People. Progress. Results.

Mark Riddle: The M Gen Flexed

Bernie Sanders in Des Moines (21145177954)
By Phil Roeder from Des Moines, IA, USA (Bernie Sanders for President)


It is only the beginning for the Millennial Generation
by Mark Riddle, NLC4 President

Like most political junkies, my eyes have been transfixed on the first caucuses and primary in the presidential election. While the thought of Trump or Cruz sends a cold chill down the spine, nothing on the Democratic side is a surprise.

For the past five years, I have had the honor of traveling the country as head of New Leaders Council; this has provided a tremendous insight into the Millennial Generation.

In conversation after conversation, the message was the same from Maine to California, from Miami to Omaha. Millennial leaders crave big ideas to solve our country’s most pressing challenges, and with them, the politics of incrementalism falls flat.

As I read articles like this morning’s in the New Republic that Bernie Sanders is the Future of the Democratic Party, or the numerous premature eulogies of Hillary Clinton’s campaign, most are still missing the bigger picture.

The Millennial generation, which will be the largest voting block in American history, flexed for the first time in Iowa, and again last night in New Hampshire.

And it is only the beginning. It’s their Party.

The M Gen is the force behind movements like Black Lives Matter and organizations like New Leaders Council. They are powering a movement in Bernie Sanders a name that few had ever heard of before nine months ago. The fact that over 83 percent of voters under the age of the 30 supported Sanders in both states should be the lead story and a wake-up call.

The progressive movement is, frankly, burnt out on the institutions with which we are familiar. The Democratic Party is perpetuating its depth problem by resisting the passion that the M Gen brings to its ranks. Millennials demand more. I discussed the Democrats’ “depth problem” several months ago and shared thoughts on how progressives can build a well-funded and sustainable infrastructure. The Millennial Generation is already beginning to address this from top to bottom.

Five years ago I gave my first remarks to NLC in New Orleans where I said, “the adults screwed it up…it is up to you to fix it.”

The M Gen leaders I have met along the way have given me hope for the future. They are not naive to the challenges of the past; they just see past old barriers. They are not the selfie generation; they are a generation that cares deeply about their communities. 

They have the power of the vote; they are learning how to use it.

The M Gen knows what’s at stake. They have inherited a country and a world that are broken, and they are prepared to fix it. From the destruction of our environment to economic inequality, from the guarantee of basic human rights and dignity to campaign financing, the Millennial generation has seen enough to understand this moment.  It mirrors what Dr. King called “the fierce urgency of now,” and the M Gen is stepping up to the plate.

The modern conservative playbook is about division, fear, and pandering to anxieties; which is rampant across America.  The counterweight to this thinking is the M Gen. The issue environment and raw numbers are in their favor. And if the M Gen sticks together and rises up, they will win the day. 

Whether you are running for President, school board or a CEO of a corporation, the lesson out of Iowa and New Hampshire is clear: if you do not understand, engage and motivate this remarkable generation, you will be gone tomorrow.

The M Gen is why I cannot be more excited about the future.   

riddleheadshot.jpgMark Riddle is the President of NLC4 and Executive Director of New Leaders Council. Under his leadership, NLC has grown across the country to 44 chapters, training over 800 Fellows each year and growing NLC's alumni ranks to more than 3,000 progressive leaders.