By the time Millennials began to grow up in the 90s, there seemed to be a set path for them: grow up, choose a career, get married, watch other people suffer at the hands of crises, get promoted, raise the next generation who will rinse and repeat this whole process. However, by the time a large swath of this generation was graduating college, the economic meltdown of 2008 was in full swing and ravaging this supposed promise.
And then there’s me, Generation Z, along with most of the undergraduate population reading this. For years I have been shaping these views I hold that I will be sharing with you today.
We grew up in the 2000s to (largely) Gen X parents, who got absolutely rocked by the financial crisis. By 2016, I was old enough to begin to become politically aware. So as I walked the dogs through my village I’d look up at every second lamppost to see a posterboard, plastered with a smug face and the slogan “Keep the recovery going.”
“Keep the recovery going.”
I think this was the beginning of my disillusionment from the future.
The defining difference between Millennials and Gen Z isn’t the internet, it isn’t phones, and it certainly isn’t TikTok; I believe that it’s the fact that Millennials saw a future of economic growth which got replaced by an underemployed gig economy, while Gen Z never saw a promising future to begin with between being maturing in the aforementioned gig economy, a rapidly deteriorating climate crisis, and now a global pandemic during our college years which is only serving to exacerbate every social, economic and political divide which was already at breaking point to begin with.
And for Millennials the brave response to their seemingly inevitable neoliberal suburban nightmare was, I believe, cynical sarcasm. However this response has grown to seem weak and cowardly to Gen Z. Instead, the brave response has become unbridled sincerity, deep affection rather than retreating disaffection. Those who are ashamed of their beliefs cloak themselves in what I view as so-called “irony” while the growing masses embrace their complex understandings of gender and sexuality, delve into the world of political ideology and champion their thoughts online.
And this is where I return to my own disillusionment. Am I cowardly for seeing an unrepresentative political process and economic system totally incapable at dealing with the housing and ecological crises at hand and not believing it can be equitably reformed?
I certainly don’t believe so, as this isn’t characteristic of the previously derided cynical sarcasm: This is an authentic and open response to the present situation. This isn’t a belief which submits itself to the inevitability of these failing systems or masks it’s true intents and motivations, it’s a belief coloured by an optimism that if we believe we can change it, we will without the corrupting hands of those presently oppressing systems.
I know I’m not alone in this belief. When your future appears to barely exist and you know where to point the finger, these ideas are inevitable. But when we begin to discuss this disillusionment out loud, and what we can (and cannot) do about it, we get called “radical” and dragged into countless intellectually dishonest debates filled with false equivalencies and baseless accusations. These people often call themselves “centrists” or “moderates.”
I believe you should ignore this reactionary opposition to our honest, proud, brave stance. We must reassure ourselves that change is possible if we want it, and change will only come if we do it. Politicians and figureheads, political parties and governments will never achieve what we seek, we must begin to build our future ourselves, built on our belief that we can be liberated through our own direct action.
And this movement isn’t exclusive to us young people, despite how I’ve introduced this: it can, will, and does span generations of people (and must if we hope to succeed).
Mutual aid networks, revolutionary street art, squatting, establishing popular assemblies to rule our own communities directly and collectives organising in solidarity to spread our message and support fellow revolutionary movements are all inevitable future actions if we want actual change. Maybe it’s the major disillusionment talking, but I think that if we don’t band together as the powerful block we are and don’t simply demand change from a government which does not care with laws which do not help, but create it with our own ground-level movements, we will watch as the world succumbs to greed and ecological apocalypse instead of flourish into a new epoch under our new declaration of independence.