Let there be light, and cowboys

Todd Broadman

I’m sitting at the kitchen table comfortably nursing my coffee, pen at the ready, dawdling my way through this column while millions of young activists are putting sole to pavement; they are our beloved Generation Z – born between 1995 and 2012. They are fed up with the status quo.

Coffee mug in hand, I toast them.

This generation’s convictions just may be enough to rouse me from my pedantic stupor, sufficient to rouse us all. Gen Z arrives bursting with unsettling contradictions – I like that.

When I was with a local hospice organization, I attended a panel discussion on health care reform as it impacted the terminally ill. One young woman in the back sliced through the thick banter about supplemental carriers and Medicare Part B to say, “these health policies were written by a bunch of wealthy 50-year-old men afraid of having a heart attack.” And I thought, “hell yes, and where have you been hiding all this time?”

Her insight is equally relevant for the ecological health of our planet – now on course for a more terminal state. Her sort, in the form of our activist generation, looks to represent a paradigm shift in our thinking. Gen Z appears to have the necessary courage of conviction and perceptive leadership.

An estimated 1.6 million students participated in climate change strikes in 125 countries. The inspiration behind them is one steadfast, uncompromising soul: Greta Thunberg. At 16, she crafted and delivered this refreshingly blunt language for the ears of the 1 percent at the Davos World Economic Forum: “Because if everyone is guilty then no one is to blame, and someone is to blame … I think many of you here today belong to that group of people.”

In our age of responsibility-shifting and buck-passing, Greta puts down her delicate fist and says – as she recently did to British Parliament, "You are not mature enough to tell it like it is. Even that burden, you leave to us children.” Let’s be mindful that her age cohort represents 32 percent of the world’s population.

While Al Gore is jet fueling across the skies and buying up California coast real estate, Greta refuses air travel altogether, is vegan, and asks us all to put down our fair trade pumpkin spice lattes and grass-fed brie and ham croissants long enough to sober up: there are lifestyle changes coming our way; they won’t be voluntary or sponsored by Bud Light.

Political and corporate leadership are not researching and disclosing the clear connection between our environment and economic systems. To the contrary, they (and their electorate) gain from isolating these domains and making limp gestures at using less plastic, hiring telecommuters, installing electric vehicle charging stations … whatever.

A nuclear explosion named Dorian was dropped on the Bahamas and some board member out there wants to seize the PR opportunity and start a college scholarship fund. Therein lies the need for Greta’s bluntness.

More heartening is that Greta is joined by a chorus of dissident voices. At 22, Josh Wong’s CV already features prison time. He spearheads Hong Kong’s umbrella movement – to keep human rights and democratic freedoms away from the benevolent fascist arms of motherland China. He wants the media focused on Hong Kong and “the passion with which people are fighting for basic rights.”

And as for Gen Z’s unsettling contradictions?

They are the “pupil protestors” who don’t bother to vote. Just 40 percent voted in the 2016 presidential election, numbers though that seem poised for change.

Listen to 16-year-old Nora Fellas reflect upon the last election in her essay for the New York Times, and note the value of authenticity: “Clinton and Trump both tried to appeal to young people. Trump used Twitter, and his statements were so unfiltered that they could only have come from him. Clinton’s messaging, however, felt phony.”

That’s not the kind of tribal drumming I’m accustomed to hearing, and you best believe I’m digging the groove!

After years of globetrotting, Todd J. Broadman finds himself writing from his perch on the Palouse and loving the view.

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