Millennials are a force to be reckoned with

Tony Cuellar, Guest Columnist

A candidate seeking election for public office in Maine last month made a grave miscalculation. Leslie Gibson, running unopposed for a seat in Maine’s House of Representatives, chose to align himself to the narrative that assumes the youth of today are “snowflakes.”

Millennials are quite often denigrated in the public sphere, described as entitled and lazy. Yet the narrative fails to provide evidence, and current events certainly question the frame our youth is placed in.

Gibson assumed the above to be true. While one might conclude that human rights in relation to gender issues have been settled, a diatribe was launched into the digital world of social media, with sexual orientation as a trump card to dismiss a movement deemed insignificant.

That was March 14. It took two days to crystalize into Gibson dropping from the race. While not solely the action of our youth, their passionate resolve and strength of character is the motivating force that has the veracity to wake many of us up. Or at least give us hope.

While there are a variety of issues to consider, my own focus rests on the raw power of social activism currently in the public sphere. Yes, there are features that can be underscored. Yet to allocate our energy to Second Amendment arguments alone or disperse into the white-male identity of Gibson would bury the tree in the forest. What takes center stage is the courage and resilience of the Never Again movement, in the face of the attempts to deny both individuals and ideas that challenge the institutional structures seeking to disparage our new generations.  

I do cringe a bit at using labels such as Millennials, yet distinguishing a segment of the population for clarity is unavoidable. Please bare with me. I am part of the aging demographic, sitting beside this generation in classes at both Diablo Valley and Los Medanos colleges.

Millennials stand accused of being incapable of understanding, writ large, by most of my own generation. Yet Pew Research studies as recent as March 18 of this year finds this generation to be the most educated generation to date. Women now outnumber men with bachelor’s degrees. These are not small issues. Millennials are by far the most generous of generations, giving to causes and supporting community at substantial numbers. Millennials are the most diverse, tolerant and supportive generation regarding human rights than we have seen since the early days of the Civil Rights movement of the ’50s and ’60s.

Further, Pew Research reveals Millennials are protective of human dignity in relation to gender differences, which is literally a life-saving quality for those who would be otherwise vilified by ideology such as the candidate from Maine, and his “skin-headed lesbian” ad hominem attack on one of the student activists who survived the recent school shooting in Parkland, Fla.

As a father of a Millennial, I’ve lived vicariously through Occupy Cal, seeing the bruises on my own daughter’s body for doing nothing more than standing for an idea. I experienced the outrage of the U.C. Davis pepper spraying, and the solemn, arms locked, heads bowed willingness to suffer for meaning and a life with value. I’ve heard stories of lock-stepped police and the intimidation of the sound of boots approaching in a Black Lives Matter protest. That’s real courage, the real thing.

That is this generation, not unknown in generations past, yet it appears to have a different velocity. Perhaps that comes with knowing that you, the Millennial generation, far outnumber any single voting demographic. And what happened in Maine was not the result of violence, but of passionate civil engagement.

This is not a foray into idealizing this generation. Complacency and apathy are the powerful forces that inhabit us all, young or old. Distractions abound, a life to be made and adventures to be had. Yes, yes to all of that. But please, Millennials, take part in the public dialog. Argue and debate, passionately without insult or subordination. Be wild, be crazy and fight for the future that will be yours.

I promise you will not be alone.