AIN’T THAT THE TRUTH (YOUTH)
“There’s no other time, it’s now or never. It’s our generation or none.” –Yohana Vaughn-Pollard, 21
by Moriah Reibman
The murder of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, and the recent BLM demonstrations across the country, have sparked conversations in many communities about police brutality, racism, and other systemic problems our country faces today. The youth have championed this conversation and movement, undoubtedly. So I asked several young people to consider problems with our public education system, our healthcare system, how activism is performed or practiced amongst their peer groups, about the dreaded upcoming Presidential Election, and how they feel about the weight of being a part of “the generation that brings our much-needed revolution.” My goal here is to make what I’ve been hearing the young people talking about at CHOP, or in other community spaces that we’ve created for ourselves over the last couple of months, accessible to all who feel uncomfortable or unable to join the conversation. In what follows, the indented quotes are direct statements from my interviewees and the rest is my own opinion.
“I hear this phrase a lot: ‘us being the generation that is going to save the world, or change everything.’ It’s a burden because there are a lot of things that need to be saved so much that must be changed. Every generation will bring change, there are going to be things that they thought going to look back on and say ‘well maybe we ought to shake that up,’ or like, ‘what’s the purpose of this thing anymore.’” –Jayshawn Latrell Lee, 21
“We need big structural change, and it has fallen on us to not only correct the revisionist history that we were taught, to think critically for ourselves about the paradigm of oppression upheld by our government and institutions, but also to revise them before they steer us too far-off from the correct course of action.” –Jaya Duckworth, 19
This course of action is one that leads us to a youth-envisioned, socially-democratic America. A post-reparations, post-racist, true democracy where everyone has access to basic human rights (housing, healthy food, clean water, adequate education) and ICE and the police are abolished. Where our government is representative of the people. That means we have young BIPOC, middle-class elected officials in every branch of government, from the executive brand to our city councils.
“In a socially democratic America, a vast majority of people are not having to strive for their basic human rights: food, shelter, water, internet, education, and healthcare. When your life is no longer dedicated to accessing your basic human rights by clawing to that–that is my vision for a more socially democratic America.” –Donovan Bown, 20
The current movement for democratic socialism and abolition is misunderstood by both the right and the liberal left as being unrealistic in its goals to deliver basic human needs to everyone in society. In reality, the current movement is pragmatic in practice.
“This kind of society, that the further left wing of America is envisioning, hinges upon redistributing federal funds away from state-sponsored projects of domestic and international terror—the police, prisons, and the military— and towards individuals to ensure their rights are met. It is especially exasperating when you know that virtually every other country that’s developed in the same way as the United States already guarantees the things that people on the ground are asking for.” –Rohan Lalla, 19
“Any policy is going to decide a winner or a loser of a certain interaction. I just want the winner to be the people more often, as opposed to these big corporations and really as opposed to a consolidation of power. And that speaks to our current system, the two-party system, tell what that is other than a mass consolidation of power. They are all enacting policy to line their own pockets and look at Kamala Harris who pardoned Mnuchin and then got a massive donation.” –Donovan Bown
“We have so blatantly seen some of the corruption and dysfunctional aspects of our democracy –if you can even call it a ‘democracy’–and it worries me. I think there is going to be extreme voter suppression and disenfranchisement and I’m worried Trump won’t accept defeat. There are politicians I admire who are doing a lot of work to reform the voting system and ensure all votes are counted. But that is a real threat especially with USPS being attacked and mail-in ballots being at risk [a method primarily utilized by blue states], the likelihood of tampering with our election is high. I think for the entire history of our country there have been so many voices left out of our democracy and of politics and seeing that so boldly flaunted by the president as a tactic is scary, for sure.” –Jaya Duckworth
Converting our country to social democracy can not happen without defunding and abolishing oppressive institutions like the military, the private prisons that make billions from mass incarceration, and the police that murder innocent civilians because of their race like Breonna Taylor.
“It is very sad to see people fearing a system that would do them nothing but good. It would also happen to do a ton of Black people a ton of good which is why the government is like ‘screw that.’ But I try not to focus on that because to admit that is to say they hate Black people more than they love themselves.” –Donovan Bown, 20
While Generation-Z has yet to face a draft, we have been at war with Afghanistan and Iraq essentially our entire lives. And perhaps now we are finding ourselves joining a battle against Trump and our corrupt enforcement of unjust laws, plus an army of lawmakers who refuse to hear our demands for human rights and equality. With a mere 76 days left before the 2020 Presidential Election, the knot in our chest widens. As Trump defunds USPS and the polls display nearly identical data to that of the last election, it’s not looking good. This makes us feel like we have been left to clean-up and build from rubble our current socio-political-economic landscape expeditiously.
“But my greatest fear isn’t even of the outcome. It’s that we lose this momentum we’ve been building over the past few months and that people think that the movement is over. It’s not. The revolutionary work occurring now didn’t start at the election, so it doesn’t stop at the election. My greatest fear is that the people see the race as the end-all-be-all.” –Jayshawn Latrell Lee
“This election is depressing because I have to choose between the guy who wrote the top bill on crime and a super-cop or actual fascism, and that SUCKS. That is not democracy.” –Donovan Bown
“American politics is all about individuality/ism, and we definitely saw that during the pandemic. It was everyone for ourselves. That is why we are where we are and why we’re not going back to school and 170,000 people are dead. We’re taught at a young age that we’re supposed to trust the government and that they know what they’re doing and that this is a democracy. And that is my biggest fear, that people think ‘America is the greatest place in the world and that it will fix itself.’ None of that is true.” –Yohana Vaughn-Pollard
“This movement has impacted me very deeply, as a Black man in America. I’ve felt very sad and frustrated seeing the same events happen over and over again. But it has moved me in very positive ways. I’ve never been too outspoken on the topic of race. However, the recent events and BLM movements have challenged me to self-reflect on who I am, what I want to stand for, and where I fit in in our society. I have felt a greater responsibility to hold people around me accountable and not be afraid to apply pressure to those opposed to do what is right. So in many ways, it has provided me a moment of clarity and the negative energy I have faced has fueled a positive return. The greatest result has been seeing the unity and strength of America when its civil rights are threatened. It has been so inspiring to see how our generation can come together in so many different ways. However, it cannot end. It must continue to push forward.” –Miles Macklin, 20
Our generation has a unique opportunity, one which we have pursued, to participate in the current movement in a variety of different ways.
“My peers are doing a myriad things that could be considered “activism.” Whether it's being physically in the streets, emailing goverment representatives, creatong art, volunteering, I think that it's all activism. Finding a role in these times that you can fulfill, and do it well to help the cause, but also being able to switch from that role when needed is activism.” –Marta, 20
“There are so many different ways you can participate in the movement other than physically being at the protests art, music, social media --even though it’s not for me, that doesnt mean I don’t know about it-- for me at least art will be an integral part of the revolution. Every revolution, some large element of it, has always been expressed and correlated to the art of the period. Our generation has a unique place to participate in the movement in a variety of mediums, but social media has introduced an entirely new element. Music is always a part of the revolution too, like my parents tell me about the 60s and music was a huge part of their movement.” –Yohana Vaughn-Pollard
“We are utopists in a way. We envision something better, we can make this better, and there is always a push for something better. And you if you look back to history, that is the force that has been driving us along. At one point, saying ‘we would have a 40-hour workweek’ was unimaginable. You know, like, ‘get out of here you leftie.” And then, civil unrest led to us getting a 40-hour workweek. Civil rights to Black people were not just handed over because MLK said some nice words and sounded good. There was violent civil unrest that came with that.” –Donovan Bown
“The best thing in terms of activism is recognition because if you can’t recognize your part in the institutionalized issues you are facing, you will never see a path forward. The second is through conversation. Recent conversations about the state of our nation have been so crucial and prevalent in my community. I’ve had many of these conversations and it's been educational and thought-provoking, even for me. I called out my family on the same topics through an email, and as a result, I had a 2-hour conversation with my aunt about racial inequality and police brutality, which I would have never seen coming. Having conversations allows you to understand different perspectives and gain a more holistic approach of the world. When you’re able to have a conversation and accept and listen to other opinions then you allow yourself to come to your own opinions and beliefs because you have considered what others have to say. Through these conversations, I’ve gotten some clarity for myself as to what it is I stand for as an individual. I feel like I have the responsibility to speak out and act up when I see something happening that goes against what I believe in. I see this becoming increasingly true of most people our age and hopefully that is a catalyst for real change.” –Miles Macklin, 20.
“I feel most hopeful that our generation is going to bring that needed change and most encouraged and motivated by our generation by the way we are dedicated to making change and by caring for each other. I don’t have faith in the people in power, but I do have faith in the youth. Though we are obviously not responsible for these issues, so to place the accountability and the blame on us is very misguided. Because obviously the people responsible for these inequalities are the people in power, the people in government, billionaires, the people who profit and patrol private prisons, the fossil fuel industry. We need to address the roots of these problems and hold those people accountable.” –Jaya Duckworth, 20
This is what has been on the minds and tongues of American youth today. At least with most of my homies. My intention here was to share and document some of the main points that are made in so many of these conversations because they are valid, widespread, and give me hope for the future despite all the corruption, hatred, and ignorance in our world today.
Hi, I’m Moriah Reibman from Seattle, WA. I’m a sophomore in the Gallatin School of Individualized Study at NYU where I study the economy of storytelling through a multi-media lens. In addition to my work towards launching the blog for South End Stories, I’m also a part of the curriculum development team.