Photos from the May 30, 2020 march at Window by the Bay in Monterey. Young people have been at the forefront of activism since George Floyd was murdered May 25.
Story by Ilyne Castellanos
Photos by Claudia Meléndez Salinas
Zoomers, or the generation succeeding the millennials, are proving that angst and teen culture look quite different than in the past. The difference between this new culture and that of previous generations is Gen-Z’s intense involvement through the internet and social media.
With endless information and with a community of peers all over the country, Zoomers have used their platforms to spread their philosophies, politics, and meme culture all over the internet.
These philosophies and politics are clear: this generation believes in eradicating racism, holding the police accountable and more government for the common good — no school-to-prison pipeline, thank you very much. And while some may scoff at “internet activism,” their impact is no laughing matter.
The most recent example is quite remarkable. President Trump’s campaign rally in Tulsa expected a million participants and yet only about 6,200 attended, and it became apparent that something went wrong. According to teenagers on TikTok, it was all part of a scheme to embarrass the President’s campaign. Whether the teens were the only culprits or not, it is evident that they made themselves heard.
Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-NY, tweeted, “Actually you just got ROCKED by teens on TikTok who flooded the Trump campaign w/ fake ticket reservations & tricked you into believing a million people wanted your white supremacist open mic enough to pack an arena during COVID … Shout out to Zoomers. Y’all make me so proud.” Ocasio-Cortez was responding to a tweet by Brad Parscale, President Trump’s campaign manager, who claimed this was the work of “radical protesters.”
And he’s right. This new resistance coming from the country’s youth is a radical protest in its own way.
Athena Ereno, a 19-year-old sociology major at Hartnell College and the student body’s director of public relations, reflects on her experience as part of Gen-Z. “I know that they say that you shouldn’t completely surround yourself with people that agree with you, but in my opinion I think it’s valuable to be around people who care about these humanitarian movements because when you connect with people with similar views as you … change can happen.”
Among her social circles and social media, Ereno described an environment where topics like racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, and climate change are regularly discussed. Along with compiling and sharing petitions with social media groups, Ereno has used her online platform to shed light on issues like police brutality, sexism, and other pressing issues.
“It’s not enough to simply believe in something on your own, it takes teamwork and community to bring about change,” she said.
To Ereno and many other teens and young adults, the internet gives them a seat at the table. The numbers do not lie, and social media activism has become a defining trait of many people’s experiences on different sites.
Although seemingly whimsical at times, social media activism has been bringing awareness and outrage to cases of police brutality that might have been otherwise forgotten. In the most recent example, Elijah McClain died in August 2019 in Aurora, Colo., after an encounter with the police. On his way home from a store after buying iced tea, McClain’s arrest hauntingly mirrored that of George Floyd in May, with McClain crying out, “I can’t breathe,” while under a carotid hold by officers. A petition on Change.org, however, has garnered more than 3 million signatures, prompting officials to conduct a thorough investigation in hopes of bringing justice for the 23-year-old.
Other campaigns by young people are familiar household names, like those by Swedish activist Greta Thunberg, or the Parkland School Shooting survivors. These campaigns are so unlike those that preceded them because they are focused on the youth and their futures. For many, it is hard to be optimistic about milestones that have previously seemed guaranteed in life. Whether it is the systematic racism that plagues every aspect of life from socio-economic status to education, the fears of entering the workforce in an economic downturn following the coronavirus pandemic, or the rapid deterioration of the Earth because of global warming, the future seems especially unsure.
But internet activism is both generating hopes and giving Generation Z the means to spread it. Gerardo Muñoz, a 19-year-old musician and student at Monterey Peninsula College, said that Gen-Z is often underestimated in their power and influence. “Our generation is thought of as lazy and entitled by older people because we have had more opportunities and a safer upbringing … The U.S. is a traditionally right-wing country so a lot of left-wing policies have to take a backseat.”
Gen-Z however, is already changing the picture of a new United States with its opportunities and demographics. According to the Pew Research Center, “Gen Zers are progressive and pro-government, most see the country’s growing racial and ethnic diversity as a good thing, and they’re less likely than older generations to see the United States as superior to other nations.” This information, accompanied by the fact that Gen-Z is the most diverse and poised to be the most educated generation this country has seen is a beacon of hope for many.
“I have faith, to put it simply,” said Ereno. She said she is proud of the fact that, when asked, most of her peers can tell you about the school-to-prison pipeline. In conversation, many Gen-Zers can explain systematic racism or how to hold someone accountable for discriminatory behavior.
“We are going to be the ones writing textbooks. We are going to discover the truth, and share that truth … I hope that our government will represent us more accurately and that our country will vote on issues that we care about, because this is not a business, there are people’s lives on the line.”
Of all the positive characteristics of Gen-Z, their ability to empathize with each other is the most inspiring. As Gen-Zers receive an education, enter the workforce, or become parents, their spirit of empathy will push this always unpredictable world forward.
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