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Message from the border: Immigration and the Millennium Generation


OPEN YOUR EYES
The Millennials are coming. No wait, they're here, and they're looking at us funny.

The Millennium Generation sits all around you. Known by several names - Generation Y, Gen Next or the Echo Boomers, for instance - it's made up of notoriously bad spellers but fantastic multitaskers - born between 1978 and 1998 - who do just about everything via wireless technology.
It might pay to keep an eye on them because they are cocky and coming into their own. They are being counted upon to drive Web 2.0 and there's some suggestions that these impatient young men and women could be the next "hero generation."

Today they must be wondering why those before them put up with what they see as irrelevant institutions and arcane bureaucracy. In their world, they'll vote, shop, talk to their kids' teachers and generally keep informed and in touch via the Internet, at a pitched pace only a honeybee could love.

"They'll never wait in line at the bank or a library. Everything is available to them online," said Shahi Ghanem, chief executive officer of Brickfish, a San Diego online marketing company that is tapping into their social nature to help drive advertising for major brands, and teaching a generation the basic rules of political hardball through hip interactive campaigns on its Web site.

According to Deloitte Consulting, the U.S. population has 75 million Millennials in it, almost the twice amount of Generation Xers (40 million) and a number quite close to the 80 million baby boomers, who have begun to enter retirement age.

The Millennials are the most "hovered over" generation ever, undergoing unprecedented parental supervision and advocacy. They are techno-savvy, with Wikipedia reporting that 94 percent of them have cell phones. According to several accounts, Millennials respond well to partnering and mentoring; as a whole, they're not as independent as Generation Xers, something future employers should heed. They are also cited as optimistic, self-assured, hopeful and have a growing social conscience.

That forming advocacy and their penchant for interacting is what drove Brickfish to pair up with The Reform Institute to sponsor a "Design Your Portion of the Border Fence" contest.

At www.brickfish.com, people register and then interact socially. The company tracks its user generated content and launches advertising and marketing campaigns based on its member interactions.

"The campaign encouraged people who may otherwise be disenchanted with the political process to invest energy in supporting an important cause. Our goal is to raise awareness of vital issues and get more people actively involved in making change," said Ghanem said in August.

Campaign content was shared in a peer-to-peer fashion via e-mail, instant messaging and sites across the Web, Brickfish said. Participants are rewarded for creating, voting, reviewing and sharing campaign content.

The campaign ended Sept. 12 and attracted 447,878 views, generated 1,737 entries, 13,181 reviews and 16,402 votes. Of all of those who participated, there were even 18 participants from Mexico.

"Congress has failed to legislate much-needed comprehensive immigration reform that fixes our dysfunctional immigration system and balances security with the needs of our economy," said Cecilia Martinez, executive director of the nonprofit, nonpartisan The Reform Institute, in a written statement. "Instead, Washington has authorized construction of the border fence. We created the 'Design Your Portion of the Border Fence' campaign to offer an attention-grabbing and fun way for independent thinkers, Internet activists, and passionate individuals everywhere to engage in debate and creatively express the message they feel that the fence conveys about the U.S."

The Reform Institute is an education organization in Washington, D.C., that addresses reform in vital areas of public policy.

What was the overall tone of the entries?

"The entries were very diverse, however, some general themes emerged, such as an empathy for immigrants and a feeling that the fence is not the right answer," said Chris Dreibelbis, communications and economic policy director at The Reform Institute. "The entries stirred some passionate, yet respectful online debate about the fence and the larger immigration issue, as opposed to the divisive and heated debate in Washington."

Kristin Ahonen, 18, was one entrant. A college student in New York state, she worked five hours on her entry and reviewed many others. "About 80 percent had merit," she said.

Why did she participate? "My satisfaction is obtaining some sort of emotion or discussion over the piece. In my own mind, I do not believe that we should put up a wall. No matter what side people are going to come over any way they can and a wall will not stop them. If our government were to sit down with the opposition, they could try to find or resolve some of the issues that drive their people to the American side. I believe if we put up a 'fence' we are not only keeping others out but eventually we will be 'fenced in' as well."

The actual solicitation and networking to get people to look at her entry took a lot of time and effort, she said.

"I spent many hours daily e-mailing back and forth with other Brickfishers discussing my piece and the issue. I don't believe my entry would have had as many supporters without networking."

The grand prize was awarded to Dan Mitteer of Chester, Va., who will receive a $1,000 scholarship. Titled "What am I walling out?" Mitteer created a colorful mural that reflects his opinion that the wall should be torn down.

"My entry represents the wisdom of great thinkers like Ronald Reagan, who personally denounced the wall between East and West Berlin, and how those same issues are still alive today. My hope is that my entry may encourage people to get involved in the important issue of immigration reform," he said in a released statement.

In August, Brickfish launched a "Songs from the Heart - War" campaign, its first in a series of political song competitions. In October it began a campaign titled "Who Would Your Dog Vote For?" that focuses on the 2008 presidential election.

The contest can be viewed at www.brickfish.com, under "political archives."

Brickfish said it doesn't steer its political-issue campaigns one way or another. The company's focus is on brand name marketing for its customers.

Politically-themed issues "are a lab for us," CEO Ghanem said. The company goes to some length to ensure the political campaigns are as nonpartisan as possible, he said, even going as far as hiring political consultants to make sure they're neutral. "There is nothing sinister behind it," he said, adding that political campaign topics are decided by a select group in his company, and are looked at as another way to generate content.

As for whether these young men and women will be something special?

"This is a more-enlightened generation than others in the past," suggests Jay Conrad Levinson, an author on guerrilla marketing techniques. This might be due to their parents taking the time to explain everything to them, he said. What's also different about the Millennials is that their protests seem to want to achieving something. "These are more of a positive nature."

The Millennials "certainly have more of an opportunity to be a hero," Ghanem of Brickfish said, because wireless technology has given them access to a world viewpoint and "more of an ability to make an impact."

"These Generation Y voters, they're different," said Dreibelbis of The Reform Institute. "They have so much potential, so many more tools at their discretion to change the world."

Reviewing their entries, he was struck by their idealism and passion about the issues, he said, yet also by the civility they used with each other. The cordial tone is probably a reaction to the acrimonious debate of the issues they see at the national level.

"They are turned off by the politics in Washington," he said.

Will they make a difference?

"Every generation has set forth to change the world at one time or another, some more successfully than others. Only time will tell."
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