Millennials & Politics: Occupy Wall Street, Activism, And Voting
- October 13th, 2011
- 2 Comments
The Occupy Wall Street movement has captured the attention of students across the country. In fact, today, there is an Occupy Colleges protest scheduled for 4:30pm, when students at more than 90 colleges plan to walk out of class to show their solidarity with the Wall Street movement.
More than half a million people have signed a petition to support the Occupy Wall Street movement. It’s no surprise that students are joining in and expressing frustration with their goverment. Graduating college — and even high school — in the past year hasn’t been the celebration it used to be. Many students are facing significant debt from college loans, and getting a job is challenging with unemployment rates at their highest levels in decades. Concerned about their futures, students are deciding to do something about it, and they’re coming to the Occupy Wall Street to lend their voices to the cause.
We stopped by the protest to talk to the young people involved about just what they thought that cause is. It was a cold, damp day in Lower Manhattan, and along with those encamped in Zuccotti Square, people both young and old came for the day to check out what was going on and to “see history happen in person,” as Noelle, age 20, put it.
We talked to seven Millennials at Occupy Wall Street, ranging in age from 18-29; all are students, and most also work (some full time, some with jobs only during breaks from classes). We wanted to get a sense of what students know of the movement, why it’s important, and what they feel the most important political issues are for their generation. (Click here for a copy of the questionnaire we used.) While much of the media focus has been on the “hippie” protesters banging drums and chanting, we wanted to talk to the “average students” about why they felt the need to come to Zuccotti Square.
Caitlin, age 20, and Pat, age 21, had stopped by partly to try to figure out what the movement is about. They had heard about it on the news and online, but weren’t sure what the mission was, and they hadn’t yet divined an answer when we spoke to them:
We agreed that the movement seemed rather unorganized. As we walked around the square we heard protests against unemployment, taxes, corporations, healthcare, and even the poor quality of life of citizens in other countries. The posters taped to the south wall of the square were just as disparate, covering a similar swath of political issues.
But, interestingly, they represent the same wide range of issues students named when we asked them what the most important political issue is for their generation.
It’s clear that students are interested in politics or they wouldn’t have come to the protest to get involved and learn what it is about, but many are still forming their political philosophies. After all, when students get to college, they’re less exposed to parental influence and can explore their own opinions. They will continue to refine their political views over the next several years, testing their philosophies as they enter the “real world.”
We met Mike, age 22, Kyle, age 18, and Todd, age 18, marching around the square with a large group of protesters, excited to get involved and make a difference. We asked them about the signs they were carrying, and they told us they didn’t make the signs, but just picked them out of a bin of pre-made signs. It’s protesting made easy, but better that than an apathetic generation too jaded to get involved.
Most of the students we talked to describe themselves as politically active, though, as Noelle put it, she’s “an activist, but a quiet activist.” Students are more likely to be fully engaged in activism when there’s a specific issue they care about; for Todd, age 18, that’s the Fair Trade movement, and for Caitlin, that’s LGBTQ issues. But Mike, Kyle, and Pat find it difficult to get involved:
Ultimately, the students in Zuccotti Square were looking to get informed more than involved. They want to know more about the movement and to form their own opinions rather than relying on the media’s depiction of the protest. As Noelle put it, “No matter what you feel on the economy…it is important to be knowledgeable” about what’s going on. Kyle had the same opinion, coming to the square because he “wants to know what’s going on in [his] country.”
Although the students we talked to cared about being informed, Millennials in general have been criticized for lack of involvement in voting and elections. But the students we met care about voting and want to have their say in who is running their country. They follow elections and take them seriously; admittedly, the students we talked to may be more likely to be involved in voting because they also care enough to come to a protest on a rainy, dreary day.
As they see it, students need to be involved in politics because they are the ones who will be inheriting the system — along with all of its faults and issues — in a few years. They want to be fully aware of the challenges and ready with possible solutions when that time comes.
To watch the full video of our interviews with the Millennials at Occupy Wall Street, visit our YouTube channel.