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Jakarta Post

Millennials are taking over politics, but just not the right kind

  • M. Taufiqurrahman
    M. Taufiqurrahman

    The Jakarta Post

Jakarta   /   Wed, August 12, 2020   /   05:20 pm
Millennials are taking over politics, but just not the right kind Students protest against planned revisions to the Criminal Code and Corruption Eradication Commission Law in front of the House of Representatives building in Senayan, Central Jakarta, on Sept. 24, 2019, marking the biggest student movement since 1998. (JP/Anggie Angela)

It is heartening to see that millennials the world over are finally taking over and beginning to shake things up. After much hand-wringing about their alleged general lack of commitment and entitled narcissism, members of this generation have begun to step up to the plate and make attempts to prove those stereotypes wrong.

We can witness the most spectacular display of courage by the millennials in Hong Kong. In this city state, at the forefront of a protest movement to challenge the mightiest authoritarian regime in the world are young people who are still in their early 20s. 

Joshua Wong was 17 years old when he was first catapulted to the forefront of the pro-democracy Umbrella Movement. He is now 23 years old, slightly younger than fellow movement leader Nathan Law, who is now 27. Another leader of the movement, Agnes Chow, is 23. 

These young activists may fight for the ideals of a democratic society and protection of human rights, but their decision to take to the street was also motivated by genuine economic concerns. 

In a city where people live in "coffin homes" and where the gap between the rich and the poor are so extreme, joining the fight for economic justice is a veritable struggle to save themselves. These young people are basically the poor kids of the neighborhood — Nathan Law was raised by a single mother while Joshua Wong's father now works selling electronics online — who are raging against the system. 

Youth activism has always found fertile ground in the United States, and here we can find the darling of the American progressive movement, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a 30-year old congresswoman from New York who was so popular that Netflix produced a documentary to chronicle her way up to Washington DC’s political corridors. 

Just like her fellow millennial activists in Hong Kong, Ocasio-Cortez comes in with a certain ideological zeal, aiming to dismantle the old way of doing things. A democratic socialist, she campaigns to provide health care for all, raise the minimum wage, abolish American border protection agencies and recently introduced the Green New Deal that would wean America off its dependence on fossil fuel and create green jobs. 

Such lofty ideologies could only come from someone who has experienced first-hand the harsh living conditions brought upon by inequality in the American economic system. Growing up in a working-class family in the Bronx, then waitressing and bartending while attending college, Ocasio-Cortez certainly knew what she was talking about when she proposed to enact changes to the system. 

So, when millions of millennials and Generation Zers took to the streets all over America to stand up against police brutality and systemic racism, it appears that many of them certainly picked up where Ocasio-Cortez left off. 

A little less than a year ago, we thought that millennials in Indonesia had also caught the activism bug. 

In September last year, university students courageously staged a massive protest aimed at stopping the House of Representatives and the government of President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo from passing laws and regulations that would turn the clock back to the New Order era, with bills that would criminalize extramarital sex, as well as amendments made to the anticorruption law, mineral mining bill and labor bill. 

The rallying cry for these students was that the planned regulations, if endorsed, would make it easy for the country's oligarch to pull on the levers of powers. 

Yet before long, the protest fizzled, and not only have some of the problematic regulations been passed, the fear of oligarch taking control has largely materialized, judging from the composition of President Jokowi's Cabinet.

After these millennial activists retreated, we have had to contend with the rise of a different breed of millennials. 

As the country staggers toward the nationwide regional elections in December, these millennials started crawling out of the woodwork, flaunting their family names in campaign posters and television ads, introducing themselves to the masses and calling on voters to pick them in the ballot. 

Among the most famous millennials currently running for office is Gibran Rakabuming Raka, the eldest son of President Jokowi who cruised to his nomination as Surakarta mayor in Central Java after the Indonesia Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) supported his candidacy in July. In Medan, North Sumatra, we have another member of the President's family, son in-law Bobby Nasution, running for mayor. 

The PDI-P also recently decided to tap the niece of Defense Minister Prabowo Subianto, Saraswati Djojohadikusumo, to run for deputy mayor of South Tangerang, Banten, one of the richest suburbs of Greater Jakarta. Saraswati will be up against the daughter of Vice President Mar'uf Amin, Siti Nur Azizah, who was nominated by the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS). 

Not to be outdone, Cabinet Secretary Pramono Anung has also decided to join the fray by nominating a millennial in his family as regent of the East Java town of Kediri. The 28-year-old Hanindhito Himawan Pramono claimed that initially, he did not want to join the race but decided to do so after reading a quote from the country's leftist leader Tan Malaka.

Further afield in South Sulawesi, another politically wired millennial is now running for reelection. When he was first sworn in as the regent of Gowa at the age of 29, Adnan Ichsan, a member of the influential Limpo clan, was the youngest local leader in the eastern part of the country. And if reelected, Adnan will hold the same record secured by both his father and uncle in serving two terms as regent. 

In the face of these privileged millennials' takeover, it's not clear where the country's progressive millennials are. With a large number of them likely toiling in obscurity working for venture-capital funded start-ups and the majority of others busy recording their podcasts on child-rearing, there is certainly little time left for saving the country's political system from the oligarchic class.

If they don't show up anytime soon, consider this a distress call to all the laggard, self-absorbed millennials out there. 

Will the real millennials please stand up!