It can be hard on the spirit to be a Millennial. We were born into the most prosperous civilization in the history of the world, into an era whose complacency was shattered one early fall morning when we were only children. 9/11 tore open the fog of our childhood, and in the ensuing years the traumas of the outside world rushed in one after the other: Iraq, Katrina, cultural decay, and in 2008 the shattering coup de grace of the financial crisis. We inherited doom and were blamed for being afraid. We inherited dislocation and were blamed for being unemployed. We inherited empty coffers and were blamed for being irresponsible. We inherited anomie and were blamed for being disengaged.
The real story of the Millennials, however, is not the one told by cynical Baby Boomers who have, with a staggering lack of self-awareness, bequeathed upon us such inspired monikers as “The Me, Me, Me Generation.” The loudest of these self-indulgent caws has come, predictably, from those who in their own day were the most ardent hedonists, the most avid consumers of LSD. My message to my fellow Millennials? Ignore those people. They truly are, in so many senses of the word, worthless.
What I want to tell you is something that you no doubt know but maybe, amidst the barrage of negative press, forgot: we are great, and we will save this country.
Look at what we’ve done. We spawned some of the most talented musicians, some of the profoundest art, in the history of America. We invented social media and, before most of us were yet twenty-five, changed the way in which the entire human species communicated. We blazed a path at the forefront of technology and even now are pioneering the alternative energy methods that will define our nation’s economy in the coming decades. We rose in the face of a financial catastrophe and elected a president whose skin color was unimportant to us. We rejected the bigotry of countless generations before us and insisted upon treating each other as equals, regardless of the differences that we always knew were trivial. We stand, 100 million strong, and to the face of our parents’ prejudice raise an insurmountable hand. We refuse to countenance their ignorance. We insist that it will die with them.
The people who call us degenerate are wrong. They, after all, took upon themselves the task of destroying the social contract their parents bequeathed to them, and they exhibited the dissipation shown by so many who have inherited something without having to work for it. We will not make the same mistake. We have seen what happens when the levers of power are held by a party who believe certain classes of us to be lower than others, who believe it is acceptable to abandon entire subsets of our country in the economic wilderness. They thought they would somehow benefit from this. We saw that a wound to any of us was a wound to all of us, and it is this quality, more than any other, that sets us apart from the scornful generation who heckled us as selfish even as they grew fat on others’ suffering.
We are great not because we refused to serve in a war, not because we pushed the limits of psychedelic drugs, not because we pretended to like bad music or because we once used too much hairspray. We are great because we refuse to embrace a philosophy that does not lift every American. We are great because we accept nothing less than equality. We are great because we will make a country in which everyone matters and everyone has a chance.
We are great because we are builders.
And one day the things we’ve built will tower into the sky, casting a shadow so huge that the foolish anger of earlier days is swallowed up without a whisper. One day our children will live in a nation where every single citizen has healthcare, where every working person can afford to clothe and feed themselves, where a university education is open to everyone who wants it, where dignity is not reserved to the wealthy and opportunity is not foreclosed to anyone. One day our descendants will survey the abundance and concord around them, will look up to our ancient faces, and will say, “You gave us this.” One day our grandchildren will be amazed that an entire political party took up the task of discriminating against gays and women. One day they will shake their heads and think, “I can’t believe it was once like that.”
We will leave to our sons and daughters a better world than the one we were left. We are a generation of volunteers, a generation of voters and organizers and educators and engineers. Let the middle-aged continue to call us down even as we repair the damage they inflicted on this country. Our society is now engaged in a temporary debate about whether bigotry should trump equality, whether colossal wealth for a few should preempt prosperity for all. The debate will not last long. And when the Republicans and their illiterate ilk draw against us a sword of fear and ignorance, they will find that aluminum breaks upon granite.
They are a stick; we are a mountain. Like a mountain we will stand, hard and quiet and huge and immoveable, enduring one meaningless storm after another as we grow ever higher. We will create the country we should have had, and then we will teach those who come after us not to be hoodwinked as our own parents were. There are no shortcuts. Imposing poverty won’t create riches. Imposing discrimination won’t confer privilege. In the end, we all rise or we all fall, together.
So keep at it, Millennials. It’s ours for the making.