Cynicism is a destructive force. It is one that seems to increase with age. And that is why the young have often been, throughout history, the harbingers of change. They are able to cast aside the repressive chains of the status quo, to see injustices from a new vantage point. They demand answers to questions that their elders forgot needed to be asked.
It has been a long trope for those later in life to bemoan the qualities of the young. I heard it in the 1960s, during an era of unrest. The young protesters for civil rights and against Vietnam were dismissed as naive, idealistic, and unrealistic. Today we hear how the young are selfish, unable to think beyond their own needs, and addicted to their status on social media. (Never mind that it was many of their elders who used social media as unwitting tools of Russian influence in the last election). But in my travels, I come across a lot of young people. And I sense an energy and seriousness to deal with big problems that will only grow as they grow older – climate change being a prominent example. They understand the injustices on race, sexual identity, and gender. In an age of #MeToo, they will not stay quiet for what was once acceptable. And in an Age of Trump, they will fight for the expansive view of democracy their parents told them was the American destiny.
I am not surprised that it is the young who are leading the campaign for an honest gun debate in the wake of the Florida massacre. “Wow, they’re so well spoken and poised,” has been the incredulous response from some. Not me. I see it all the time. There is a lurking belief among the young that the American Dream will not be in their reach, that the cynical forces of power have rigged a system against them. But they are doing what young people have always done, they are demanding that we all recognize “We can do better.” They are not going allow this to pass without their voices being heard, in the streets, through civic and community engagement, and at the ballot box.