The problems facing our nation go beyond one generation. For years as a young person involved in politics, I have received commendation from adults willing to say their generation “messed it up” but mine must “take back the country.” They tell me I am an inspiration and that because they have failed in their duty to preserve my future, I must do my best. My generation must right their wrongs. Readily adults of all ages confess their neglect to stand in the breach and inform me that the only hope rests in me…and my generation.
Over this past weekend I have seen adults idolize the young volunteers who work with me. They are the future. The true freedom fighters. The hope of an entire nation. While I fiercely admire the young people who take time out of their busy schedules to volunteer with Americans For Prosperity, I have come to realize such lauding and expectation do more harm than good for everyone involved.
I volunteered for my first campaign at the age of 9 in 2002. Throughout high school, I campaigned for various candidates, often mobilized by Generation Joshua to key races throughout the nation. I saw the difference young people made. Family friends and total strangers praised my efforts to “save” America (whatever that really means). They extolled my generation. We would fix their mistakes. Like my young volunteers now, my friends and I breathed in the air of expectation as the world around us crumbled.
In reality, all the commendation in the world means nothing when adults, that “generation that messed up,” continue to do nothing. When apologies become excuses for apathy, the problem worsens. I volunteered for my first campaign 12 years ago. Over those years I grew from 9 years old to 21. From a girl to an adult. While happy to praise a teenager’s efforts to save her future, what legacy have those apologizing adults left me?
In 2002, the national debt totaled $6,228,235,965,597.16. Roughly 6 trillion dollars. It now stands at $17,770,123,176,000 with the expectation of reaching 21.0 trillion dollars by the end of the fiscal year.
In 2002, gas cost $1.34 a gallon. In 2014, around $3.67.
Since 2002, over 12,982,740 babies were aborted.
ObamaCare. Must I say more?
Most recently during those 12 years, Americans have allowed an American ambassador in Libya to be murdered without anyone truly being held responsible. They have allowed the IRS to target groups based on their political affiliation. They paid attention too late to save the veterans forced to go without the healthcare promised them. Americans have allowed the sacrifices of hundreds of brave men and women in the Middle East to go to waste as a terrorist organization wreaks havoc on all we stand for.
While praising my generation as saviors and apologizing for their own failures, adults have allowed the government to devastate our futures. What a hoax.
Yet more than our futures fall prey to praise without action. What my young volunteers cannot understand as they stand in their moment of expectation is the extreme pressure to get it right. It is a glorious thing to be praised, but not to feel like everything depends on you. When adults tell young people the future of the nation rests on their shoulders, they burden a single generation with the mistakes of generations. What good is an interest in physics or a talent for drawing when everyone expects you to save the nation? Time and time again I have seen my peers entirely drop out of political circles partially because there is no balance between total commitment to politics and participation in outside pursuits. In fact, I would say there cannot be as long as adults expect you to run for president in 20 years. Not every teenager with an opinion on political issues and a desire to make a difference plans on becoming leader of the free world someday! Such a presumption, though often well-meaning, is condescending and shows little understanding or value for something that ought to engage the interest of every American, not just a ‘nerdy few.’
What goes on in Washington or Madison or wherever your capital may be affects everyone. Doctors, entrepreneurs, burger flippers, and movie actresses. Young and old. Those who can vote, and those who cannot. Putting the pressure on one generation to change the course of a nation not only unfairly burdens those individuals, it neglects the full scope of the problem. All generations must stand firm to make a difference. It is not enough to vote. Older generations must model for younger ones what true civic involvement means. Yes, young people represent the future in that they will someday be old people. That does not mean they should deal with all of America’s problems in the future. Following in their parents footsteps, there is no reason to believe they will act any different from previous generations.
When adults keep kicking the can down the street, they model a behavior for the next generation. Be inspired all you like by a few young people getting involved: they represent a minority. They will continue to represent a minority until the majority of Americans of all ages realize the direction of the country depends on them now, in the present, not some misty future.
Besides continual neglect disguised with apologies and undue pressure to ‘save the nation,’ adults offer one more disservice to teenage activist. They reinforce cultural expectations with their over-the-top praise. Yes, it is wonderful when a teenager shows interest, but what makes their involvement so unusual? Must we celebrate, cajole, and comment every time someone under the age of 50 realizes adults let the government mess up their future? Culturally, young people get treated like children! Young people have the ability to accomplish incredible things. They have energy, enthusiasm, and understanding. Why do we assume the ability to vote magically represents the ability to engage? Don’t expect less out of young people because they cannot participate in a small portion of civic involvement. Instead, encourage those young people around you to discover their potential to directly affect the civic process. Be mentors, be leaders, and be fans, but don’t tell these kids the world revolves around them because they have an opinion and want to make a difference. Similarity, don’t allow other teenagers off the hook. As citizens, they too must play a role in America’s future.
So stop apologizing! Maybe even stop praising. Get involved. Apathy kills a nation. Somewhere in this country another 9 year old girl is discovering a passion for grassroots involvement. What will your legacy look like for her? Will the next 12 years witness more complaints and inaction, or will you take a stand for her future? For her present? I am indignant. You should be too. Stop exploiting a generation with your false expectations and inaction and recognize that you must make the difference. That is what I ask of you.
Once again, I find Patrick Henry beautifully expresses what I hope to pass on in his speech “The War Inevitable”:
“Mr. President, it is natural to man to indulge in the illusions of hope. We are apt to shut our eyes against a painful truth, and listen to the song of that siren till she transforms us into beasts. Is this the part of wise men, engaged in a great and arduous struggle for liberty? Are we disposed to be of the number of those who, having eyes, see not, and, having ears, hear not, the things which so nearly concern their temporal salvation? For my part, whatever anguish of spirit it may cost, I am willing to know the whole truth; to know the worst, and to provide for it.”