Seeing so many millennials show up at protests this past week got me thinking about how a common lament of their generation has been that they haven’t had the deep issues of the 1960s to connect to. They (and their boomer parents) often see the activism of that time through rose tinted granny glasses. I spend a lot of time with 20 and 30-somethings. Not only because I’m the mother of two daughters in that demographic, but because of my work as an activist in the environmental movement. Protecting the environment is an issue that many millennials have gravitated to over the past fifteen years. They grew up with a well publicized push to Save the Rainforest, photos of precious polar bears floating away on melting ice sheets, and the virtues of the three ‘R’s. Not Reading, ‘Riting and ‘Rithmetic like it was for their parents, but Reduce, Reuse and Recycle. And even though the environmental movement was also inspired by the boomer generation with the first Earth Day, it has suffered from not being able to attach a human face to the issues and therefore it’s been slow to attract the same kind of passion and urgency of movements of the past. Millennials in the U.S. want their own Vietnam to protest against, their own Civil Rights and Women’s Liberation movements to march for. They want to care about something; a unified chant worthy cause à la: Give Peace a Chance.
Then along came the corrosive power of Wall Street and multinational corporations and banks, which led to the greatest recession we had seen in decades. This was followed by the reprehensible behavior of these industries going unpunished and the very personal concern for young people over college loans and high unemployment. There was a common enemy and the Occupy Movement was born. Millennials were motivated…for awhile. But some say the problem with Occupy was that it was more about the participants attracting attention, having their voices heard, than actually about getting results. My feeling is; what they were rallying against didn’t strike a painful enough chord. Not so with recent events, which leads me to think: be careful what you wish for.
None of us could have foreseen that decades later we’d be fighting many of the same fights. We’ve got wars galore—conflicts where there can be no winners, where peace eludes us. When it comes to injustice—women are still being discriminated against, particularly in the workplace. And from Ferguson to New York, and all points in between, while we’ve moved one step forward in addressing racial inequality, it feels like we’ve taken two steps back. Even the environmental movement is gaining more critical mass momentum as the rate of the devastating effects of climate change on humans is escalating. The system is broken. So young and older are once again taking to the streets to put democracy into action, to hold those in positions of power accountable, and try to affect change. But for all of us who have romanticized revolution, I think we can agree; we didn’t want it like this.