Generation Z will need to turn exhaustion into fortitude for the future
by Cecilia Cantu, COLUMNIST
28 February 2019
I am tired.
I am tired of fighting.
I am tired of arguing.
Over and over the cacophony of tragedy and injustice has rung in our ears. So often that it has dulled into the background noise of our daily lives, no longer surprising or shocking. Generation Z was born into an era of economic depression, environmental crisis, and a bleak future. Younger than any recent generation, Gen Z- those aged around 6 through 21- was thrown into the political climate and faced with the harsh realities of life. They were not promised the moon and the stars like millennials, but they were promised a struggle and a fight. And they have risen up to face these challenges before they could drive cars, buy a drink, and cast a vote.
Groups have arisen already. Earth Guardians, March of Resilience, One Mind Youth, DREAM sit-ins, and March for our Lives are all youth-led organizations that have made real change across the country. However they do not arrive with happiness and hope. They are the harbingers of a war that has only just begun. The first troops of an army faced with a seemingly insurmountable conquest. They were called to battle when the older generations could not or would not step up to the plate to address the issues plaguing our society. The warming oceans, racial tensions, gender inequality, overpriced medicine, mistreatment of indigenous populations, the opioid crisis, the list goes on and on. The children could no longer stay silent in the classrooms turned warzones.
Fighting for their lives
3,200 kids. Thirty-two hundred children have been directly harmed or killed by guns in 2018 alone. For a comparison, the Iraq war yielded 4,424 American deaths. Children are falling victim to the bullet at a higher rate than ever before, and Gen Z has noticed. March For Our Lives was a campaign built by students and attended by students calling for gun reform. 200,000 people from across the country joined together to fight for their basic right to a safe learning environment. For the promise that they wouldn’t face a shooter in the middle of math class. It took five year olds dead in schools for “thoughts and prayers” and it took teenagers in Washington, D.C., for politicians to consider changing a 200 year old law.
Children have been killed in slower, crueler ways as well. On one Cheyenne reservation, conditions dropped and children were forced to uptake more responsibilities than before. The impending pipeline construction and destruction of local resources took a toll on the community, and the youth within. In one summer, 38 of the local teenagers attempted suicide, and several succeeded. It became an undeniable epidemic that was addressed not by any government figure but by a teenager herself. Jasilyn Charger began the One Mind Youth organization that gave teens a way to help themselves get back on track and reconnect with their culture. The movement even went on to be the first waves of Standing Rock, a fight to protect remaining Dakota tribes’ resources and land. Even Little Miss Flint, 10-year-old Mari Copeny, is fighting for access to clean water in her city after years of poisoned reserves. Children are fighting to protect not only their own lives, but the lives of future generations.
With a disappointing amount of denial and ignorance regarding climate change coming from D.C., youth-led organizations such as Earth Guardians have been forced into the spotlight. When no Baby-Boomer or Gen X-er would fight for legislation preventing further environmental decay, Gen Z took the burden. Over and over again the complacency and refusal for action from older generations has forced Gen Z to action. The purposeful inaction has come at a steep price, the lives of thousands of American children who could have been spared.
To what extent do you feel that you’re involved in politics?
POLL BASED ON A CROSS-SECTION OF EAST STUDENTS
Clearer than before
You might begin to wonder how Gen Z has become more aware and connected than their predecessors. The answer is easy: the internet. The widespread use of the internet has defined our generation like nothing else. It has made us the most connected, the most empathetic, and the most aware generation ever. Gen Z is also the most diverse generation ever, with only 48% identifying as straight, and having a 9% increase in non-white racial identification. This interconnection has, according to Rho Kappa president Dasha Akina-Pates, made it “impossible to ignore injustices in the world”.
“As a woman of color and immigrant myself, it is very difficult to ignore political injustice when it directly affects minority groups I am a part of,” Akina-Pates said.
Indeed, empathy for those facing oppression is a common theme that has been nurtured by Gen Z’s interconnectivity. Whether it is girls in Kenya missing school because of a lack of access to sanitary products, same-sex couples being prosecuted in Japan, or migrant caravans travelling thousands of miles to reach the United States in search of asylum, news is constantly updated for the whole world to see. Perhaps it was different for the teachers who stand at the front of the classroom and encourage us to get involved.
According to Government teacher Tyler VanLandeghem, Gen Z lives in two worlds. The physical world, and the online world. One of the most defining traits of this generation is their digital upbringing. Within seconds anyone could talk with anyone around the world, regardless of race, religion, gender, anything. Most often, the only prerequisite for connection is a common interest on a platform. The internet broke down barriers that have been up for centuries. However, this connection also makes it easier for anyone to voice their opinion on anything, regardless of education on the topic. Biased opinions galore created the opportunity for extreme polarization. This is not exclusive to Gen Z, but to everyone using the internet for their news. With this came the stubbornness and refusal to compromise on different topics, slowing cooperation. Polarization is poison to politics and progression, and we are learning that as a nation the hard way.
A record stuck on repeat
One of the most tragic results of recent years has been the numbing of Gen Z. They have been stripped of their innocence, and their starry eyes have been fogged with the clouds of reality. They no longer flinch a the news of a murder. No longer are surprised when a class of students is buried. They have grown exhausted and their sorrow has dried with the heat of anger at the unfairness of the situation. However, the continued strain has had an impact on these kids. According to the American Psychological Association, the most common and significant source of stress for Americans is not money, school, or work. It is the future of the nation. Refraining from political involvement feels irresponsible, while participating is exhausting and draining. Gen Z has chosen over and over to become involved, proving to value justice and activism above all else.
And so, yes.
I am tired.
A whole generation of children are tired.
But even so, we will carry on the fight.
Cecilia Cantu is a columnist for Oswego East High School’s online news magazine the Howl. She also serves as the publication’s Opinion Editor.