run for public office.

At age 29, I'm seven years out of college and for the past three years, I have served as a City Councilman in Cincinnati, my hometown. My days at City Hall are spent working to revitalize neighborhoods, create jobs, improve schools and alleviate poverty, and I can't imagine feeling more purposeful about my work.

Yet I'm not naive about the esteem in which most of my peers hold the arena that I have chosen: A Harvard survey last year of 18- to 29-year-olds showed just 35 percent of them believed that running for office is an honorable endeavor. Compounding the concern, too many of that same demographic do not even vote.

Meanwhile, as many of the best and the brightest go elsewhere -- to finance, to consulting, and increasingly, to Silicon Valley -- in whose hands do we leave our future?

Our country is just a few years removed from the oldest Congress in our nation's history when, in 2010, the average age was 57 in the House and 63 in the Senate. The current 113th Congress is only slightly younger.

Certainly, age brings experience and wisdom, but it can also bring intransigence and resistance to change. Today, our country is trapped in a time warp of tired and pointless arguments. The moment is ripe for a new generation to embrace the challenges and opportunities of governing.

The Catch-22 I sense from my generation is that we don't want to enter politics until it is made honorable again, but there's no indication that it's going to be made honorable again while we remain on the sidelines.

Our generation -- known as millennials, from 18 to 33-years-old -- is the largest generation in American history. The future that we're inheriting belongs to us, whether we like it or not and whether we created it or not.

The project of fixing our politics -- and helping fix our county in the process -- is an endeavor for which millennials are best positioned to succeed. Whether it be the United States Senate or the local school board, here are five reasons why more millennials need to run for public office -- now, not later.

1) We're So Over the Culture Wars: Millennials attitude on issues such as same sex marriage boils down to: "Duh -- of course we should have it." Some 68 percent of Americans age 18-33 favor marriage equality, according to a recent Pew survey capturing a wide range of Millennial views. Another 69 percent favor the legalization of marijuana. Making the culture wars less relevant translates into a generation of leaders focused on critical, time-sensitive issues: creating new jobs, rebuilding our infrastructure, and reducing college debt.

2) We Embrace Diversity Because We Are Diverse: The millennial generation is the most racially diverse in American history -- among millennial adults, some 43 percent are non-white. Of the current Congress, 8 percent is black; 6 percent is Latino; 5.6 percent is Asian; 18.5 percent is women; and 1 percent is gay. Putting more millennials in public office means that our elected leaders will increasingly mirror what our country looks like. Moreover, finding a Millennial who doesn't have a friend of a different racial background or sexual orientation is extremely rare. Embracing diversity isn't our way of being polite or politically correct -- it's the world that we know, that we relate to, and that we value.

3) Using Transformational Technology is Second-Nature: Millennials are the world's first generation of "digital natives" -- we've sailed into adulthood with iPhone in-hand, fluent in Twitterese. We're a can-do generation building new products with 3-D technology, engineering advanced robotics, using biotechnology to cure disease, and developing the new solar energy systems that will rescue our planet from climate change. It is vital to empower the generation best positioned to apply technology to our most pressing matters of public policy.

4) We Don't Hate Government: Millennials are the only generation living today for which surveys show that a majority believe government can and should play a more helpful role in our lives. Placing leaders in office who want government to work goes a long way toward actually making it work.

5) We Need to Fix the Economy Now: In the aftermath of depression and war, The Greatest Generation created the largest economic expansion in world history. Now, the Millennial Generation faces a similar challenge in the aftermath of Afghanistan, Iraq and the 2008 economic collapse. We are the first modern generation to have higher levels of unemployment, student debt, and poverty, as well as lower levels of personal income and wealth, than either of the preceding two generations -- Gen-X and baby boomers -- did at the same juncture in their lives. Millennials should have no patience for dysfunction and complacence in Washington, nor become resigned to a status quo of joblessness and income inequality. We need to roll up our sleeves and fix both, now.

Millennials should continue to look to and learn from those who have come before us, but we cannot wait to assume a role in our nation's leadership. For the generation that founded Facebook and that was decisive in making the White House something other than a white guys club, when it comes to taking the reins, we don't need to ask for permission. It's time to put our collective skin in the game.

Millennials, the time has come. It's time to run. It's time to lead.

P.G. Sittenfeld, 29, is a Councilman in Cincinnati, Ohio -- first elected to that position in 2011, as the youngest Councilman in the city's history.