This is a guest post by Collaborata’s summer intern Sam Brizzolara.
In an April New York Times feature, reporter Dan Levin told the story of a Brigham Young University valedictorian who came out as gay at his college commencement. If you know anything about BYU, or about the Mormon Church in general, what Matt Easton spoke about on the day he graduated was incredibly courageous.
“Four years ago, it would have been impossible for me to imagine that I would come out to my entire college,” Easton said.
As I read, I began to understand that what Mr. Easton did was a lot more significant than throwing what was likely the greatest-ever Mormon coming-out party. Easton helped to set the tone for an entire generation with a message this big, changes are imminent for the social and political landscapes in America.
But, who’s driving this change?
Members of Generation Z are now in their teens and early 20s. They are one of the most politically active generations in history, despite their age. They are constantly connected, incredibly diverse, anxious about their future, and skeptical of traditional social norms. Gen Z is my generation.
The oldest of us Gen Zers were born under President Bill Clinton (like me) and grew up in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. We began paying attention to American politics and the economy during the Recession in 2008, and formed our first educated political opinions under President Barack Obama. We’ve watched social media become a well-refined conduit for discussion. We’ve witnessed it spawn hatred and bigotry. To put it lightly, it has been a sociopolitical rollercoaster ride for Gen Z.
If you’re not yet paying attention to us, here’s why you Xers and Boomers should be: Gen Z is growing up. And, growing up fast. We’re unique, entirely different than Millennials who came before us. The oldest of Gen Z are beginning to graduate college, secure our first jobs, get married, and are even having our first children. I know what you’re thinking. Time flies, right? Well get this one: Generation Z tallies around 65+ million Americans. This generation is already roughly 20 to 25% of the United States’ population.
“Generation Nation,” a 2019 project conducted by 747 Insights and Quester, is currently available on Collaborata. This project investigated the behaviors and attitudes of Boomers, Xers, Millennials and Gen Z, and contains powerful insights into how Gen Z fits into today’s political and social landscape. First and foremost, the project found that there are as many Gen Zers who identify as political independents as they do as Democrats (30%). Even further, 49% of us identify as “moderate” when asked about the strength of our political views. At a point in history where political parties have never been more divided, Generation Z believes it is less about whether you’re red or blue, and more in what you’re doing to make our nation better.
But, Gen Z is not moderate when it comes to taking action. We go all out. In recent months, young activists have held international strikes to promote the severity of climate change, shown tremendous support for the proposed “Green New Deal”, and organized to form civic committees such as the Sunrise Movement, which aims to protect the Earth’s natural resources and thwart oppression from large corporations on low-income families by creating jobs in alternative green energy industries.
But climate change is by no means the only issue we care about. In the wake of the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida, thousands of high school students fought for stricter gun control laws in Florida and nationwide in 2018 and 2019 as part of “March For Our Lives.” This was a student-led protest for stricter gun control laws nationwide. Florida’s elected officials, at the urging of Gen Z activists, passed a bill raising the permitted gun ownership age from 18 to 21, along with several pieces of legislation that enforced stricter background checks. And many other states followed suit.
“If you actively do nothing, people continually end up dead, so it’s time to start doing something” said Emma Gonzalez, a Parkland survivor and activist. Gonzalez founded “Never Again MSD,” which is an advocacy group to ensure that such tragedies as what she witnessed never happen again. By turning the spotlight on the NRA and the politicians that lobby for them, Gonzalez hopes to promote change in Washington that will prevent senseless tragedies in the future. Pretty heady stuff for a 19-year-old.
But that’s what my generation is all about. We genuinely believe that we can change the way we live as Americans. We are critical of the institutions around us, we have no patience for the status quo, and we challenge those whose values do not align with ours. We tune into what is going on in Washington with the help of social media and the internet. And lastly, we participate in our government. According to Pew, Gen Z, Millennials, and Gen X combined surpassed the Baby Boomers’ voter turnout in the 2018 midterm elections by 2 million. 30 million Zers voted in 2018, and we are projected to account for 10% of all votes in the 2020 Presidential Election. That’s an impressive number given that less than half of of Gen Z will be of voting age.
Activists, Not Patriots.
“Generation Nation” also uncovered that 12% of Gen Zers call themselves “activists” which is higher than any other generation by at least five percentage points. At the same time, however, the study found that only 13% of Gen Z consider ourselves to be “patriotic.” In comparison, about 40% of Baby Boomers consider themselves patriots. Where did all the American spirit go?
We are politically active, yet we don’t have much pride in our country or our president. Almost 40% of Gen Z respondents did not believe the president is honest, whereas only 20% did. According to Pew, Trump’s approval ratings (42%, as of July 1st) is at only 30% among Gen Zers, which is 12 points below his national rating and only one point greater than the Millennials.
The truth is, we’ve grown up around violence, bigotry, and ignorance at home. Racial profiling has kept minority families in a cycle of oppression and poverty for too long. Generation Z, the most diverse generation to date, wants to see all members of our communities accepted. We know that creating lasting solutions to the social and political issues that plague our time comes with this country being united, not red or blue, black or white, gay or straight. Maybe Gen Z is deciding to act not because we love our country, but because we care about the future we pave for our children, for our family, for our friends and loved ones. Just like BYU alumni Matt Easton, catch us Gen Zers at the forefront of this change. The future looks promising.