In an era when simply clicking the “Like” button constitutes joining a cause, it’s no wonder young people are left feeling empty at the end of the day. The Occupy Wall Street movement and its many incarnations around the world may be the latest evidence for a profound realization: Generation Y is desperate to be part of a movement — any one it can find.
We’re the generation that got a trophy even when we finished in last place. We’re the generation full of bright and special kids who can shine at anything they choose. Little did anyone know, though, that if everyone is bright, we’re all just dull.
Our parents built up our confidence so much during our childhood that now, as young adults, there is really nowhere it can go but down. This has been evidenced by the growing disaffection and victimization seen in Generation Y today.
America wasn’t always this way. The Greatest Generation together demonstrated American might, suffered through the Depression and staved off evil during World War II. Martin Luther King Jr. was the symbol of the civil rights era, uniting blacks and other minorities across the nation in the fight for equality. Later, during the ’70s, the hippies challenged U.S. social norms and values with regards to sex, drugs and rock ’n’ roll in an attempt to liberate younger generations. During the Vietnam War, college campuses became the headquarters for young people’s participation in anti-war protests.
Then came Madonna, cell phones, latchkey kids, the Disney-fication of our cities and the expectation of instant gratification. The point is this: Generation Y is not defined by a movement, nor is there a need for one.
To be sure, members of Generation Y have every right to be angry. According to a Pew Research Center report published in February, which included data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the share of young adults aged 18 to 24 currently employed — just 54 percent — is at its lowest since the government began collecting data in 1948. Moreover, there is a 15 percent difference in the employment gap between young and working-age adults, which the Pew Center called the widest in recorded history. And young people are making less money compared to any other age group over the past five years — 6 percent less. It’s no wonder young people jumped at opportunities to join the Occupy movement. If we don’t Occupy, then how will we change our world?
But the contest between young and old, rich and poor, employed and unemployed has been fleeting at best, as demonstrated by the meek whimpers of the young participants of the Occupy movement. For many young people, identifying with or participating in the movement may have simply been a cathartic exercise, which is understandable given the current state of affairs. But for so many more, it was a letdown of generational proportions.
Occupy may have been nothing more than a confrontation of the expectations for our lives we built during our childhood, now nothing more than a fantasy. What’s certain is that Generation Y will have to one day come to terms with this ballooning truth — whether in the form of an organic movement of its own or by riding on the coattails of populist anger.
ANDY LEWANDOWSKI is a student in the Graduate School of Arts & Sciences and a staff member at the School of Continuing Studies.