Vincent Gauthier, one of our 2017 Duke Stanback Interns, shares his personal reflections on how his summer experience has shown him that he and his peers, particularly those who share a similar racial/economic identity and experience, need to break through their complacency and get engaged in the democratic process.
If I had one word to describe the white, upper middle-class, generational cusp (between Generation Z and Millennials) I find myself in, it would be complacent. My fellow college students dedicated most of their time in the library to social media instead of school material. In the same vein, interactions with social and national issues occurred on Twitter and not through conversation and protest.
The disconnect between my generation and the world around us stems from the complacency that we have accepted since childhood. Most of us 20 year-olds in upper-middle class America have lived under our parents’ umbrellas all our lives. In high school, we worked as a symbol of responsibility, although the true need for financial stability was made irrelevant by the fact that we were funded by our parents. We lived comfortably for the most part. When we entered the university, most of us remained under the same umbrella; our responsibilities were limited to doing our schoolwork and keeping our rooms clean (if that). Some of us went to liberal arts school where we were isolated from the real world. Anything that happened in the state, country, or world felt like it had no impact on our lives. Therefore, very few paid attention.
A perfect example of my generation’s complacency: beginning a conversation about a social issue or international conflict in a college cafeteria.Whenever I tried to introduce such a topic, I would receive a few comments and the conversation would quickly end when someone would make the blank statement: “it is an interesting issue.”
So, what are we going to do about it? As a portion of the generation that has ample opportunity and unwavering support, the 20-year old, upper middle-class Americans ought to be taking a firm role in changing the world for the better. However, the opulence we grew up in made global issues feel abstract. I feel fortunate that I had parents and teachers who kept me grounded and taught me the importance of humility. It made me better attuned to the fears of my fellow college students about discussing issues that involved contradicting views. But even with a greater perspective on global issues, I was still unaware of the world, country, and statewide conversations occurring.
As my summer internship at the NC League of Conservation Voters comes to an end, I better appreciate the importance of being an aware and active citizen. Tracking legislative bills and attending committee meetings exposed me to the wide-ranging, and often contentious policy discussions occurring at the state level. This exposure made me realize how much my generation is unaware about. There are so many important changes happening in the world, from a community level to a global level and the lack of engagement by upper middle class centennials is holding back potential change.
I cannot emphasize enough how much we must stop ignoring the importance of our role in elections, social movements, and overall global change. For example, the 2017 summer session at the North Carolina legislature included the “Garbage Juice Bill,” legislation that would allow landfills to spray garbage liquid into the air in an illogical effort to separate water from pollutants. No scientific evidence exists to support the safety of this technology. This proposed policy could lead to serious health problems for many of the communities near landfills. This is a big deal. However, many of my fellow twenty-year olds have no clue that any of this is happening. To tell you the truth, without this summer internship, I would not have known either.
When my fellow college students and I took to the polls last November, most of us only had knowledge of the presidential contest. Other than the presidential seat, most people my age voted for local and state officials based on party, not informed opinion. I can include myself in this behavior. My summer at NCLCV has shown me the importance of having informed voters. Our votes are important and it is our duty to elect representatives that follow our principles. As an electorate, we have the responsibility of knowing the candidates and the issues in order to caste meaningful votes. I encourage others of my age to go out of their way to become active in the issues we face and face challenges with knowledge and experience.
This summer I understood what it means to be an active citizen. However, it concerns me that I only became an engaged citizen because of an internship, knowing that I would not have known anything about these important issues otherwise. I encourage my fellow centennials to take their eyes off their screens and look around. There are issues to be resolved; people to be empowered; and balances to established, and we can only accomplish these goals with active participation and engagement. We need to engage in contentious dialog; and by being informed and passionate, voices will be strengthened. The world needs us young adults to step up and take responsibility for the world we have inherited.