An End to the Age of the Uncaring Millennial: What Bernie Sanders means for the future of youth politics.


Words || Angela Heathcote

It used to be easy to say that you weren’t sure where you sat on the political spectrum. You could roll your eyes at your local member barraging you at the nearest train station as fast you could dump their brochures in the closest garbage bin. After all, there was hardly anyone in politics for people under the age of twenty-five to be excited about. In Australia, neither the Labor Party nor the Liberal Party hold progressive views on environmentalism, refugees, gender, indigenous affairs, education or drugs. And while the Greens tend to be the most forward-looking, we’re reluctant to cast our votes to a party that remains relatively on the fringe – most likely because of this mode of thinking.

Barack Obama was elected back in 2009 and it’s reasonable to assume that us millennials were far too occupied with the return of Adele, than with mustering up any excitement for American politics. But the excitement around the 2016 election was inescapable for our generation. While you may be expecting a comment on the first female presidential nominee or a swipe at the political apocalypse that we are now experiencing thanks to Trump and ol’ mate Bannon, in true progressive fashion it’s worth jumping ahead four years and anticipating what the future will look like based on the youth vote.

After the election there’s a good chance you saw the electoral map that demonstrated “how the future voted” doing its rounds on the Internet. It determined that, had people between the ages of 18-25 been the only ones voting; Hillary Clinton would have overwhelmingly won the US election, delivering us the much-anticipated first female president-elect. While the survey has its limitations in that it represented how people said they would vote, rather than how they actually voted, or whether they voted at all, it still exhibited the collective belief in what The Washington Post dubbed the “most progressive Democratic platform ever”. The Washington Post then concluded that this was due to Bernie Sanders’ absolute sweep of the youth vote and Clinton’s need to keep up with him.

The impact of Sanders’ campaign is relentless, not to mention impossible to cover over the two pages this article is allotted. However for young people, it’s easy to reduce Sanders’ impression on them to the very simple democratic process of participation. If you believe in something, why not go out and fight for it? Recently the Democratic National Party (DNC) elected a new chair after Debbie Wasserman stood down as email leaks revealed an attempt to thwart the Sanders campaign during the primaries. While the Establishment wing of the party remained triumphant, the differences in values between the latter and the ‘Berniecrats’ littered the debate. By far the loudest progressive voice, and coincidentally, the youngest, was Samuel Ronan, a 27 year-old air force veteran who dropped so many truth bombs throughout the DNC chair debate, that he’d have Clive Palmer saying “goodbye establishment wing of the DNC, goodbye”.  

When Grapeshot asked Ronan what he felt was the most important thing about Bernie’s campaign he was resolute:  

“Bernie inspired a generation of voters to take a part in the Democratic process and participate. However the second he stopped being a candidate, his momentum and the direction that people relied on stopped as well. This is what has caused most of the fragmentation among the progressive movement and Bernie supporters. He started the movement and now it’s up to us to finish what he started by bringing people together, giving them the support structure needed to take action in politics”.

Ronan says that candidates like Bernie Sanders truly happen once in a lifetime, but his momentum will inevitably be sustained by Trump’s term as president.

“He’s going to ‘Make America Great Again’ by causing enough civil unrest that through all of the movements and actions taken, people will either enter the political process, force the current establishment out, or bring it to its knees. We are energized, angry, and saddened by what we are seeing, so we need to change it. The simplest most direct course of action is to get elected, but most of us can’t run for office, so my purpose is to make running for office more accessible to the American people.”

Australia is by no means safe from the Bernie effect. If you merely Google “Australia, Bernie Sanders” you’ll be overwhelmed by the amount of articles looking for our own version of the Vermont Senator, or at the least, articles prematurely determining an end to centrist politics. It’s likely that neither will become a reality, but the impact will lend itself to a change unique to our political system.  

In the lead up to the last federal election ABC reporter Tim Dunlop correctly predicted that the instability of a Turnbull government will put a magnifying glass to the ideological differences that the Prime Minister has with the right of his party – those still bitter about the leadership spill. This means that Turnbull’s relative progressiveness when it comes to the environment is a constant point of tension.  Paired with the outrage that surrounds the Trump presidency, this is the fatalistic context from which our generation will emerge more concerned for their future and more politically engaged.