Growing up I always marveled about the stoic bravery that my grandmother’s generation faced. Growing up in the fallout of the Great Depression and losing the innocence of their youth in World War II, I could imagine the worst coming out in them. I could imagine that folks would throw up their hands and give up, or worse, they would become cutthroat in their desperation. Instead, those who lived it recalled a pervasive sense of community. Historians of various bents would suggest that we view these times through rose colored lenses, but nationalism is hardly as bad as the anarchy and widespread criminal activity that could have ensued.
As I teen, I would lament how my generation lacked such solidarity. I looked at my own grandparents as living evidence that this generation was resourceful, generous, and hard-working. Fathers would work long hours in physically demanding jobs; mothers were raising large families almost single-handedly on a shoestring budget. Older siblings pitched in around the farm or with chores. Younger siblings made do with hand-me-down clothes and created toys from what we would now consider garbage. In stark contrast, I came of age in what people would ironically refer to as the Roaring Nineties—and I was at the epicenter. The very same young men and women who hung out at the neighborhood coffee shop that I did were inventing Yahoo and Google and the very fabric of the internet—and being compensated accordingly. I went to an exclusive private school with the heirs of pharmaceutical companies, multinational corporations, and international political dynasties. Of course my generation lacked solidarity—we were selfish, and everything was in abundance. I told my father that what my generation needed was a crisis or a pressing cause that would force us to look beyond ourselves and come together.
Be careful what you wish for.
The 1990s came to an end—as all good things do. In 2001 two planes crashed into the twin towers. The newly elected President Bush initiated what would become a war with a faceless enemy on multiple fronts. With our national resources spread thin, the response to the victims of Hurricane Katrina was too little, too late—at best. The financial markets faltered and finally crashed in 2008, spurring a period of time which contemporary historians refer to as the Great Recession. My generation, (which came of age during a time of plenty and were raised with a sense of entitlement), were losing their lives in war, and the lucky ones were losing their jobs and homes to the economic downturn. Anecdotally, by 2011 at least a third of my friends had lost a job, declared bankruptcy, or foreclosed or short sold a home. And for those of us who managed to dodge these issues directly, widespread natural disasters, global warming, and the worst unemployment rate for adults under 35 since the Great Depression could prevent a person from sleeping well at night.
I have thus far been relatively cushioned from this turn of events. But indeed in 2011, the crisis hit home. My job has been in peril for over a year. Unfortunately, even as all this hits home, I have yet to see the kind of solidarity and leadership that I have been yearning for since I was a teen. As the Gen X/Y crooner John Mayer sings,
It's hard to beat the system
When we're standing at a distance
So we keep waiting
Waiting on the world to change…
It's not that we don't care,
We just know that the fight ain't fair
So we keep on waiting
Waiting on the world to change
But that is just it. We’re all sitting around complaining, analyzing, observing, blaming… but not doing anything! For a minute the Occupy movement appeared to have the almost anarchic democracy and critical mass needed for large scale change, but it appears to have been quickly corrupted from within or discounted from the outside. In my very own group of friends, I have identified huge stores of the raw materials of intelligence, vision, and leadership to address the multiple crises that face our generation. On one hand I am frustrated by our seemingly stagnant approach. On the other hand, I like to think that unlike our parents’ generation, we are looking to build upon what works rather than attempt a complete overhaul like the Peace, Civil Rights, and Women’s Rights Movements of the 1960s and 1970s. Perhaps we are indeed sitting back to observe and learn before we make our well-calculated move. I truly believe that we will revolutionize and create needed change.
Know why? I don’t think we have any other choice.