Steven Olikara is the founder and CEO of the national Millennial Action Project (MAP) based in Washington DC. It is the largest nonpartisan organization of millennial lawmakers and seeks to build a new generation of leadership to bridge the political divides that threaten our democracy and future.
He founded the Millennial Action Project because he saw a need to develop and work with younger members of legislatures and change the tone of politics from contempt and hatred for the other side into compassion, understanding, and building bridges to reach agreement and compromise. He wanted to facilitate a future-oriented mindset with young leaders rather than be limited to dwelling on the divisions and conflicts of the past.
Even though partisanship and political separation has been on the rise for some time, MAP encourages and supports the rise of the millennial generation into leadership roles and helps them develop future-focused policy and bi-partisan coalitions to get initiatives across the line. MAP does this through affiliation and support of chapters in each state that identify issues, policies and people to find common ground.
Three issues MAP has identified for further work are election resiliency, gerrymander reform and gun violence prevention. While it may seem that these issues are as divisive and partisan as they come, MAP has been able to achieve some successes by listening, staying focused on the future, and identifying moderate and swing legislative partners to form coalitions.
Learning lessons from the spring and fall elections in Wisconsin, MAP is working on strengthening voting systems and, because of the large number of absentee and mail-in ballots in the most recent cycle, working on legislation to allow pre-processing of early ballots.
On gerrymander reform, MAP has found that there are members on both sides who are willing to reform how boundaries are created. For those who want to reform the system the unifying desire is to have leaders who win based on the best ideas rather than by manipulation of the system and disregard for other interests and constituencies. They have achieved victories in Ohio, Virginia, Colorado, Michigan and Missouri.
The victory they achieved with gun violence prevention is to win authorization and funding for the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) to begin studying gun violence as a public health issue. It is hoped that looking at it from a scientific and rigorous perspective that policies and laws can be developed to protect society from further proliferation of gun violence.
He encouraged us to choose to exercise more compassion and empathy towards the “other” and recognize that many leaders manipulate and profit from hate that is amplified on social media. Empathy and compassion need to be exercised to grow, and we should choose and support leaders who build bridges and appeal to our better angels.
Our thanks to Steven Olikara for his presentation this week and to Kevin Hoffman for preparing this review article. We also thank WisEye who co-streamed our online meeting this week. If you missed our meeting, you can watch it here: https://youtu.be/RxM2SKOcPXQ.