The Millennial Generation Has Occupied Wall Street

October 13, 2011 | By Dave Serchuk

A recent informal survey by New York magazine found, unsurprisingly, that the biggest plurality of those Occupying Wall Street—and by likely extension Main Streets nationwide—are people in their 20s. In other words, the Millennial Generation, born after 1981. This is key, because this is also the generation told all their lives they are special, and deserve a trophy just for showing up. Well, America, they’ve shown up, and now they want their trophy.

(Though it is hard to find exact demographics about the protestors, other reports have confirmed this is a movement of Millennials. I also saw this for myself in a visit to New York’s Zuccotti Park, “Occupy” HQ.)

You could call them entitled, and you’d be right. In this case, however, a little entitlement is not bad. This is a demographically enormous cohort, even larger than the Baby Boomers—who are in many cases their parents. They are used to getting their way. They were raised to believe their opinions matter, the world loves them, and they deserve this love.

According to the book Millennials Go to College, by Neil Howe and William Strauss, Millennials “have always been treated as special and important,” “it’s been instilled in them that they are vital to the nation,” and “they feel they are here to solve world problems that older generations have failed to solve.” Sound like any occupiers we know?

The authors say Millennials also, “are group oriented rather than being individualists.” This totally squares with the ethos of this leaderless revolution so far. No one is the spokesperson, and they are wary of the unions and oldsters that would co-opt them. The authors also write “they expect college to help launch them into greatness.”

All this adds up to what we’ve seen, the first Great Awakening of the Millennials. Raised to feel important, that their future is guaranteed, their sense of betrayal must be profound.

The authors make an additional point: “They value their parents’ opinions very highly … and are more in line with their parents’ values than most other generations have been.” This makes sense. A generation reared on tales of levitating the Pentagon, Woodstock, and Kent State now acts out, in ways totally sanctioned and approved by their parents. That they have acted out against their parents, in a way, doesn’t change this. You can say a lot about the protestors, but this group of young adults has mostly not been violent, or destructive. That could change, but so far it has largely been the protest of nice kids who feel cheated.

If it sounds like I am putting the occupiers down, I’m not. I applaud them for standing up for the world they were told to expect, for demanding Boomers think about someone, anyone, other than their selves, for a change. I applaud them for their sense of joyful anarchy about it all, even as the predictable criticisms against them pile up.

I applaud them for not getting subsumed, as my generation, Generation X, did. We channeled our revolutionary fervor into still more status-quo consumerism by making it “cool” to identify with, and as, brands. In other words we sold out. We used our youthful energy to not challenge the system but reify it. And then we acted surprised when we learned we were expendable. (We also remain, even now, identified mainly with the movie Slacker, the book Generation X, and a rock star who blew his brains out … possibly after reading the book and seeing the movie.)

The Millennials, however, hunt bigger game. Unlike us, they seek to attain real power, and influence real events. And that is what a revolution actually is. It’s cliché to say the revolution will not be televised. No, the bolder act would be if the revolution remained un-commercialized.


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