SEATTLE, Washington — This year has been tumultuous across the board. From new challenges arising from the COVID-19 pandemic to ongoing global strife, 2020 has constantly created opportunities for problem-solving and outside-the-box thinking. While countless leaders worldwide have struggled to accommodate the circumstances of our new normal, many members of ‘Generation Z’ have seemingly gone above and beyond, using the unique tools at their disposal to foster a new brand of activism that demonstrates great promise.
Generation Z: Defined
Generation Z, or Gen Z, has a rather fluid definition but is largely considered to encompass the individuals born after 1996. This generation is more racially and ethnically diverse than any previous generation and they remain on track to be the most educated to date. Additionally, unlike prior generations, members of Gen Z came of age in a world already flooded with rapidly evolving technology, with a plethora of the world’s knowledge and news constantly at their fingertips. This shift in the availability of information has manifested in a fundamental characteristic of this rising generation: they expect and maintain “ubiquitous connectivity” with the world around them.
With the onset of a global pandemic, new social distancing guidelines and public health concerns have created massive obstacles for organizers and activists looking to advocate for global issues that unfortunately do not yield in the face of a new virus. With their outstanding history of grassroots activism, from the March For Our Lives to the Sunrise Movement, in addition to studies showing that social activism is quintessential to their collective identity, it was only a matter of time before Gen Z took matters into their own hands.
Generation Z Activism
While traditional forms of activism have been largely out of reach, Gen Z’s technological aptitude has provided access to new platforms of activism previously untapped to their fullest potential. With a reported 97% of Gen Z using one or more major social media platforms, many quickly took to their screens to spread awareness and advocate for major global issues, such as climate change, poverty or racial equality, frequently reaching hundreds of thousands of people with their messages.
Most prominently, members of Gen Z have taken to TikTok, the popular video-sharing app, to spread awareness and promote petitions, funds and policies of great urgency. When the rapid resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement struck in early June, many videos emerged on the platform, educating viewers about what was occurring and sharing personal experiences of racism and discrimination. Using Childish Gambino’s popular song, “This Is America,” countless users on the app shared emotional poetry, videos of protests, tributes to victims and education on the history of police violence. Even as the movement has begun to fade from the focus of mainstream media, Gen Z activism has continued to produce educational videos, many simply acting as reminders of the movement.
Their work did not stop there. As news spread of the humanitarian crisis in Yemen, Gen Z quickly stepped up to raise awareness. Users across TikTok began creating videos with images and statistics to inform viewers of the crisis and to point them towards ways to help from home. Other creators with larger platforms made videos asking their followers to tag their favorite creators, finding ways to boost their message far beyond their own platforms.
The Overall Significance
Gen Z activism may seem somewhat small in the grand scale, however, there is no doubt that the past several months have changed the landscape of social activism, at least for the foreseeable future. If nothing else, these young organizers have provided a refreshing dose of optimism and hope that the world’s rising generation is one ready to work for progress. While it may be too soon to fully quantify the success of these online campaigns, Gen Z has shown that they are ready to do the work to improve the lives of others. With the oldest members of the generation just beginning to enter their mid-twenties, we can expect to soon see the potential of this generation begin to bloom.
– Angie Bittar