Millennials generally fall into two camps on transparency: the super apathetic and the super informed. (Photo Credit: Matthew Grant Anson)
Working for California Forward and not being in favor of transparency would be like working for PETA without liking animals. Of course I like transparency. Of course I’m disturbed by the Sunlight Foundation’s D-grade for California when it comes to the issue. But do other Millennials – so often derided as apathetic and thoroughly disinterested – care about transparency?
I wondered, so I asked – and I asked a range of people. I talked to a Los Angeles Whole Foods worker who’s a butcher by day and a streetpunk by night, though he’d probably say he’s 100% punk 100% of the time. I talked to a UC Davis student studying Zoo/Wildlife Medicine and a UC San Diego philosophy major who’s writing copy about light fixtures for a manufacturing corporation. I spoke to a coordinator for a homeless agency in Los Angeles, an English major from UC Riverside graduating in two weeks and about to start working as a production assistant in Hollywood, and a Neuroscience major at USC. I even tried talking to my 18-year-old brother, but he shut me down with a Star Wars-esque response (“I don’t know the answers to the questions you’re asking”).
Contrary to my brother’s hesitance, there were no right answers; just a range of them. Responses from these people went from “I don’t care about transparency” to “the Brown Act affects me every day.” But the most apt analysis of all came from Helen Poya, the UCR English major, on the degree to which Millennials care about transparency.
“I think there are two extremes,” Poya said. “Those who have no idea what’s going on and just don’t care and those who are just absolutely adamant about it.”
Count Poya in the I-don’t-care camp, at least for now. “I never felt like transparency really affected me but as I’m growing older and now about to step into the ‘real world,’ I realize it’s more important than I gave it credit for.”
She also wasn’t shocked by the D-grade California received in transparency. “I wasn’t surprised at all. I think California has a lot to hide,” Poya said. “Just from what I hear on the news or radio or whatever media outlet…there’s always something California has done wrong or is paying the price for, or at least it seems that way.”
“I think transparency is great,” UCSD philosophy major Vatche Bahudian said. “I work for a research psychologist and we use government transparency to figure out trends that we otherwise couldn’t.”
Bahudian has somewhat of a jaded perspective on just how interested his peers are in transparency. “They don’t care about transparency, but they care about celebrities,” he said. “So if celebs care about transparency, they will too.”
Still, even a celebrity endorsement probably wouldn’t be enough to break through to butcher-punk Jonathan Jimenez. When I asked Jonathan if he thinks the average person his age cares about the issue, he said, “Hell no. We’re too punk for this @#$%.” He says he might care someday, but for now, it’s all about “work, school, and partying.”
Which stands in stark contrast to Ian Costello, who works for an LA homeless agency. Ian, who was by far the most informed, thought the D was accurate. “That’s mostly because we’re a big state: we’re the biggest state in the country,” Costello said. “It’s not surprising; we have less of an opportunity to be transparent.”
In my experience, Ian never misses an opportunity to get his wonk on, and this conversation was no different. “What I do know about transparency is we have something called the Brown Act here. Are you familiar with that?” Yes Ian, I am. “It’s basically an effort to increase transparency. But right now there’s no way of actually enforcing it.”
“In my profession we have to abide by the Brown Act every day for everything we do. Everything we do has to be open.” As for a way to add some actual teeth to the legislation, Ian put the responsibility on ordinary citizens. “We personally need to put the pressure on government. Our communities have to care.”
Millie Grimes, UC Davis student and future doctor of all things animals, is in favor of transparency but doesn’t consider herself to be quite on the up and up for how transparent California is. “I have a poor perspective on that. As in, I don’t really know,” she said. “Maybe it depends what people are doing. Like…people in school are more aware of school related problems, like issues with administration not being transparent with students, which is a huge problem”
But in a world where Wikileaks has thrown a giant curve ball into the topic of transparency and open government, Millie takes a cautious approach to just how open the government should be. “I think there are severe consequences to the release of certain types of information that we, as ‘regular’ civilians, don’t have a complete understanding of,” she said. “I will regularly admit that I am in no way qualified to determine what level of transparency would be appropriate. Generally I would definitely lean towards more transparency than less.”
A common theme amongst my friends was trying to wrap up and put a bow on the fact that they don’t care about transparency to assuage their guilt. “I’m really apathetic about the issue. I can’t even think of a good way to answer the question,” USC Neuroscience major Ani Misiran said, before insisting I not include her more colorful, I-really-really-don’t-care-let-me-study-for-ochem quotes. “I will eventually care about the issue, but as of right now, state government transparency isn’t one of my immediate concerns.”
No one is necessarily against transparency. It can just be difficult for Millennials, occupied with work and school, to voluntarily throw their time and interest into something that doesn’t pay immediate or tangible dividends on their lives.