How Washington Benefits From Your Cynicism

January 22nd 2015

Johanna Berkson

The President hit all the right high notes on Tuesday with his typical witty banter, almost mocking anyone who could have the audacity to disagree with him. “The verdict is clear”,” he said. The economy is strong and middle-class economics works; he’s going to make college more affordable; he wants the minimum wage raised and if you disagree you should try living on it; and he proudly boasted the LGBTQ community is one of the great equality movements of our time (first time the word transgender was ever used in the SOTU).

Young Americans: this is, as he said, good news. 

But perhaps the most important segment of the President’s speech was his plea for members of Congress and the rest of us to rise above the natural cynicism we feel anytime we even contemplate our government functioning efficiently – and in doing so, this State of Union addressed one major source of Millennial’s absence in civic participation – complete dispiritedness towards Washington. As the President suggested, “there are too many people in this town who actually benefit from partisanship and gridlock for us to ever do anything about it.”

At OurTime.org, we too have been more than frustrated with what appears to be a non-functioning Congress, filled with Members more concerned about re-election and “arguing past each other on cable shows,” than working on behalf of creating a better America. We are tired of the infighting, the gridlock, the dark money, and the negativity. But, we heard the President earlier this week, and we are choosing now to take a break from the cynicism, and ask you to do the same.  

Let’s not spend our energy insulting and attacking what isn’t working.  By 2016, the Millennial generation will be 93 million strong – the largest, most diverse, tolerant, and educated generation of Americans. The President suggested our government should be “lifting young people up, with a sense of purpose and possibility, and asking them to join in the great mission of building America.” 

We don’t need to wait for our elected officials. Let’s show Washington how it’s done by treating each other with respect, exemplifying leadership, and participating in our democracy as we wish our representatives in Washington should.


Let’s start by choosing who represents us in every election with our vote. Only 21.5% of voters ages 18-29 voted in the 2014 midterm elections, a percentage embarrassingly consistent with previous elections, highlighting, in part, the pervasive cynicism we need to do away with. It’s so simple – if we show up, the choice for progress is ours. If we don’t – it’s not. 

Let’s also make it our priority to help our peers register to vote. No one in this country should ever feel isolated or excluded from this most basic and fundamental right as a U.S. Citizen. If you haven’t seen the movie Selma, it is a reminder to all of us that if we sit idly by while others fight for equal rights, we are a part of the problem and just as guilty as those who are taking an active role to prevent their participation.

We’ve never been more excited about the potential of our generation to chart our own course -- to move forward as a more unified team of Americans. Join us as we demand action and live the “better politics” the President suggested we can. You can register to vote now here. 

Andrew Lee, the executive director of OurTime.org, also contributed to this piece.