The millennials are the biggest generation in U.S. history, numbering somewhere in the neighborhood of 75 million. They are already having a major impact on American and global life and that influence will only grow as they get older.
We asked a handful of "olds"—baby boomers and Gen Xers—connected to the Reason universe to give a shout-out to their favorite millennials. The results include libertarian activists, Middle Eastern radicals, children's book illustrators, independent congressional candidates, and a magic dragon.
Alexander McCobin of Students for Liberty, by David Boaz
We have lots of scholars in the libertarian movement. Not enough, but a few Nobel laureates and many distinguished authors and professors. What we don't have enough of are genuinely libertarian organizations and the institution builders who create and maintain them. Alexander McCobin, co-founder and president of Students For Liberty (SFL) since 2008, is one of those institution builders.
Since I spoke at SFL's first conference, which drew 100 students to Columbia University in 2008, McCobin and his colleagues have built Students For Liberty into the largest libertarian student organization in the world, with more than 400 leaders supporting more than 1,300 student groups representing over 50,000 students. Their 2014 conference drew 1,400.
When people ask me if the libertarian movement is growing, I tell them, "Seven years ago there was no national libertarian student group. Now there are two": SFL and Young Americans for Liberty, which grew out of Ron Paul's presidential campaign. Indeed, Politico wrote in February, "You could argue that the rapid growth of these libertarian groups has been the real story of campus politics in the Obama era."
Not content to free the United States, the global citizens of SFL have founded branches in Europe, Latin America, Asia, and Africa, where more than 1, 100 students gathered at a July conference.
Try as I might with my jaded cynicism, I can't get the smile off Alexander's face, or shake his confidence that millennials are "the libertarian generation." Thanks to the combined efforts of the U.S. government and Students For Liberty, they just might be.
Piff, the Millennial Magic Dragon, by Penn Jillette
Piff, the Magic Dragon, is my favorite millennial magician. Piff was born in London in 1980 and at first blush (dragons do get blood in the face) would therefor not quite be a millennial young man. But Piff is a magic dragon. And magic dragons have a longer lifespan than humans. So, in dragon years, Piff is about 27 and right in the pocket.
I saw Piff for the first time when he walked out on our stage to do our show Penn & Teller: Fool Us. He opened with a dragon sneeze of fire, and then he did a baffling card trick. There's a rule about comedy magicians—they aren't funny and they aren't baffling. Piff is different. Piff had the audience screaming in laughter, and he fooled the pants off every one of them. I got lucky and we guessed the method of his trick by the skin of our teeth. We beat him. Piff lost the battle and won the war. After we joined the audience in Piff's well-deserved standing ovation, the bookings started rolling in for him. He got so much attention from his YouTube clip from our show, that he got booked in Vegas and moved here to do his act full time at a casino. I was proud to write a letter to U.S. Immigration giving my expert opinion that the United States of America didn't have enough magic dragons and we should allow him work here. No way he'd be taking work away from any American magic dragons.
Piff is the only magic dragon member of the prestigious Magic Circle in England and one of the youngest ever to lecture there (and that's in people years). Now, that he's moved here and we've become friends, he's also become part of the Penn & Teller brain trust and helps us design, create, and rehearse new tricks for our show.
I don't know if the kids are alright, but the magic dragon fledglings sure are.
Nick Troiano, Independent Candidate for Congress, by Krist Novoselic
Is Ron Paul really the new Nirvana? Is he grunge? On the contrary, he comes across as a country doctor and an unlikely national political figure. His prominence is a phenomenon that rose in the changes brought by the technological revolution. Look for more candidates who capture the imagination by way of technology. The 2014 election cycle is already offering this. The big news will be when this new breed of candidate is such a hit that one of them wins an election.
I look at the changes occurring in politics through the lens of my personal experience. Nirvana was yanked out of the musical underground into the front and center of the mainstream without the aid of the Internet. Nirvana really didn't change the music industry. We only helped change what kind of music people plugged into. People wanted something different and that cleared the way for "alternative" music.
Politics today are stuck in a similar rut to what rock was in 1990. Back then, music seemed like the same old stuff the media was pushing on people. Nevermind was the flip side of that and was at the right place and the right time to pull people in. Nevermind was such a phenomenal hit that you couldn't buy it for a few weeks after it broke because the label didn't expect to sell so many copies and the inventory was simply exhausted. The push-media paradigm of TV stations and magazines exposing what they wanted onto the masses did not break Nirvana. Rather, there was huge appetite for a new sound. Our record made number one because of that hunger.
It was the technology revolution that eventually changed the music industry. The new paradigm is to pull people in. Who is the next political Nirvana? The answer will be whoever can pull enough people in to propel them to the top of the vote count.
I want to write about a millennial who is running his first campaign for office. I am excited about his campaign because he is acting like a millennial—this cohort are supposed to be problem-solvers and are really tech savvy. Nick Troiano is a 25-year-old candidate running for Congress as an independent in Pennsylvania's 10th district. He is a political centrist and I see this as part of his millennial problem-solver attitude (his age group are supposed to be a lot like their great-grandparents.) Look at him campaigning and he is not, by any means, a fringe candidate.
I think that our political system is out-of-whack, with the same insiders spending tons of money. The system for congressional elections makes most of us voters spectators regardless of what our political preferences are. Independent Troiano is eschewing donations from the insiders in favor of a "citizen-funded" campaign. It is expensive to run for Congress and it takes guts for a candidate to cut their donor options. Nevertheless, it is clear what Troiano wants to do—tap into the pull paradigm of social networking. Enough people send him five bucks and he can have some real money. Something is working as he is currently the highest fundraising independent or third-party candidate in the country.
I love that he is independent. I see him as the alternative candidate. I like a lot of his platform, however, as an independent myself, what I really want to see is the two major parties go down in Pennsylvania's 10th district. It is as simple as that. Troiano is a glimpse of the future of American politics; where enough voters can amplify a small financial contribution by way of technology. The elephant and donkey show have got to go and here is an opportunity to make that happen, with crowd-sourcing, for one seat in congress.
This is the new kind of politics where people are pulled into campaigns. This will not be the alternative much longer. Rather, it will soon be the mainstream. As the millennials come of age, we will see more campaigns like this. I hope that Troiano shoots to the top with his first campaign for office.
Christian Robinson, Book Illustrator, by Frank Portman
Like most of us, I first encountered the written word and saw my first actual art in picture books. That first look at the world as seen and presented by someone else is an experience that sticks with you. And fortunately I was clever enough to have scheduled my childhood to occur during a golden age of children's books, and in a social environment that forced the stuff on you with the insistence of a life insurance salesman. You couldn't escape Ezra Jack Keats and Maurice Sendak, even if you'd wanted to.
Christian Robinson is a prolific young San Francisco-based artist who is making big waves in the picture-book racket. His artwork evokes the "classic" aesthetic—it's not for nothing that he won the Ezra Jack Keats Award. But his whimsical take on the tradition subtly transforms it into something else again, something that feels quite new. Taking on history in a playful, positive spirit is his consistent theme. The gorgeous paper cut-out images of Harlem's Little Blackbird just spring off the page, bringing to life the story of the little-known (and unrecorded) Harlem renaissance singer Florence Mills in a way that words alone could never do. He also pops up in unexpected places, like the most recent MLK Google doodle, the gentle, wry take on educational pamphlet illustration in Queer: the Ultimate LGBT Guide for Teens, and in this charming video on children's understanding of music, another old trope given new life.
I risk a familiar nasty question: Why should a grownup care about children's books? Well, perhaps it's just that, growing up with the tradition, you're curious about where it's going and how it's going to end. Or maybe it's the inverse of what grabbed me as a kid, a joy in seeing a new take on familiar things I may have forgotten to notice. Whatever it is, Christian Robinson is in his tiny San Francisco room, quietly making huge things happen.
Elizabeth Nolan Brown, staff editor at Reason.com, by Sharon Presley
My favorite millennial is Elizabeth Nolan Brown, a staff editor at Reason.com and a contributor to various other publications. From "Rise of the Hipster Capitalist" (a feature article in the October issue of Reason magazine) to "School District Bans Talking About Ferguson" her writing is on point, clever, and fresh. Most of all, at least to me, she writes about issues that concern women. There is a dearth of writing about such issues that Brown is filling admirably. These include articles such as "Pregnancy Crimes"; "Another Unconstitutional Abortion Restriction Struck Down in the South; Judge Asks What If Similar Laws Applied to Guns?"; "Pregnant Women Warned: Consent to Surgical Birth or Else," and "Punishing Prostitution Clients Is Not a Feminist Solution."
Such topics are vitally important to at least half the human race, so thank you, Elizabeth.
Sharon Presley is a psychologist, author, and editor whose works includes Feminist Interpretations of Ayn Rand; Exquisite Rebel: The essays of Voltairine de Cleyre: feminist, anarchist, genius; and Standing Up to Experts and Authorities: How to Avoid Being Intimidated, Manipulated, and Abused. Read her Facebook page here.
Ashe Schow, commentary writer at the Washington Examiner, by Glenn Reynolds
My nomination goes to columnist Ashe Schow of the Washington Examiner. Over the summer, she's devoted considerable energy to a series of columns looking into the moral panic over campus sexual assault, and into the one-sided, due-process-violating legislation that is currently before Congress.
Schow has done what pundits often fail to do, gathering new data by questioning the members of Congress supporting this legislation, and pushing repeatedly when they failed to answer, or were evasive. Her series of columns on this topic is must-read material for anyone interested in the subject, and an excellent example of how to do punditry for anyone just starting out.
Glenn Reynolds runs Instapundit.com and is the Beauchamp Brogan Distinguished Professor of Law at the University of Tennessee. He is the author of, most recently, The New School: How the Information Age will Save American Education from Itself.
Middle-Eastern and Central-Asian Millennials, by Thaddeus Russell
Millennials are winning the War on Terror—not the young people operating drones from command centers in Nevada or shooting Taliban from Apache helicopters, but the millennials across the Middle East who are throwing their head scarves to the wind, shooting hip-hop videos at house parties, selling bootleg satellite dishes, sporting outlawed tattoos, and watching tons of porn.
As drone missiles rain down on Pakistani villages, artillery shells pound the Kandahar Valley, F/A-18 fighter jets drop bombs on Iraq, and military-enforced sanctions choke the Islamic Republic of Iran, a bloodless but raucous revolution led by Arab and Persian millennials is underway all over Muhammad's empire. This is a revolution in everyday life, and it is gradually but surely subverting repressive regimes across the Middle East. No one understands this more clearly than the radical Islamists who are clinging to power against the waves of young people's cultural subversion. Ayatollahs in Pakistan, Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt have issued fatwas against the "satanic instruments" of Western pop culture. But they are losing, as more young women shed their hijabs, Islamic authorities beg for people to stop watching TV, and satanic verses fill their air.
All America has to do to defeat global jihad is give up, come home, and let the kids get down.
Thaddeus Russell is the author of A Renegade History of the United States and a biography of Jimmy Hoffa. He teaches history at Occidental College and is a frequent contributor to Reason and Reason.com (click here for his archive).