“We condemned them, our children, for seeking a different future. We hated them for their flowers, for their love, and for their unmistakable rejection of every hideous, mistaken compromise that we had made throughout our hollow, money-bitten, frightened, adult lives” – June Jordan (Passion)
Looks Like Tarzan, Walks Like Jane
The generation of the baby boomers contained one of the most influential movements of young people in history. Characterized today by musical figure Jimi Hendrix or comedic caricatures such as Philmore from Disney’s “Cars”, the hippies of the 1960s stood for peace, love, and a free-range life. They detested the actions and political climate of America at the time and stood in protest by living lifestyles outside of government control or political systems. While radical, they were an inevitable wave rising from the events of the 1950s.
The 1950s were defined by conflict. Events such as the Korean War and the Hydrogen Bomb test revealed how ruthless America could be to other nations in battle. Inequality was at the forefront of the nation as the Civil Rights Movement made leaps and bounds in the Brown v. Board of Education case (declaring segregation of school facilities unequal) as well as the thirteen-month-long bus boycott by black citizens sparked by Rosa Parks. Technological advancements were at an all-time high in space travel, where the space race between the Soviets and the Americas began. There was uncertainty brewing. America was revealed to have flaws rooted deeper than within its individual citizens. Finally, the actions of then-President Lyndon B. Johnson (successor to the assassinated John F. Kennedy) showcased America’s brutality unlike ever before, aggravating the actions of the United States in the Vietnam War and diverting money away from his previously promised acts against racism and poverty.
The system had been exposed as malicious and greedy. Hippies stood in defiance of their government’s gruesome actions. Their world was defined by unity, togetherness and psychedelic music. They wore outrageous colours and enjoyed freedoms such as drugs, free love, and respecting the earth. They lived in protest, a physical antithesis of their capitalist, invasive society. Yvonne Madera Jaffe recalls her efforts in the 1960s in an interview with Greg Goldblatt. “The idea of thousands of young people coming together and making meaning and making sense and protesting and saying, you know, things can’t be this way. It was a good thing to do for the world”. She was surprised many did not stick with the protests and movements, but the idea of young people coming together is far from over. Young activists are just as prevalent today as they were in the sixties
Special Little Snowflake
Today, our young people have associated with the term Gen Z. Pew Research Centre defines these “zoomers” as the demographic cohort succeeding Millennials and are currently between the ages of six and twenty-four. They make up roughly 68 million of the US population alone, and they also have grown up in times of conflict. Devastating attacks on New York City on September 11th sparked global outrage, prompting attacks on Pakistan to eliminate the terrorist organization Al-Qaeda. Racist attacks and prejudice against the Muslim faith as a result of the attacks swept the country. The Immigration and Naturalization service aggressively and disproportionately deported Muslims, South Asians and Arabs under the veil of country security, even deporting famous boxing champion Muhammad Ali to his home country of Bangladesh. Technological advancements skyrocketed exponentially, as big tech companies such as Apple, Microsoft, and Facebook redefined communication and entertainment across the globe, but also unleashed new hidden dangers of hacking and untrustworthy cybersecurity on its uninformed citizens.
The 2017 president-elect Donald J. Trump divided the country in ways few presidents had done before. Rising concerns over relationships with North Korea and Iran raised suspicions of another war. In 2020, the Coronavirus pandemic sent the entire world into strict quarantine, leaving many jobless and unable to provide. The government’s services could not have been prepared for this. Amidst this chaos and uncertainty, an innocent man named George Floyd is choked and killed by the police. The public, a large percentage being Gen Z, takes to the streets in protest of the mistreatment of minority groups by police officers, most notably the Black Lives Matter organization
Protests and riots occur in all major American cities. Citizens hold up homemade signs that demand change, reform and impeachment from their government. “History repeats itself” is not a phrase used in its literal form often, but the actions of these brave young people prove it true. History has repeatedly seen movements of young people banding together, arguing more or less the same thing to more or less the same people. Call them hippies or snowflakes, they are the countries’ youth and the trend continues today with even greater impacts. Just as the hippies of the 1960s banded together in protest, gen Z has led the charge in their own assault on their unjust government bodies. However, the teens of today have found a more innovative way to spread messages and let their voices be heard.
Repost. Share. Like. Donate. Advocate.
These are words well known in the vocabulary of youth today and have become increasingly popular over the course of this year due to the rising influence of social media. Its power is multifaceted. It is a foreign language to much of the older generation, like speaking in code. Youth have made this side of the internet understandable only to those involved, those related to the cause. The hippie movement had similarities to this, giving themselves new names or use of the peace sign. “Ben and Jerry’s ice cream, they came from that. Rolling Stones magazine, your whole music life revolved around that and it became more political” recalls Jaffe. Youth used these connections to share their opinions and strengthen their voice
Siobhán Kelly knows how to spread a message. Inspired by the social commentary of herself and her peers while seeing a lack of youth representation in the media and political commentary, she works to bring the teen voice to the centre. “I saw so many teens in my community and at my school who had these incredible ideas, it just felt like they needed to be heard on a bigger level,” says Kelly, the director of the entirely youth-managed internet blog A Teen Perspective. Her stark belief in the power of youth voices inspires students from across the Durham region to use their voice through writing to let their perspectives be heard. Unlike the newspapers and outlets of the sixties, A Teen Perspective can research, write, share and connect their ideas through social media.
Social media is a relatively new and booming concept. OurWorldInData.org tracks the users of social media since the dawn of MySpace in 2004. Over the course of fifteen years over two billion people worldwide are on Facebook alone. Today, the majority of the users of social media are young people and these numbers have only increased over the past year. Kelly uses this new advancement to her advantage, outreaching to others within her organization. She also understands the generational divide caused by social media. “Technology has really influenced that because technology sort of came into play as you and I were growing up, I feel like there’s a big divide between gen Z and those who aren’t”. Young people have created their own separate microcosm within these platforms and its population is ever-growing. According to a 2018 survey by the AACAP, ninety percent of people aged thirteen to seventeen use or have used social media. It has become more than a hub to connect with friends, it has the ability to create a shared knowledge base.
Youth engage in references, obscure meme photos, endless forms of media to evoke different reactions, all learned through experience on social media platforms. The prevalence of social media within the younger generation has built a digital bohemian lifestyle, just as the hippies made in their communes. This separation, while essential to the development of youth forming their own ideas, has always been met with heavy criticism.
Chill Greta Chill
“Those who make peaceful revolution impossible make violent revolution inevitable.” says the late John F. Kennedy, in a time where his words rang just as true as they do today. Lyndon B. Johnson had trouble keeping the public in line with his ideals. Civil Rights marches led by MLK and Malcolm X demanded change. The hippies were furious with the actions in Vietnam
“Patriotic” Americans began swarming in defence of America, wishing the hippies a safe trip up north. Hippies represented what Uncle Sam fought against. Communism, drug abuse, disrespect to the flag. They were an outspoken resistance. Jaffe remembers the publics’ distaste towards her lifestyle and her close connections with African Americans. “When we went to the counter to eat, they wouldn’t serve us because we were black and white together. (…) I’d never seen such hatred”.
Likewise, the current government is being threatened by the deafening voices of Gen Z. Strategically, they turn to mockery to hopelessly grasp for power. “It happens in the workplace all the time,” says Kelly, “As young people, we can try and show leadership, but will get labelled as too assertive or unqualified because we’re young.” The social media platforms not yet claimed entirely by gen Z turn into verbal warzones. Fully grown adults are not afraid to mock children for idealistic views on a world at peace. The Vie Boheme of the young generation is viewed as disrespectful, and the youth voice suffers because of this notion.
Go Back To Your Safe Space
The price for rejecting assimilation is alienation. Culture shifts across the generations are inevitable, but never before has something seemed so foreign to the general public than a completely separate lifestyle. Living amongst like-minded people with unique ways of communicating and safe spaces. This comes with a price, being labelled too different to be taken seriously. The government uses the chaos within youth lives to silence them.
Drugs, sex, mental illness, or just being too young and naive. These are criticisms used against the younger generation for getting involved in their political and social climate, an easy method to silence them and convince others they don’t know any better. The merit and content of youth’s ideas are an afterthought, before they can make a point they are labelled as outsiders and rulebreakers. What young people call for is deemed too extreme and unnecessary. The government refuses to face it, time and time again.
Yet, despite all this, we still see movements of young people engaged in political and social thought who are taking a stand. Kelly closes the interview with a powerful statement on the current position of teen outrage. “There are a lot of teens, powerful teens with great perspectives and great solutions. Why should we turn that down because we’re younger or because we haven’t gone through all of this education?” History repeats itself, and the youth of then, today, and tomorrow will not be backing down.
AACAP. Social Media and Teens, American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, Mar. 2018, www.aacap.org/AACAP/Families_and_Youth/Facts_for_Families/FFF-Guide/Social-Media-and-Teens-100.aspx#:~:text=Surveys%20show%20that%20ninety%20percent,mobile%20devices%20with%20internet%20capabilities.
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