(Image from TheAtlantic.com)
Kick down the barricades
Listen what the kids say
From time to time people change their minds
But the music is here to stay
– Bryan Adams
What I wouldn’t give to be a college student again!
Say what you will about the “damn millennials,” they’re more than just lazy punks with a poor work ethic. Much, much more. They are, like it or not, the future.
My undergraduate presidential election was Bush v. Gore, in 2000, which of course bled over into 2001 as Bush v. Gore. At the time, I was a junior at Southwest Baptist University in Bolivar, Mo., studying to be a Baptist minister. So, you can imagine where I came down on things: I was a Christian, and Christians voted for the guy on the right. Very little thought, backed by all the blind conviction I could muster.
Sixteen years later, I realize the myopia of my ways. It is, then, with profound respect and admiration that I watch the undergrads and young adults of this election cycle readily and competently engaging the political realities around them. Not just as it affects them personally, but as it impacts the larger world to which they understand themselves to belong.
There is, sad as I am to admit it, more social awareness and concern in their little fingers than I possessed in my whole being at their age. Perhaps the Internet has yielded a few positive dividends, after all. I wonder if, given access to social outlets like Twitter, Facebook, and the blogosphere, my friends and I might have been a bit more conscious of our surroundings in our early 20s.
Then again, there are existential differences that carry weight, as well. My parents handed me a well-endowed college fund that got me through all but the very last semester of my undergraduate career. Unlike many students today (and then, for that matter), I didn’t have to work while going to school, and even had I had to work, I could have feasibly made it through without having to take out a loan. I finished well before the market crashed in 2008 and took out other college funds as well-endowed as mine while their owners stood helplessly by. College was a cakewalk for me, comparatively speaking.
In retrospect, having married into my wife’s undergrad debt, I’ve gained more perspective on the issue, and the injustice of the system fires me up, too. But I didn’t live it like these guys do; I didn’t have to sink in order to swim; I didn’t have to choose between education and future solvency. This is their issue in a way it can never be mine; they’re paying through the nose, and it’s coming out bloody. And they’re coming out swinging.
They also don’t carry the same historical baggage as my generation. The Cold War is in my past, but it is in their prehistory. The only Mutually Assured Destruction they fear is the possibility of Trump in the White House. And, as one interviewee remarked in an article on TheAtlantic.com, “socialism shouldn’t be a dirty word.”
I almost cheered when I read that, sitting here at my work desk: this is a major, monumental step forward. We have a generation of emerging citizens capable of envisioning socialism as something other than the USSR, as a cooperative ethic rather than as a clash of civilizations. Why? Because, quite simply, they are not us. Socialism is, to them, a new idea, not an old bugbear or cautionary tale used to stave off the liberal mind. They are throwbacks to the dawn of the concept, when it was about knocking down the fences that cut people off from the land, before it became about authority and still stood for community and solidarity.
If anyone can make this work, these are the ones to do it: they are not afraid to try new things, and they have one mother of a stake in the game. If Bernie Sanders falls short of the Oval, at the very least he is a hero for flipping the switch in young people’s minds, and showing them what fellow feeling is and can do if everyone works together in the interests of everybody else.
So the kids are taking control, which is as it should be. It’s their future, their world to make or break. I’m approaching 40, and while I’m not even close to being out of the game yet, with each passing year my role in all this becomes less about me and more about them. Which is also as it should be. It’s the long game I’m looking at here: I’m halfway to the finish line, but my nieces and nephew have their whole lives ahead of them. And I’m voting with the kids for my kids.
Thank goodness for the “damn millennials.” The future is theirs, and as such, it’s in good hands.