(Excerpted from Fight: How Gen Z Is Channeling Their Fear and Passion to Save America – authored by John Della Volpe)
For Generation Z, fear, stress, and anxiety have been the dominant forces shaping the generation. Why is that? What is the World they have grow up in?
When the oldest Zoomers were in preschool, George W. Bush won the presidency by less than a thousand votes, amid claims of fraud and suppression. Within a year, the 9/11 attacks occurred. Then there ensued a search for WMDs that did not exist, Hurricane Katrina, and the beginning of America’s longest war.
Next, the 2008 financial crisis, the housing crisis, and bailouts for those who caused the crises, while Main Street, which suffered it, was ignored.
On top of this, Gen Z endured the opioid epidemic and witnessed the militarization of police and national borders, an explosion of white nationalism, frightening red-alert active-shooter drills and school lockdowns, increasingly frequent and deadly mass shootings, the accelerating and genuine threat of climate change, and a global pandemic and lockdown with a yet-undetermined impact on Zers’ mental health and education.
And most recently, a conspiracy-fueled insurgency has been bent on tearing down our institutions and kidnapping and assassinating our elected leaders. Even the bright spots of Obama’s historic election in 2008 and the official end of the Great Recession in 2009 turned dark. In 2010, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell declared that “the single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president.” Washington, DC, became a battleground.
The following year, in terms every once-closeted racist heard loud and clear, Donald Trump—and soon Roger Ailes’s Fox News—fully embraced “birtherism,” suggesting that the only president Generation Z really knew wasn’t even an American. “Maybe he’s a Muslim; I don’t know,”1 said our future commander in chief, perpetuating wildly racist depictions of Muslims as anti-American terrorists.
Social media has connected the like-minded in ways their parents who remember CompuServe could never have dreamed of. It helped give rise to the #MeToo movement and Black Lives Matter, to Bernie Sanders and AOC, but it also enabled the rise of bots, trolls, QAnon, Russian interference, and alt-right terrorists, while Silicon Valley titans Mark Zuckerberg and Jack Dorsey looked away, counting their billions.
By 2017, researchers had already reported that rates of depression and anxiety, especially among youths, were higher than at any other point in history. And then Trump blew everything up, further dividing America, fueling racism, undermining the justice system, destroying trust in science, creating even greater gaps between the rich and the poor, before he oversaw the early response to COVID-19, which has claimed more than nine hundred thousand American lives.