Are Millennials Recreating the ’60s Cultural Revolution?

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Photo by NPR

All my life I’ve been waiting for a revolution. One promised in a prior era. Now I’m thinking there’s finally a need for it. The way of doing things is growing stale, and the social wrongs carried out on a daily basis stack too high.

The era I’m referring to, of course, is the late 1960’s, when the proverbial pot of American culture boiled over. While this time is greatly (and often inaccurately) romanticized, it forever stands as a testament to the power of radical thought, mobilized by a youth movement. The counterculture rebelled against the status quo, favoring civil rights, female empowerment, peace, and intellectuality.

So with this we ask, is such a cultural revolution still possible today?

Enter Millennials

This is the part where Baby Boomers scoff – “Millennials are too self-absorbed. We took to the streets and made things happen… or something.” But, just humor me for a moment.

Sure, the rise of another counterculture probably won’t happen as historically nor cataclysmically as it did in the ’60s. Times changed, and culture is too fractured nowadays to ever produce a movement in the same grassroots, organic manner. Yet what of the mass protests in the past few months?

I witnessed the Eric Garner riots down Broadway; we heard of the strength out in Ferguson. Millennials know the ires of wealth disparity, college tuition, and unemployment all too well. We’ve seen the terror of Hurricane Sandy, acknowledged “it’s time to have a conversation about climate change,” and realized (2 years later) that we still can’t admit there’s a problem as a nation.

We remember Sandy Hook. Do you?

For all of the turmoil in the 1960s, the existing cultural climate bears unmistakable similarities. As encouraging as it was to see things done the “old-fashioned way” with the Black Lives Matter protests, the next social upheaval—and there will be another—looks a bit different. Perhaps, it’s already happening.

It’s no longer the 60s. The beat generation just wears Beats now.

This revolution won’t happen in the streets, though. Our countermovement happens in a place where everyone can see it—the internet. And ideas have never been so powerful.

Take the recent ruling on Net Neutrality, for example. The F.C.C.’s decision was heavily influenced by a dramatic swing in public opinion, which mainly took place on the internet. This viral trend—and it was exactly that—can be traced back to a segment on Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, in which the host skewers the F.C.C.’s resistance on ruling in favor of an open internet.

At his request, countless digital minions took to the F.C.C.’s website and left so many comments that the site crashed. Tom Wheeler, F.C.C. Chairman, even made a statement on the segment, and President Obama eventually demanded a stand on Net Neutrality.

This is the modern equivalent of a “sit-in,” only exponentially more powerful.

Are we living in another 1960s?

On a grander scheme, millennials are driving a drastic shift in public opinion on a variety of issues. The sweeping, rapid legalization of same-sex marriage in the past few years is a testament to this. In 1970, not a single state allowed marriage equality, despite numerous protests and wide public awareness of gay rights.

same sex marriageAnd it doesn’t end there—millennials lead the way on marijuana legalization, which in a recent poll, the majority of Americans now support. That’s a long way from 33% in 2004, and under 20% in 1974.

The current generation also drives a new conversation on race (see: the “I Can’t Breathe” movement), opposes archaic initiatives like Keystone XL , and understands the impact of climate change at a higher scale than older groups.

Evidently, millennials value the same ideologies of the 60s counterculture of lore, but with the internet, they’re given the power to disperse them. Even our lovable (regrettable?) activists look pretty much the same.

In 1969, they had the hippie; in 2015, we have the hipster. Though the latter term is borderline cringe-worthy at this point, consider the alternative attitudes and appearances of this social construct. Thick beards, glasses, indie music, art, and intellectuality are now recognized as “cool” again. Young people go to music and art festivals by the thousands each year, coming together to enjoy culture and psychedelic drugs en masse.

The future is now, man. Believe it.

But wait…

While from one perspective, millennials are doing what they do best: crushing it. From another, we’re just one tragedy away from the familiar cycle of public outrage followed by a gradual return to the status quo.

This endless cultural churn calls for more disruption. While I believe my generation will create the next great upheaval of social structure, I’m not sure all young people believe that… yet.

It’s easy to give-in to the knee-jerk reaction of mocking millennial “slacktivists,” pointing to low voter turnouts, and calling us the “me” generation. But the fact of the matter is, most Americans are too fed-up to care about politics. Regardless, if millennials have one major flaw, it’s that they don’t vote, leaving American government forever lagging behind the wave of progress. Only 13% of voters aged 18-29 turned out for 2014’s midterm election.

millennial voter turnout 2014

However, if you made a voting ballot into a Buzzfeed quiz, you’d create the highest voter turnout among young people in history. Seriously. If we really wanted new voices in government, America would digitize voting and do exactly that. The problem is, most politicians don’t want that, specifically one party that values conserving things the way they are.

One day, Washington D.C. must cater to a new audience, though elderly White voters will do for now. Until then, we must consider the pervasive power of an idea.

The values of the 1960s still float somewhere in the ether, waiting to be absorbed. While spreading ideology takes time—legal marijuana may take years to penetrate the depths of rural Alabama—the internet drastically decreases that length by creating awareness. Our collective reality achieves what a past generation could only dream of.

Once an idea exists, it grows and spreads everlasting. The revolution is happening right now.

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