Crossposted at In Our Words
If you had asked me several years ago, particularly at the right moment, I would have been exceptionally frustrated with the trajectory I understood my generation, the Millennials, were on. This generation, with most common birth year ranges are 1982-1995 or 1982-2000, is defined by a number of characteristics: we grew up during the technology boom ; our modes of expression are ever tech-ified ; we’re not considered particularly rebellious ; and some even suggest that the hipster is our representative image .
My assessment several years ago, especially in my frustrated moments, would have been that we are, on the whole, a consumeristic, ego-driven generation that spends way too much time worrying what their next profile picture or post will be for Myspace, Facebook, or Twitter; waiting for the next text or IM from their BFF, writing a mundane Xanga entry about their day, or listening to the modern bastardization of hip-hop that exists in the mainstream scene to worry about what really matters, in my opinion – things like social issues, current events, politics, culture, reality (not to be confused with “reality” TV) – basically everything In Our Words is about.
But in the last several years, my hope in the Millennial Generation has been renewed, and I have seen signs that we are able to pull ourselves away from our virtual world and consumption and make a change.
After the relative stability we saw in the 1990s — with global economic growth, the electronics and internet boom, and the end of the Cold War with the dissolution of the Soviet Union, it is little shock that young people seemed shallow and unengaged. Of course, the 90s had its fair share of violence, war, genocide, and scandal, but it is generally a decade remembered as synonymous with the spread of democracy, information technology, and economic neoliberalism.
But as the next decade-plus came around, life on Earth suddenly seemed a whole lot rockier. The Millennials saw tragedy on 9/11, followed by over a decade straight of the US in at least one unpopular war, beginning right at the time the oldest Millennials were coming of age and able to enlist. The first decade of the new millennium saw increasing deficits and volatility in global markets, resulting in the economic crisis we are still experiencing today.
Between those issues, Guantanamo Bay, the genocide in Darfur, and lots of other very present and evident issues in the US and the world, it became hard for Millennials not to take conscience about at least something which was going on in the world. This became evident to me towards the end of high school, when one of my classes received an assignment to give a group presentation on a social issue, and the sense became stronger when I started at DePaul University.
Despite its HuffPost reputation as the second worst college in the US for free speech and connection to the Catholic Church , DePaul has a substantial community of activists and is extremely active in the Chicago and global community. Almost immediately upon my arrival at DePaul, I got heavily involved in campus activism and was able to get to know a lot of those phenomenal Millennials who also cared about making the world a different place for everyone.
At DePaul and in the International Studies and Peace, Conflict and Justice Studies programs, I found a place where I fit in. I found a community of Millennials who defied all the frustrated stereotypes I carried about my generation in years prior. I found a community where my constant talk of social justice and human rights didn’t get me weird looks. This community even constructively used some of those defining characteristics of the Millennial generation as part of its work for social justice. We used Facebook and Twitter for organizing, blogging for getting our message out to the masses, Netflix for our activist film screening nights, and so forth.
My experiences at DePaul transformed my understanding of Millennials from a more cynical stereotype of consumeristic, self-centered individuals to one of a generation that seems extremely conscious of what is going on in the world around them, possibly because of the communications media which was such an integral part of their formative years. They also transformed my opinions of those very media which I believed largely fueled my generation’s supposed ego.
Then, 2011 rolled around, and I saw the largest volume of Millennial-fueled political action I can recall in years — and possibly in my entire life. The Arab spring, protests in the EU, and the Occupy movement all brought young people to the streets to speak out for justice in their contexts. Finally, I thought to myself. Millennials are really showing the world what we’re made of. Now, of course, Millennials had been engaging in activism for years, but this was the first time our activism gained significant public attention and support.
Millennials have played an important role in changing the world in 2011 and I have a feeling that we’ll continue changing it in 2012 and beyond . Growing up, I held a variety of leadership positions in The United Methodist Church, and older folks often had the gall to say things to me like that young people are the hope for the future. I knew even then that young people are not only the hope for the future, but also for the present, and I think that in recent years Millennials have really proven this to me.
So, if you ask me now, I’ll answer you – I’m a proud Millennial, part of the generation that is fighting against the forces of neoliberal capitalism, war, inequality, injustice, and oppression. A generation that is making ripples in global society. A generation which played a critical role in the 2011 efforts that won Time’s Person of the Year.
I certainly hope that we Millennials keep up our fight for a better world, because along with my restored hope in our generation has come my restored hope in the world. We envision something beautiful, and we can make that vision a reality. Keep up the good work, Millennials.
Kara Johansen Crawford is a graduate of DePaul University, with a BA in International Studies and Peace, Justice and Conflict Studies. Kara has been actively involved in activism and community service for much of her life and is particularly passionate about labor justice, queer issues and engaging faith communities on social issues. Kara is currently serving as a Mission Intern with the United Methodist Church at the Centro Popular para América Latina de Comunicación, based in Bogotá, Colombia. Follow Kara on Twitter @revolUMCionaria and on her blog.