Generation Z and Millennials have shared cause.
Generations are not a useful unit in most cases. Birth year is rarely a useful category by which to group people because it unavoidably transects important borders of class, race, and geographic origin. But for Millennials and the cohort following them, often called Generation Z, unique historical circumstances have created a relatively united political front. Age has become a viable political unit.
The Left Generation
Much has been left to our generation. Student loans and toxic debt profiles, mental health crises and a job market deprived of long-term employment, climate change—the problems facing Americans under 35 are discussed so often they have become an incantation declaiming the plight of the young. Stop whining, older generations may be inclined to say; things have been bad before. Perhaps they have. Arguments about the relative strife of one age over another are invariably reductive, so it is hard to assert the vices of the millennial+ era are exceptionally grave.
What they are inarguably, though, is exceptionally uniform. Our unprecedented interconnectedness means there is, for the first time, an experience common to most of the generation, regardless of location or class, party alignment, etc. Globally, my friends in Haiti and Sri Lanka get status updates and news at the same time I do, and acid rain in China kills crops in Ohio; internet access and environmental derangement are not enclosed by borders. Too, the increased secondary school attendance in America expands the student debt crisis, domestically. The biggest issues of now inherently transect older political divisions, and so, a broader unit of political cooperation has become allowed.
Generation Z and Millennials, then, faced with shared problems may come to a consensus on how to combat them. Data supports this hypothetical ideological coagulation. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is a moderate when compared to her peers. Pew research center reports a shift progressive on almost every policy issue [link]. Linked, Gen Z and Millennials are the nation’s most populous age bloc and will possess a majority of the voting-age population by the end of the next decade.
Limitations of Generational Politics
William Strauss and Neil Howe created the term ‘millennial’ in the 90’s and have been profiting off the coinage since. Now, the trade press has begun to sell the discussion of Gen Z. Fear for the future and its denizens is a reliable income source for publishers, it appears. The conversation around this contemporary brand of generational history has been, consequently, tainted by corporate forces. As a field, it is relatively, historiographicallly unacademic.
The pressures of the generation industry are, I think, the cause of the cleavage between millennials and their successors. The smaller the date-range for a generation, the smaller the packaging, the more generation widgets available. Had the division been decided purely by political leaning, though, Generation Z and Millennials would be not two generations, but one.
The distinction between them does nothing but limit organizing potential across generational lines. In terms of their motives, Generation Z and Millennials should be united. The flimsy market distinction of naming one Z and other Millennial occludes this unison.
A New Coalition
Ultimately, though, this fence is easily jumpable. The politics of the Millennial+ generation will supersede whatever nominal distinction exists between its oldest and youngest members. These politics are overwhelmingly progressive, and so, together, this cohort presents a radically shifted political reality for the country. The American left has a trump card in the country’s youth.
In order to play it, though, the progressive youth bloc must lead the conversation. The right-ward swing of the country in recent years has been driven primarily by its oldest citizens. The democratic party has responded by appealing to Baby Boomer’s and the Silent Generation’s sympathy for moderation.
This strategy is misguided. The realities of human physiology will soon render the traditionally conservative generations politically impotent. The future of the country belongs to the united young. That the young are the future has always been true, but the unique political unity of young Americans today renders this maxim especially potent. This most diverse generation is our most ideologically united and should not be ignored.
Regardless of the outcome of the next election, as the country moves into the twenties the political atmosphere will become increasingly defined by an anabatic generational gust. The American left must capitulate to this progressive upsurge if it wants to retain this immense bloc. Generation Z and Millennials must become aware of their power and wield it. Further, the challenges left to us require transnational cooperation—our generational union needn’t be confined to 50 states. Everywhere, the young are logging on. The pressures of a globalizing economy and a decaying environment are felt everywhere. The labels, Millennial and Gen Z, should be collapsed into a single term, uniting this unprecedented, worldwide, assurgent generation.