Philadelphia is in trouble. Buildings are collapsing, our education system is failing and we are the poorest big city in the United States. People are scrambling to find solutions and are quick to demand reform through our city's literal and figurative infrastructure. As the public narrative goes, the solutions to these problems are completely out of the hands of the average citizen. We point the finger at the powers that be, our elected officials, union members and whatever demographic is different than our own, whether it is based on socioeconomic status, race or age.
However, Christopher Pike said it best in his book Evil Thirst
"When you point your finger at someone, anyone, it is often a moment of judgment. We point our fingers when we want to scold someone, point out what they have done wrong. But each time we point, we simultaneously point three fingers back at ourselves."
There is no question that there are some institutional failures that have caused Philadelphia to lag behind other big cities, particularly in poverty, education and infrastructure, but rather than blame others we should ask how do we continue to let this happen.
CEO and editor-in-chief of the soon-to-be-launched Philadelphia Citizen, Larry Platt, spoke to the Philadelphia Chapter of the New Leaders Council this past weekend. During his discussion about where Philadelphia was going, he used the words of President Richard Nixon and described a silent majority in Philadelphia. Philadelphia's voter turnout shows that the vast majority of Philadelphians remain silent on Election Day. The Silent Majority is failing the City of Philadelphia in its time of need. The silent majority is the millennial generation.
According to an email from City Commissioner Stephanie Singer, millennials represent roughly 30 percent of the eligible voting population. However, during the last election cycle only an abysmal 13 percent of votes cast were cast by millennials. We have the sheer numbers to make change but we have yet to step up and that is why we are failing Philadelphia.
For its part the city has recognized how important it is to retain millennials to create a thriving city. Whether it is the Pew Charitable Trust report or the Center City District State of Center City Report, studies continue to show that millennials are the key to success for Philadelphia. The national dialogue continues to tell the tale that Millennials will save the world. Millennials will fix the problems that generations before us created. Whether it is poverty, global warming or a flawed education system, we millennials have the confidence to say "we got this," and when we are in charge, the world will be different, the future will be bright.
Unfortunately the world cannot wait for a remarkable group of millennials to be in charge. The child in a failing public school can't wait for the next generation to take their seats at the leadership table for change to happen. The victims of building collapses and gas explosions cannot wait for millennials to take control. We cannot wait to be handed the keys to the city to make change. Change must happen now. You don't have to be in the power position to make change; in fact most often the agents of change are not those in charge. Change happens when a group of people join together and create one voice. Movements are created; walls of tradition crumble and the change we seek becomes reality. This movement does not need to be a march on Washington or a mass boycott; it is much simpler than that. In order for our generation, for Millennials, to take the reins and guide Philadelphia out of this crisis, we need to vote.
Former president of the Forrest County chapter of the NAACP and Civil Rights Leader Vernon Dahmer said "if you don't vote, you don't count." This is even truer in our modern day democracy where campaigns are controlled more by numbers than conversations. There is data at the finger tips of every political operative that shows them exactly who votes. As a result, millennials have gained a reputation of not being reliable participants in local elections. Older generations vote and vote often; as a result elected and would be elected officials spend the majority of their time listening and addressing their issues. In the numbers game that dictates campaigns and the actions of our elected representation this strategy only makes sense. Our reputation has turned our generation into a silent generation, in the halls of city hall and the state capital. We can do better. We will do better.
On Tuesday May 20, Philadelphia will once again hold an election. This primary election will feature 13 contested State House of Representative races, two contested State Senate races, a contested (and open) congressional race, a crowded Lt. Governor's race, a City Council At-Large special election and most importantly the Gubernatorial Democratic Primary.
We need to vote in this election, and it doesn't matter who we vote for. When the votes are tallied and voter turnout is calculated and it is determined that millennials do in fact care about elections that don't involve President Obama, it will change the game plan for every election in Philadelphia going forward. If we show up now and again in November and make our voices heard at the polls, the Mayoral candidates, the Council candidates and the Presidential candidates will have to target millennials and our needs as they run their campaigns. It is our needs and our voice, more so than any generation, that represents the change needed to move the City of Philadelphia forward. If we remain silent at the polls our pleas and needs, and therefore the change our city desperately needs, will never be heard because we will have no voice.
To paraphrase for President Richard Nixon (for the first and likely the last time) I ask, to you, the great silent majority, to make our voices heard and vote on Tuesday because our city, our Philadelphia deserves a generation that is going to fight for it.