I came to the Republican National Convention in Cleveland with Vocatio, searching for any discussion around topics of concern to young people, or around the topics of education, college cost, student debt, and millennial un- and underemployment. Along the way, I found some interesting young people on the streets around the convention who were capitalizing on the event in a number of ways.
Young People at the RNC
Daniel Maconi drove to Cleveland with two of his friends from New Jersey, to sell these novelty boxes of cereal that he had designed—Trump Flakes and Clinton Crunch. He’s using the proceeds from the sales to help pay his friend Dan Malfronte’s college tuition. He said he found this election “ridiculous” and had largely stopped paying close attention to it. Asked for an opinion on the specific candidates, he said with a smile, “I can’t have one until I sell all my cereal boxes.” They plan to attend the DNC next week as well.
Here, this young man had secured one of the most prominent souvenir stand locations, between the MSNBC stage and the entrance to the “event zone.”
Hayden Whetstone, a freelance graphic designer and clothing designer, had flown in to sell his Trumpy Socks to help support the tech company he’s starting with a friend. He said he has always worked for himself and enjoys the freedom of being an entrepreneur. He was inspired to capitalize on the convention after reading about the founders of AirBnB selling election-related merchandise at the 2008 conventions to support their venture.
Samir Hamid and several friends and family of Salam, We Come in Peace flew up from Charlotte to pass out 5000 rose pens “literally just to spread peace” and to “put a friendly face on Islam.” From what I saw, everyone was receiving it warmly (even though 10 feet away was a man handing out Obama-is-a-Muslim-instituting-Sharia-law pamphlets).
This guy with a Make America Read Again hat was giving out free used books from the back of his bike. He said he was there just for fun. “I’m a librarian on vacation,” he told me as he handed me a yellowed Michael Crichten paperback.
These girls changed up their style throughout the week. On Monday they had been just running around giving out free hugs. Here on Tuesday they were organized a more direct protest of what they saw as both candidates’ war-hawk policies on Tuesday with a “Make Out, Not War” demonstration in pink sports bras. They were extremely articulate and well-spoken when people engaged them on what they were protesting.
Millennials are fed up with this election
Dan Malfronte, the friend who the cereal boxes were supporting, will be entering his second year of college. He chose to attend community college because of cost and travel savings compared to the intense cost of mainstream colleges. He’s a business major, but doesn’t know exactly what he wants to do with the degree. He expressed frustration with the education system, describing the average undergraduate experience as “paying 200 thousand dollars for generic basic knowledge,” that “has nothing to do with 99% of the jobs [his] friends have gotten afterward or that [he’s] been offered.” Nonetheless, he felt he had to go because so many jobs require it as a prerequisite.
These are issues young people care about. He tapped right into our inherent reluctance to trust “the system” which has told us that everyone should go to old-fashioned college at a time when college cost is skyrocketing in real money terms, expected salaries for recent grads are stagnating or declining, and hundreds of thousands of degree holders are underemployed in basic service jobs like foodservice. You can’t not go to college, because then you’ll be worse off than everybody. I was fortunate to be one of the lucky few that gets into a top-tier school with the name recognition to put my resume at the top of a lot of piles. But I can understand the catch-22 that many people find themselves in when they are trying to figure out their early adult life.
And it doesn’t really seem like anyone in politics (outside of Bernie Sanders) really cares to even talk about it. Hillary has started co-opting some of his speech to pander to us, but it comes across like she’s just trying a assuage us to complete her quest to become president.
A third friend of the Dans, Baby Girl Davenport (that is her actual legal name. She showed me her ID), had come along to support them and to see the spectacle of the convention. She too seemed extremely disenchanted.
“It’s just so ridiculous. You couldn’t make it up… I feel like we’re living in a South Park episode, having to choose between a Turd Sandwich and a Giant Douche.”
She felt she had to come to the convention to see “if [this whole election] is for real; if it’s as ridiculous as it comes across on TV.”
Her characterization of young people attitudes toward politics, and especially toward this election, is that “we’re fed up with the system. Millennials are starting to realize that we’re going to have the power… we’re starting to decide what kind of future we want….Before, we had no voice yet, we were too young.”
She has friends who will be protesting next week at the DNC, not in opposition or support of a particular candidate, but just in protest of the system. She and her friends are fed up with “the absurdity. It’s not what we want to see for ourselves.”
I ran into a friend from college, Tom Markham, whose grandmother was a delegate from Tennessee. He was writing an article about that experience of being brought along to various political events “regardless of his on-boardness” with the candidate and the election.
He said he was leaning toward voting for Gary Johnson. He feels the two party system is outdated. Having a choice of “the two least liked candidates ever” was due to the “polarizing effect of the two party system. “Everything operates on a spectrum these days,” he said, “except politics. People’s opinions are more complicated than one box or the other. The primary system doesn’t benefit moderate people. [Candidates] have to accommodate people at the farthest ends of the party.”
He’s optimistic about our generation, however.
“At some point soon, it will be like a mantlepiece thing [to be a millennial].” While it’s often used negatively now, he felt that it will have a positive connotation soon, and will be a thing to be proud of.
“Make millennials great,” he said with a smile.
Having spent much of his time in the arena, he did acknowledge that the convention process itself was an impressive experience.
“Really, politics aside, it calls for pause.To walk through that tunnel [into the arena] and behold the spectacle; it’s impressive…It means so much to so many people. It’s as close to pure democracy as our republic gets. Real people get to make a direct impact.”
Vocatio is a career discovery and exploration platform and media network, designed to help young people discover their talents, find careers in which they best fit, and connect with employers looking for high-match candidates. Join our mailing list here to join the Vocatio movement.
Matt Gwin is Vocatio’s Editor and Community Manager. He is originally a rural Ohioan and is a 2014 graduate of Princeton University. He previously worked with the North Lawndale Employment Network, helping formerly-incarcerated individuals on Chicago’s west side learn job skills and secure employment.