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The purposeful is political: Gen Z bowls over their doubters

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Now that the election is over and the doom scrolling has subsided, let’s give some well-deserved credit to Gen Z.

Much has been made of Gen Z’s activism — so much so that I call them the “Solidarity Generation.” Their zeal for unity and social justice is broadsiding the status quo and holding institutions and people in power accountable. Pundits, politicians, and parents who might have doubted that Gen Z’s activism and passion for purpose would rock the vote are bowled over by the record turnout of this rising generation.

As a Boomer who has been privileged to witness firsthand the impactful activism of Gen Z, I was betting that the “Solidarities” would not only cast their ballots in droves, but that their unified commitment will set us on the path of revolution, teaching us older generations a lesson or two about effort and urgency in the process. They already are. 

Take Loyola Marymount University student Kevin J. Patel, who recently discussed how his climate activism in the time of Zoom has evolved and expanded to include solidarity with Black Lives Matter. LMU students have exemplified leadership on pressing issues like the environment, immigration, and racial justice. Since the killing of George Floyd, our students have united people who have never before joined in solidarity for the important and necessary cause of racial justice. I’ve been meeting regularly with a group of Black and other student leaders about how we might work together in assuring that our campus is proactively anti-racist. Guided by the students, our conversations — at times uncomfortable — are always illuminating. In August, I received a comprehensive and thoughtful list of demands from the #BlackatLMU student movement. This document spoke to the community comprehensively and honestly, and it is assisting us in realizing more fully our ideals.

Essentially, our students are doing exactly what we prepare them for: living lives of meaning and purpose. And they are doing so at warp speed. “Solidarity Generation” speed.

Never mind that we are in the midst of a pandemic, learning and working remotely. The Gen Z voices stand steadfast and are lasered toward action. And through the 2020 election, they have witnessed that voting is in itself an essential of sustained activism.

Case in point: Voter turnout for ages 18-29 increased 8 percentage points this year from 2016, according to the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE) at Tufts University. CIRCLE’s estimate, as of Nov. 9, reveals that 50-52 percent of eligible youth voters cast ballots in this election, compared to 42-44 percent in 2016. Organizations like the New Georgia Project — one of the many brainchildren that Gen X voting rights champion Stacy Abrams created to engage, educate, and register first time voters — helped shift the pendulum for the first time in three decades in Georgia, where 90 percent of young Black voters supported Biden. And even in the afterlife, civil rights icon John Lewis galvanized voters with his posthumously published call to action for young Americans. Notably, his district of Clayton County gave Biden a lead in the state.    

With the majority of the Gen Z still in elementary school and the demographics of the generation rapidly changing, I am hopeful that their civic engagement will grow proportionally. According to Pew Research Center, this “Solidarity Generation” now comprises 10 percent of potential voters. Combined with their predecessor generation, the Millennials, the youngest voting bloc is now the most diverse, most educated, and yes, the greatest share, with 37 percent of eligible voters.  

We’ve experienced what Gen Z can do with the tools at their disposal — call attention to issues, raise money and awareness, unite, demonstrate solidarity with people across the globe, get out the vote, and, yes, actually vote.   

But despite their overwhelming support for the Biden-Harris ticket, Gen Z activism does not presume party affiliation. A Politico/Morning Consult poll indicates that 42 percent of Gen Z identify as independent, compared to 24 percent of all registered voters. A September Spotify survey shows that they are more invested in purpose over politics, which makes perfect sense given their preference to see and exist beyond the binary. Such admirable open-mindedness and commitment to action bodes well for the future of the nation.

This election and every election hereafter will depend on the mobilization of activists as much as on those of us who have already made a lifelong habit of voting. Together we are building upon a history of ongoing revolution that was made richer by activists young and old who fought for the right to vote, and by those who continue to fight for fairness and equal access to the ballot.

If we want to realize our ideals fully as a free and just society, where all can thrive, let’s spend more time asking how we can support the emerging generation, be it on the streets, marching for justice; at Zoom town halls, sharing our vision; and of course, at the ballot box, where our voices may join in a chorus of intergenerational solidarity, fighting for purpose.   

Complacency is no longer an option, and Gen Z — the “Solidarity Generation” — own and strengthen that sentiment.

Timothy Law Snyder, Ph.D. is the 16th President of Loyola Marymount University

Tags gen z Generation Z Joe Biden John Lewis Millennials Student activism Voter turnout Voting Youth vote in the United States

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