E pluribus unum: A millennial’s plea
Let me start here: we are going to agree on a lot of things. I begin with that recitation because I know my perspective will be different than what you are used to reading in these pages. So I’ll say again: we are going to agree on a lot of things. You readers, like me, love this valley. We love this country. And we want things to be better for everyone.
Let me tell you who I am and why I’m here.
I grew up in an Olathe-sized town called Wendell in southern Idaho. My dad was a builder and contractor, and my mom worked with small businesses. Each made a career change to public education in the late 1990s. And so, in our small town, my mother was my school counselor and my father my government teacher and football coach.
I was raised on the ethos of personal responsibility. Hard work merits success: period. I carried that attitude from small-town Idaho to college in Philadelphia. For a time, the hyper-competitive environment, both in the classroom and within college athletics, underscored that ethos: these kids I was surrounded with had risen to the top because they were talented, simple as that.
I took a work-study job as an investigator with the law school’s low-income legal services clinic, and began venturing outside my privileged bubble on campus to meet people within the communities of Philadelphia. I saw the effects of generations-long legal and de facto segregation. I saw scars from the escalation of the “War on Drugs” in the 1980s. I saw decaying infrastructure and chronically underfunded schools around the city. Most saliently, I saw abject poverty just blocks from the shiny buildings and fancy cars on campus.
I realized there were a lot of different “Americas” out there. And a lot of different Americans with stories that didn’t follow the simplistic “talent rises to the top” formula.
Going to college in Philadelphia revealed the massive challenges facing working and lower-class Americans. Attending law school in the Bay Area introduced me to courageous, motivated people who wanted to enlist in the fight.
My wife and I came from law school to Grand Junction more than five years ago. I represent injured workers for a living, and my wife works for the state. We have injected ourselves into this community, and are doing our best at co-parenting while co-lawyering. So why am I writing? Well, I was born in 1985, and am near the front end of the Millennial Generation; a generation repeatedly maligned as lazy, entitled, and a risk to American prosperity. But the Grand Valley is full of us, both homegrown and otherwise, and we are beginning to take the wheel of the economy and political system. And so I am here to stick up for my fellow Millennials, and try to give you our perspective. Here’s the thing: we Millennials are pretty mad about the state of the country we are inheriting.
We watched financial institutions gamble with money that wasn’t theirs, wipe out our parents’ pensions, crash the world economy, and then get bailed out with taxpayer money.
We have watched friends and classmates go off to war in the Middle East for 15 years.
After being told to “invest in ourselves,” we are mired in $1.2 trillion of student loan debt, hindering us from taking entrepreneurial risks, buying houses, or investing.
We see the resurgence of white nationalist groups.
After older generations benefitted from funding for scientific education and inquiry, we have watched accepted science be ridiculed as conspiracy or hoax.
We’ve seen powerful corporations resist providing employees fair wages and benefits, and threaten automation and offshoring when required to do so.
We’ve seen the incarceration rate steadily rise to where we imprison more people than any country on Earth.
And, most recently, we’ve watched a baby- boomer billionaire get elected to the highest office in the free world, tell us he’s going to take insiders out of politics, and then fill his Cabinet with billionaires and insiders.
So, Grand Valley, we Millennials are here. We are part of your community. We have deep love of this country, and want it to be as great as advertised.
“E pluribus unum,” or “out of many, one.” The nation’s motto is important to remember. Yes, we are all Americans. But, yes, we are also “many:” a wide range of perspectives, stories, privileges, and challenges. I hope this column can be even a small insight into what the next generation of Americans wants their country to be.