“What responses should I expect from adults when I get involved in activism?”
Gordon, Hava R., and Jessica K. Taft. 2011. “Rethinking youth political socialization: Teenage activists talk back.” Youth & Society (43)4: 1499-1527.
Earl, Jennifer, Thomas V. Maher, and Thomas Elliott. 2017. “Youth, activism, and social movements.” Sociology Compass (11)4.
Terriquez, Veronica. 2015. “Intersectional mobilization, social movement spillover, and queer youth leadership in the immigrant rights movement.” Social Problems 62.3: 343-362.
Everyone intuitively knows it, but few will say it—either because they don’t want to be a grump, or because they haven’t connected the theoretical dots. But I am willing to be that grump, and I have connected the dots, so I’ll say it: there’s no such thing as a Millennial.
The earlier responses to this essay prompt on generations and social movements are full of insights on activism today so I will focus on the generation angle: What would it mean if new youth activism were truly a generational phenomenon? The answer to this question requires that we drop the Millennial label and the theoretical baggage that comes with it because the very idea of a Millennial falls squarely on the wrong side of a paradigmatic divide in generational theory. Smuggling that discredited generational mythology into our activism and research distracts us from the reality of generational change. Continue reading
In a June 2014 segment on network neutrality, John Oliver encouraged his viewers to “turn on caps-lock and fly my pretties” in an effort to encourage the Federal Communications Commission to uphold the principle of network neutrality and an open internet. In a 20-minute segment that launched a thousand ships, Oliver’s remarks motivated the public to post millions of comments within the FCC online commenting system- ultimately overwhelming and crashing the system. For many journalists, Oliver’s call for action was a success and the motivation for the 2015 decision to uphold Network Neutrality. Continue reading
Two years ago I focused my ASA Presidential address on social movements led by Millennials, building on Karl Mannheim’s classic treatise on “The Problem of Generations.” As the first generation of “digital natives,” and the one most directly impacted by the economic precarity that emerged from the neoliberal transformation of the labor market, the Millennial generation has a distinctive life experience and worldview. Disappointed by the false promises of racial and gender equality, and faced with skyrocketing growth in class inequality, Millennial activists embrace an explicitly intersectional political agenda. Continue reading
The new millennium began with widespread hand-wringing about the retreat of youth from political engagement, with low voter turnout and a lack of faith in political leaders as the main metrics. These commentaries directed our attention to the future health of our democracies, urging us to consider the ways in which a presumed adult “we” can best socialize youth into politics. For many observers, the concern with youth political engagement (or lack thereof) was important insofar as this engagement determines the future vibrancy of our political system. These dominant discourses and anxieties about youth apathy reflect a narrow focus on youth as “citizens in the making” instead of political forces in and of themselves. Although youth are important as the future bearers of a democratic society, they are undeniably political forces in the present moment; both inside and outside of electoral politics.
Generational change and youth involvement hold special importance within social movement studies. Historically, young people have been deeply involved in the most important social movements in the United States and the World, such as the US Civil Rights Movement, the 60’s student movement in Europe and Latin America, the transnational LGBTQ movement, and many others. Millennials have perhaps been more socially and politically involved than other recent generations. They have engaged in traditional forms of political participation ranging from the conservative (e.g. the Tea Party) to the liberal (e.g. Obama’s two presidential campaigns). Recently, Millennials have also shown their involvement in less traditional forms of political engagement, such as their participation in #NeverAgain, #MeToo, the Women’s March, and other national and transnational social movements. It is clear then that millennials are not only decidedly engaged in the social and political issues that affect them, but also that they are clearly expressing their dissatisfaction through activism. Furthermore, there is evidence that this generation might be engaging in both traditional and innovative ways, expanding the repertoires of contention of previous generations. This dialogue invited social movement scholars and activists to reflect on the roles that millennials have played in recent social movement activity and the implications of their involvement for both our discipline and policy.
Thanks to our second group of contributors on this topic.
Editors in Chief,
Grace Yukich, David Ortiz, Rory McVeigh, Guillermo Trejo
When Parkland students began their press for gun control, public reaction varied from inspired, to surprised, to dismissive. Critics charged that the students didn’t have enough experience or knowledge to be involved in the presumptively adult-oriented world of politics, although others were simply surprised because they bought into the idea that young people are not that engaged. But, for people who have been studying youth political engagement, their activism was less surprising than it was to see adults actually pay attention to it.