In the 1960s, the Boomer Generation helped produced long-lasting change with the passage of the civil rights and an end to the war in Vietnam. Boomers, then in their 20s and 30s, were personally connected to both of these issues. In addition, they could see daily images that showed the starkness of injustice on both fronts. But when the war ended and the Civil Rights Act passed, by and large Boomers moved on with their lives, and while they have continued to support social causes, they haven’t returned to the kind of activism of the 60s.
Those Boomers, parents of today’s millennials, along with members of other generations have complained that our generation is apathetic and not active enough. But in my book, Fast Future: How the Millennial Generation is Shaping Our World, I argue that today’s activism is even more powerful, more suited for the time we are living in, and in the long term, more sustainable.
Millennials are able to use technology to scale movements offline and online (ex. the Arab Spring, as well as the fight against SOPA and PIPA). Members of our generation are also creating organizations and businesses to implement solutions to some of our nation’s most pressing challenges like education and energy where our political process seems too gridlocked to take decisive action.
Millennials are also using their consumer power to push companies to be more socially responsible. Millennials consistently say that they will swtich brands if they feel a brand shares their values and that they are more inclined to buy from brands that have a commitment to social good. These attitudes, born out in well over a hundred analyses over the past decade, have led a majority of Fortune 500 companies to adopt social efforts.
All of these are forms of activism. But it’s not activism everyone recognizes. It’s a lot easier for people to understand a generation is active if they see one million people marching in the streets. But a million people marching in the street isn’t as effective in producing change as it was 50 years ago.
Weigh in: What do you think? Do millennials have a unique approach to social change? Will it be more sustainable than our parents'? Or will flame out just like other generations of young people before us?