Washington has failed young Americans for too long. Millennials struck out with Congress and the White House, winning nothing but minor concessions as their financial and job fortunes continue to stagnate. Now they're striking back.
Politicians bailed out irresponsible homebuyers and intractable auto executives, but struggling millennials only got the Bipartisan Student Loan Certainty Act of 2013. The bill was trumpeted as a big win for young people, but it was just a band-aid -- offering minimal benefit to a small group. Meanwhile, both parties took a victory lap and politicians patted themselves on the back for working together.
Millennials insist on playing by their own rules, so they're going around the legislative and executive branches. Instead, they're going straight after them through the judicial branch and the fourth estate. It's a two-pronged approach to punishing perceived wrongdoers and fixing economic inequities:
1. Sue anyone and everyone. No one is off-limits. When a New Jersey teen sued her parents for college tuition, it was rightfully derided -- even by the most jaded millennials. But in our copycat culture, she is a trailblazer, and her case is just the first of many.
2. Launch global ragegasms. When faced with injustice, millennials can effortlessly flood social networks with content that spurs rapid, widespread paroxysms of outrage. It's devastatingly effective at forcing resignations and shaming companies into submission.
The first target on millennials' hit list: big academia. Student debt is skyrocketing, jobs for recent graduates are scarce, and schools keep raising prices. That's why millennials are cheering the Northwestern University student athletes who sued to win the right to organize a union. Lucrative TV contracts, steep ticket prices and apparel sales generate billions for colleges and universities -- and zero for the students. It's hard for big academia to justify the economics when the New York Times reports that Johnny Manziel delivered $37 million to Texas A&M in just two months. More lawsuits for student rights are sure to follow.
The second target: private sector internship abusers. The Los Angeles Times reported this week on a lawsuit that could end the practice of employing unpaid interns. Regardless of the dubious merit of the argument, any change to the law will have serious repercussions for the job market and the 500,000 interns nationwide that deliver billions of dollars in work for low to no wages.
These cases mark a turning point in the political parties' fight to win loyalty among the 80 million millennials. The Democrats and Republicans are so busy trying to capture the youth vote that they forget millennials have the numbers to soon create their own third option.
Millennials will comprise half of the workforce in 2020. They're way behind in wealth and power, but the sheer size of the generation ensures its business, political and cultural philosophies will inevitably overtake the system. But to go up against the established parties, they need money. That's where these partnerships with unions and lawyers come into play as marriages of convenience, not trust. Unions bankrolled President Obama's two electoral wins. And now they're providing an equalizer for millennials looking to create their own niche on the political spectrum.
Millennials can't rely on union and lawyer money forever, but this generation refined crowdfunding into a science and helped make virtual currency a possibility. They don't have the cash like previous generations, but they will have no need for rich patrons when they have something better -- mastery of the monetary exchange systems of the future.
The parties may think they're secure from interlopers, particularly post-McCutcheon, but it won't be long before charismatic millennial candidates mobilize the generation's population advantage into fundraising superiority.
Cracks are already showing. Dan Schnur, a former Republican aide to John McCain and Pete Wilson, is running for California's Secretary of State as a no party preference candidate. He's also a professor at USC, so he has his finger on the pulse on what young audiences crave from their representatives.
The millennial generation may be inexperienced, insecure and impetuous, but it understands entrepreneurship. Young Americans are building their own platform to air their grievances. It's just a matter of time before the donkey and elephant get some company with less grey hair.