We are the sons and daughters of the children of the 1960s. Our parents led the world in protests and social activism along with drugs and free love. Their time was characterized by protests on the steps of the University of California, Berkeley, citywide marches against the Vietnam War and more political and social rebellion than any generation since the civil war.
According to our parents’ generation, we’ve become complacent. We no longer stage huge protests on our college campuses, highly educated women with Ph.D.s are more likely to opt out of a high-paying job in order to spend more time with their families and we have alarmingly low voter turnout. The high point of our political involvement was the 2008 presidential election, only to swing the complete opposite direction in 2012: utter apathy.
This isn’t to say social activism has completely disappeared in college students. The recent passage of tuition equality for undocumented Michigan residents and veterans demonstrates the student body’s ability to endure and affect change.
But the pressure to be involved with local issues feels like a stepping stone to bigger — possibly paying — things. A resume booster, where affecting real change is simply a bonus.
Prof. Scott Campbell and Associate Prof. Stephen Ward recently commented on the professionalism that activism has taken on at the University in an interview with The Michigan Daily. The wild, out-of-control protests of the 60s were sacrificed, but not necessarily the social justice.
However, it’s possible that the lack of disorder and disruption of these protests has lengthened the time it takes for governments to take notice and finally change policy. Simply put, it’s easy to ignore an online petition or Facebook group, even if it’s signed by 20,000 people. A march or sit-in of that magnitude, however, would require government or police action and make national front pages.
Many theories have circulated about the Millennial generation’s lack of motivation to take part in national issues. Is it the hours we spent with the television and Internet? Is it our supposedly narcissistic obsession with Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr and Instagram?
No. I would argue something else entirely.
Our generation grew up in the era of ‘zero tolerance.’ Every school guidebook, classroom syllabus and summer camp information e-mail used some form of the phrase. There was zero tolerance for bullying, swearing, drugs and alcohol, cheating, name calling, separating from the group or pretty much any rebellious behavior. Zero tolerance is a vague statement. It allows an individual to imagine the worst possible outcome from violating the rules. But it’s understood that zero tolerance doesn’t mean a chat with the school principal and a call to your parents.
It means losing everything.
This culture of zero tolerance created a space that was unforgiving. One mistake and you were screwed for life. Today’s youth are afraid to make mistakes and to be rebellious because of this culture. We just aren’t willing to risk everything we’ve worked for to attend a political protest that’ll most likely end up with someone in jail and make little progress anyway. If we’re going to break the rules, it’s going to be a fun way to blow off some steam. We were taught one strike and you’re out, and that’s how we’re living our lives.
Another factor is the economic downturn. Blemishes on a record can only hurt you in the uphill battle of getting a job during a time of depressingly low job opportunities. According to an article in The Wall Street Journal the rate of unemployment for adults under 25 was 15.6 percent in August — two and half times more than the unemployment rate for 25 and older. According to a CNBC article, 2012 and 2013 college graduates will earn less over the next decade than before the recession hit.
Even bleaker is the rate of underemployed college graduates. According to the Economic Policy Institute, 19.1 percent of college graduates were underemployed in 2012.
We’ve been conditioned to think that any demerit on our record will haunt us for the rest of our lives. There’s no patience for mistakes of youth and there are too many well-educated people for too few jobs. With so many other qualified, if not perfect, candidates, why would any business risk taking the applicant with a record or who had a meeting with the dean?
While the parental generation may want youth population to stand up, many are more concerned with their individual child’s well-being and success than global well-being. Few parents would condone their child’s choice to drop out of school to join Occupy Wall Street, but many praised the youth for finally standing up for something. It’s a catch-22 that we, as Millennials, are unable to avoid — disappointing our parents and throwing away our future or be labeled dispirited and unpatriotic.
Jesse Klein is an LSA junior.