Millennials Are Shifting the Public Debate with the Power of Their Ideas

By Taylor Jo Isenberg |

The Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network’s annual 10 Ideas series collects the top student policy proposals from across the country. This year’s journals are now available online; read them here.

December 2014 will mark 10 years since a group of college students united behind a new model for engaging young people in the political process, a model that became the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network. Deeply grounded in the belief that young people have more to offer than just showing up on Election Day, the Campus Network has continued to evolve and grow from its visionary beginning into the nation’s largest student policy organization, with a membership capable of shifting dialogue and effecting policy at the local, state, and national levels.

We believe that in the context of a stagnant public discourse and increasing disillusionment with a political system incapable of tackling our complex collective challenges, it is more important than ever to invest in a generation of leaders committed to active problem-solving and concrete change in the public sphere. As the Campus Network expands to more than 120 chapters in 38 states, we serve as a vehicle for fresh ideas, exciting talent, and real progress.

You will find our commitment to bold experimentation on display in the 2014 edition of the Campus Network’s 10 Ideas journals, collecting our members’ best policy proposals on issues including economic development, defense and diplomacy, energy and the environment, health care, education, and equal justice. From reforming western water rights to supporting green infrastructure, students are envisioning and acting on better solutions.

The variety and scope of the ideas in these journals are indicative of our network’s larger impact. In the past year, we’ve leveraged the effectiveness of our model to work with and inform dozens of other organizations on how to engage Millennials on critical issues, ranging from campaign finance to inequality to climate change. We’ve elevated a fresh, Millennial-driven vision for government in an otherwise stale public debate, and launched an initiative that taps into our generation’s unfettered thinking and ambition to reimagine the role of citizens in shaping fairer and more equitable local economies. Our members have continued to substantively engage in local processes to shape and shift the policy outcomes that directly impact their communities, from introducing new mapping systems to improve health outcomes in low-income neighborhoods to consulting local governments on flood prevention.

These ideas are just the starting place, because ideas are only powerful when acted upon. Yet this work is occurring in a dramatically shifting political and social context. The ways citizens engage their government, participate locally, and advocate for their communities are changing every day. As a vibrant, evolving network driven by our active members nationwide, we believe there is immense potential to capture these innovations and ensure better and more progressive ideas take hold. We believe that:

  • Millennials are turning away from traditional institutions and are looking to build new ones as vehicles for social change. We believe there is an opportunity to channel this reform-mindedness into building a healthier, more inclusive system that’s responsive to citizen engagement and evidence-based solutions.  
  • To jump-start political engagement and combat disillusionment, the focus needs to be on pragmatic problem-solving and intersectional thinking across key issues. For example, we can no longer tackle economic mobility separately from climate change.
  • There is immense potential (and need) for scalable policy innovation at the local and state levels, and much of the most effective and important policy change in the coming decade will be local.
  • With the shift from top-down institutions to networked approaches and collective problem-solving, it is more important than ever before to invest in the development of informed, engaged community leaders capable of driving engagement and action on ideas.

As you engage with the ideas, ambitions, and goals in these journals, I encourage you to dig in and explore how our country’s future leaders are taking the initiative to create the change they know we desperately need. You won’t be disappointed. 

Taylor Jo Isenberg is the Roosevelt Institute’s Vice President of Networks.