Gen Z is fed up with the Boomers who don’t take their issues seriously: economic inequality, student debt, gun safety, the climate crisis, immigration reform, the unraveling of our democracy. They’re angry and scared that the economic, political and social structures that support our way of life will not hold as they reach adulthood. Our very source of life, this planet, may not hold.
They’re right to be angry. I’m a Boomer and I’m furious. Millions of us across generations are enraged by the corruption of our democratic ideals and the fact that power rests with an alarmingly small group of people who do not represent our interests. We feel powerless.
This is not where I expected to be in my mid-sixties. I launched into adulthood fueled by idealistic fervor and determination to right the wrongs of my parents’ generation. My generation fought for civil rights and spoke truth to power in unprecedented ways. Many of us envisioned a multi-cultural society defined by progressive values, and imagined that we’d leave the earth a better place than we found it.
Instead, my unborn grandchildren will inherit a planet on the brink of extinction; a social order riven by hatred, polarity and lies; an America where mass shootings are commonplace, children live in cages and my Oakland neighbors live in ramshackle tent cities under the freeway.
I’m heartsick and ashamed. How did we get here?
The existential crises that we face didn’t start with Boomers, though we have exacerbated them. These are crises of unequal power, centuries old and deeply rooted in patriarchy—and the powerful minority maintains its power by dividing the majority, turning people against each other.
Let’s not fall into that trap again. Across generations, a majority of Americans agree on critical issues: we favor a ban a ban on the sale on semi-automatic weapons (62%); we want the United States to take aggressive action to combat climate change (70%); and we support DACA allowing “Dreamers” to stay in the country (70%). Narratives that divide us undermine what might otherwise be a powerful coalition.
As Rebecca Traister writes in Good and Mad, anger is a legitimate, effective response that can ignite change. “Progress in America takes a punishingly long time; but it also happens in fits and bursts,” she declares. “We need to think hard about what we’re angry about, and what needs to change. Because change can happen quickly.”
It’s time for Boomers to be led by the urgency of younger generations whose future depends on change happening quickly. We must leverage our positions of power and resources to advance an agenda not driven by us, but by the clarity of our children and grandchildren.
Abigail Disney, 59-year-old heiress of the Disney fortune, said it best in a recenttTweet to Boomers: “How about you guys sit the f— down and let the kids drive.” They have more at stake.
Examples of movements led by young coalition builders are everywhere: grassroots efforts like the Sunrise Movement, Black Lives Matter, Indivisible and Fair Fight 2020 mark a shift from old (rich, white, male) power to what Jeremy Heimans and Henry Timms call “new power.”
While old power is like money, hoarded by a few and jealously guarded, “new power operates differently, like a current,” they explain. “It’s made by many. It is open, participatory, and peer-driven. It uploads and distributes. Like water or electricity, it’s most forceful when it surges. The goal with new power is not to hoard it but to channel it.”
Our future depends on a radical new vision that harnesses intergenerational power, mobilizes majorities and ends the corruption of a minority unwilling to change.
Gen Z and Millennials have every right to be angry. Boomers need to get mad as hell again. And we all need to channel that anger away from Internet memes into collective action.