In my work with PRYDE, I’ve written a lot about the conflicts in the world, how the world seems to be getting more dangerous, and divisions deeper. When I do, I pivot to the people trying to make the world better and more peaceful, whose voices get drowned out. I honestly do believe there is more good in the world than bad, and more peace in people than conflict between us. And I believe the voices of peace will ultimately supplant the forces of division. That’s what I work for. But as I shine light on the positives in the world, I feel compelled to try to illuminate the problems from a different perspective than we usually take – youths’.
Put simply, the kids aren’t all right. They face fewer and less secure job prospects than previous generations. Lower pay for longer, harder, and less flexible work. A more volatile environment due to climate change. Erosion of legal protections for rights. New health risks and growing healthcare costs. Reductions in quality social services. And lower quality education. In countries afflicted with war and crisis, they endure violence and trauma, have childhoods and educations stripped away, and get tagged as a “lost generation.” Globally, they're subject to a sociopolitical and economic system they increasingly view as corrupt, unfair, and only benefiting the elites. … And to top it off, multiple generations above them tell them there’s only so much we can do about it all.
But young people aren’t buying that, and are being vocal about it. They’re organizing, advocating, and demonstrating. They’re declaring that no matter the horrors inflicted on them or what is taken from them, no generation is lost, certainly not theirs. When it comes to the way things have always been, young people are saying enough is enough, it’s time for something new. But the rest of us are missing all this, or choosing to ignore it. And when traditional participation fails, frustration manifests itself more dramatically.
Calls for greater freedom being ignored in no small part led to the Arab Spring. Those revolutions weren’t spontaneous, they were the culmination of years of grassroots mobilization and activism being ignored and suppressed.
Campaigns for economic and political reform being paid lip service without action led to the rise of Bernie Sanders. Young people voted for him in droves largely because he articulated a vision for the country and the world they aspire to, and which other candidates hardly understood.
Years of organizing and advocating to end racial discrimination being ignored led to the Black Lives Matter and DREAMers movements in the U.S. Faced with no other avenue, young people take to the streets – peacefully – to raise their voices so other generations will finally see and hear them.
Far too often we paint young people as ill-informed, disengaged, idealistic, and inexperienced. But the opposite is true. Youths access and digest massive amounts of information in the digital age. They’re active for causes like equality and the environment. They’re looking to work and be part of hard solutions, not get handouts. And their experience growing up in the digital age gives them a crucial perspective in finding solutions to problems that older generations just don’t have.
Youths are eager to take on the mantle of responsibility and be part of the world. Because it’s their world, too, and right now it’s not working for them. At best, we ignore them. At worst, we make choices that make things worse. Youths know this. They know the world they’re inheriting. And they know they can’t wait for or count on others to solve these problems for them. So they’re getting involved and working for their future.
No, the kids aren’t all right. And they’re telling us so every day. It’s time we started listening to and valuing their voices, ideas, and agency. If we don’t, the lost generation will not be theirs. It’ll be ours.