Whether it was the Occupy Movement, #BlackLivesMatter, or #NeverAgain, we can hear that oft repeated refrain:
“Young people these days are so entitled, spoiled, and lazy.”
But, mind you, many of the folks saying these things about Millennials and Generation Z are saying so having lived through World War II, the Vietnam War, Cold War, and 1960s Civil Rights Movement; eras that saw relative prosperity, stable jobs and incomes, and America’s burgeoning hegemony reach its height following the collapse of the Soviet Union.
They are clinging to that America in their minds and I believe that perhaps conjures up feelings of both nostalgia AND resentment. We can hear it in such lofty claims as “Back in my day, we got a job and worked our tails off” (emphasis on the singular “a”) or “I worked my way through college and graduated with little debt” and “Just behave and the police won’t bother you.”
But let’s not ignore that America is not what it was in the 50s, 60s, or 70s and 80s. Too many have to go out and get a second or third job because our wages have not kept up. All the while, the cost of living has gone up and up, whether its housing or food or health care. Oh, and don’t get me started on how much it costs to get an education! A full-time, minimum wage job is a drop in the bucket.
BUT… they’re right to feel like they’ve lost the America they once knew and some have lashed out by voting in a demagogue for president. Hallmark federal programs like Medicare and Social Security are under attack; income inequality has been exacerbated as income taxes and corporate taxes, which were substantially higher in the post-World War II era, have been slashed and their re-distributive benefits eroded; the great infrastructure investments pioneered by Presidents FDR and Eisenhower are crumbling; America’s “exceptionalism” and leadership abroad has been weakened by prolonged wars and engagements and domestic woes; and the equating of money to speech is drowning our democracy and erecting a plutocracy in its place.
In a way, they have a right to gripe and moan that their version of America is fading and fading fast. But they must realize that, on the one hand, they presided over America’s decline and, now, American Democracy is on life support as its hold on the world weakens and its self-inflicted wounds fester.
More importantly, they must realize that THIS is the America and the world that we, the young people, are inheriting.
So are we entitled? Yes.
We’re entitled to the same right to chart a new and better path forward for this country. We are as entitled to assemble and demand that our government and society change because what we’ve inherited, the American Democracy that was promised to us as our birthright, is dying.
Our politicians kowtow to the whims and wishes of corporate overlords and political PACs like the NRA and the Koch Brothers. Our president is a big, orange fur ball of a joke. Our black brothers and sisters are disproportionately shot and jailed and struggle against both silent, but deadly, institutionalized racism and the increasingly vocal white supremacist movement. Our immigrant friends and neighbors and their families live in constant fear that they’ll be split up and deported from their homes and jobs. And our kids can no longer get an education without fear of a mass shooting.
So are we entitled? Yes. As the saying goes:
A society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in.
Well where are the goddamn trees?
So, yes. We are entitled to salvage what is left and, while we’re at it, to plant new trees so that we and future generations to come can sit in some shade.
We are entitled to help fix this broken world that we’ve inherited.