Part of Occupy Wall Street’s success stems from the distinctive qualities that define the protest: It has no leader and no perimeter on how many issues are worth fighting for. The movement also has no age limit. Many of the issues being represented in OWS — student debt, unemployment, single-payer health care reform — directly affect millennials, both now and in the long run, which is why the youth should be the driving force behind the movement.
The anti-government sentiment that is pervasive throughout much of our country paints politics and political activism as “uncool.” Occupy Wall Street is a protest that is supported by nearly every racial and socioeconomic group, making it “cool” for just about everyone. This is a major incentive for youth to join the movement and encourages them to make their voice heard.
The disillusionment that has captured our nation’s millennials can be reversed if the youth continue to support and be active in the movement. In 2009, according to a recent Pew poll, 73% of millennials thought, “Voting gives people like me some say about how the government runs things.” That number has now dropped 10%. OWS can be a fruitful alternative to voting for a youth to make their opinions known. The movement is giving our generation an opportunity to have a say, and we must seize this opportunity.
In order for the youth to be involved, on the most basic level, we must understand the movement. Much criticism has rained down on OWS for its nebulous mandate and unclear goals, but this is simply due to lack of understanding. Focusing on comprehending relevant issues such as soaring unemployment rates, growing student debt, and outsourcing will help youth feel connected to the movement and help us engender solutions. Whether it's high school or college graduates, everyone’s post-education goal is to find a job, and these particular issues affect our chances of landing that job. If youth can sympathize with the goals of the movement, we will have a more formidable influence in OWS.
Second, the youth needs to bring the movement to their schools. People are already participating in OWS on college campuses across the country, but even high school students should be considering the ideas of OWS and what the movement stands for. We should take into account that high school students will bear the brunt of increasing college tuitions and the $1 trillion student debt.
Third, the youth need to stay involved in the digital arm of the protest. The global political history of just the last year has shown us what digital startups can do, and we all know that today’s millennials are well versed in Twitter hash-tags and Facebook comments. Social media sites like Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube have already had a tremendous influence on OWS — organizing the places and times of the circulating movement. The civic engagement of the protesters is equally potent on the web, a place where age is irrelevant, which is why youth should stay increasingly active on the internet.
Having youth be active in OWS is not simply so protesters can say that the movement is inclusive of all ages, it actually makes the movement more powerful. When youth are behind a movement, they become a nearly inexorable force. Using the 2006 labor protests in France as an example, young people were the dominant participants in the protests because the bill that was proposed directly affected the future of their jobs. The government subsequently backed down and rescinded the law.
It is only logical: The issues being championed and solutions being proposed by the protests are not worth fighting for if the beneficiaries — young people — of these proposals are negligent.