Millennial Week’s opening night ceremony was as Millennial as it could get. There were self-deprecating references to the “me me me” generation. There was a nod to Uber, a peripheral mention of the “decentralization of authority,” and, at one point, someone said on stage, “Who doesn’t know Bitches Who Brunch?”
And then there were sage words from the event’s token Baby Boomer, Andy Shallal, who was the only attendee who treated the night with the gentle mockery it probably deserved. “‘I’m not the owner of Le Diplomate,” he said. “I understand that’s where millennials like to eat.”
There were also awards—-four of them—including one for “Millennial of the Year.” That honor went to Steven Olikara, the founder of the Millennial Action Project. In Olikara’s acceptance speech, he said millennials would “fundamentally change politics” and invoked the accomplishments of the Founding Fathers, many of whom, Olikara noted, were in the millennial age range when they achieved some of their biggest successes.
“I look back to the founders of this country, another generation that was told they couldn’t do something,” he said. “I think of James Madison, who constructed the Constitution, not when he was 50…when he was 29.”
After the ceremony and some photo ops, Olikara spoke with City Desk about his work and what it means to be named “Millennial of The Year.” The interview has been edited for concision and clarity.
What is the Millennial Action Project?
It’s a national organization working to make cooperation the governing paradigm of the millennial generation as we take the reigns of the government.
How do you do that?
We work with millennials in elected office—-those are the rising stars in Congress and in states across the country—-and we bring them together, Democrats, Republicans, and independents to work on the future-oriented issues that we are going to inherit, whether it’s climate change, debt, or education, or new jobs for entrepreneurship. We find that millennals are coming at these issues with a creative, different take in a way that’s much more post-partisan. So that’s what we do, we create these institutions of cooperation across the country.
What does it mean to you to be the millennial of the year?
It feels like a group award to me because I started the Millennial Action Project with a group of people that were crazy enough to believe in a very audacious mission and vision…I really think of them when I get an award like this. And I am also glad that millennial week is shining a spot light on how millennials are changing politics.
But really, assuming you hang out with millennials, how will this changes things for you socially? You are the best millennial in D.C.
There are so many millennials doing extraordinary things in this town. I am one of many millennials, and again, I’m grateful that this award is highlighting those that are willing to take a risk, who are willing to challenge the status quo and imagine a better democracy…Again, it was totally unexpected. I still don’t know who nominated me.
How would you describe this award to your parents?
I would say this is their award. They were willing to believe in me when no one else would. They gave me everything, most importantly their unconditional love and they helped me get through all of the lows of this journey and celebrated the highs with me.
Do millennials have a chance of being remembered as the greatest generation?
The greatest generation took down a Nazi dictator in a world war and made tremendous sacrifices. That should inspire us to make sacrifices on behalf of our future…We should look to the Greatest Generation, look at the sacrifices they made, such that we can enjoy Millennial Week and enjoy our lives…We have an opportunity to be a great generation, some say the next greatest generation, but that’s only if we are willing to sacrifice and are willing to commit our lives to public service.
Whats your favorite restaurant?
Busboys and Poets.
How many times have you been to Le Diplomate?
I don’t know. A couple of times.
Bottomless Mimosas or Bloody Mary’s?
Do you have a favorite bike lane?
No, I need to get a bike.
Photo by Perry Stein