by Alexis Demandante and Gretchen Oertli
Communications and Advocacy Interns, YWCA USA
Generation Progress hosted its annual Make Progress Summit last week, where millennials from across the DC area and from all over the country joined progressive leaders in discussing problems facing our generation. Workshops and panels covered topics like the student debt crisis, sexual assault on college campuses, gun violence prevention, and civic engagement, among others.
The ballroom of the hotel was packed with roughly 1,000 college students, interns, and avid activists. Generation Progress lined up a star-studded list of guest speakers, including Vice President Joe Biden, Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Senator Elizabeth Warren, all of whom expressed incredible optimism in the power of the millennial generation to make meaningful progress on these important issues.
Hearing our nation’s leaders was inspiring. A notable example is when Senator Elizabeth Warren took a strong stance against current student debt policies and asked her fellow Congressmen to choose: “billionaires or students?” By closing loopholes in tax policy for those in the highest income brackets, Senator Warren believes that we could make up for the $66 billion dollars that the United States stands to make off of student loans issued between 2007 and 2012.
.@elizabethforma arguing for #HigherEdNotDebt so all have #AFightingChance. #MakeProgress @genprogress pic.twitter.com/SL3bVwxSiB
— Emily K. Cody (@EmilyKCody) July 16, 2014
Later, Vice President Joe Biden took the stage and gave a speech on his unwavering optimism about the millennial generation. As a politician who has spent several decades in public service, he has seen incredible progress made in the arenas of civil rights, LGBT rights, and violence against women. He encouraged the room to continue challenging orthodoxy, crediting the millennial generation with gaining momentum on the important social issues of our time.
“Here is what I believe about this nation: We are one America. We only succeed when we act as one America.” -VP pic.twitter.com/Eax7afVAg5 — Vice President Biden (@VP) July 16, 2014
“We should have a zero tolerance policy for violence against women” VP @JoeBiden #MakeProgress @YWCAUSA — Gretchen (@gretchenoertli) July 16, 2014
The “Millennials in Office” panel was particularly inspiring. Panelists Svante Myrick, mayor of Ithaca, and Texas State Representative Mary Gonzalez have a combined age of less than 60, yet they each have incredible personal achievements, including holding public office. Together, they challenge the stereotypes of race, sexual orientation, and age as limiting factors to effective leadership. They each said that they felt that their youth and relative inexperience was a positive factor for public office rather than a limitation.
With 2014 marking the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Fight For Civil Rights Continues panel was a timely and important discussion of the work still needed to eliminate racism and bring equal rights for all. Modern civil rights leaders Dante Barry of Million Hoodies Movement, Carmen Berkley of AFL-CIO, Scott Roberts of the Advancement Project, and Vincent Paolo Villano of the National Center for Transgender Equality shared their ideas on how young people can use their voices and power to make a difference in equality, especially in the workplace and voting booths, and be effective allies.
“Letting those who are most affected take the lead” is the most important aspect of being an ally. @ScottGetsBusy #MakeProgress — (@AlexisBreakfast) July 16, 2014
“You all should be poll workers. Is that sexy? No… We need more people understanding of our community.” @CarmenSpinDiego #MakeProgress — (@AlexisBreakfast) July 16, 2014
To close out the evening, Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez reminded us that John Lewis, Cesar Chavez, and Alice Paul were all in their 20s during their respective movements. “Never be afraid to take educated risks,” he urged the crowd, admitting to the failures he experienced on the road to becoming a Cabinet member. Leaving the summit, there was an air of urgency and optimism that promises progress.
“People in their teens & 20s have been changing the country for generations.” –@LaborSec at #MakeProgress Summit pic.twitter.com/cI4HFmayBs
— US Labor Department (@USDOL) July 16, 2014
This marathon of issue-oriented problem-solving sessions in a highly interactive environment fostered open discussion of the most prominent issues for the millennial generation.
Gretchen is a senior at Rice University, where she majors in Economics and English. She is interning for the summer in the YWCA USA Advocacy Department.
Alexis is a senior at California State University, Fullerton, interning in the YWCA USA Communications Department this summer. She majors in Communications and American Studies.