A youth-led climate strike outside the U.S. Capitol. Photo by Abby Murphy.
Nadia Hernandez (she/her); Chicago, IL—
Not only has 2020 thrown us a global pandemic, nationwide civil unrest and remote learning, we also have the U.S. general elections to anticipate.
As I look into how my generation will make a difference this election, I also have to reflect on who my generation is. What do we value? Are we different or similar to previous generations? What issues are most important to us?
We have the next four years of our nation resting on our shoulders. We can make a difference in our country.
Gen Z is unlike other generations, we are the most culturally diverse. We are the most accepting of other cultures, sexualities and genders. We were the first generation to grow with social media and technology integrated in our lives.
And we are seeing a political phenomenon occur. Unlike other generations, we’re witnessing the right become more conservative in their views and the left become more liberal, according to Pew Research Center.
Freshman at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign Austin Glass has noticed how polarized the United States is.
“There’s not really much centrism going on anymore,” Glass said. “I think that people are becoming a lot more stuck in their ways, and maybe that just might be because of us coming of age and getting involved—because we have access to the internet and information in ways that previous generations never had.”
Freshman at University of Iowa Kelli Tosic said she observed a similar pattern in Gen Z.
“I feel like with Gen Z, they come out hardcore in their beliefs,” Tosic said. “I feel like, with other generations, maybe there were just a lot more people in the middle.”
To me, this is because previous generations left us with many complicated issues to solve. As we come of age, the effects from an unstable economy, depleting environment and corrupt politicians come of age, too.
Being surrounded by seemingly insurmountable issues means our views can be extreme and concrete, and the issues thrown at us by older generations are often the issues most important to Gen Z.
For example, Tosic, a member of Gen Z and, thus, an expert on the subject, has issues like fighting COVID-19, systemic racism, climate change and healthcare on her mind.
“We need to deal with, right now, how we are going to manage COVID to the best of our ability,” Tosic said. “Overall, willingness to listen and acceptance of others: that also is very pressing considering we’re in the midst of another civil rights movement. We need to also be coming up with plans for climate change and healthcare.”
Glass and I agree: these issues aren’t isolated to one demographic; they affect everyone in the U.S. and globally.
“Climate change is probably one of my most important issues,” Glass said. “It affects every single person in the entire world, but it also disproportionately affects minorities. It’s important that, in order to ensure justice for the entire world, we need to focus on climate change, so that we can get justice for all people.”
Glass also said he believes that Medicare and healthcare for all would help all Americans during the pandemic.
“We’re living in a time where we need Medicare for All more than ever. There are millions of people who are losing their jobs. There are millions of people who are going into poverty; there are millions of people who are getting infected with the virus who can’t pay for it because they couldn’t pay for it in the first place,” Glass said.
We need to start acting on our beliefs. Gen Z has the power to change our world—and politics as well.
“I think that, as people start getting politically engaged, not only just by activism but by actual political involvement through political parties and positions, we’re gonna actually be able to make the change that we’ve been saying that we’ve wanted,” Glass said.
“I do feel like in the future, politics won’t shift left necessarily, but I feel like there will be a more diverse, open group of people that are willing to listen to one another and start change,” Tosic said.
Gen Z will make an impact this election. We will use our ballot as our voice. Despite our uniqueness, Gen Z will not hesitate to act on the issues most important to us.