I am a senior in high school, which earns me the Gen Z label. Given my age, my introduction to the public policy debate has taken place over the last four years; four very contentious and polarizing years in the world of politics. Having spent those four years in America’s high school system and in the age of nonstop news via social media, I find myself in the middle of a cultural firestorm. Buzzfeed, Cosmopolitan, Teen Vogue, and other generational, pop culture ‘news’ outlets insist that Gen Z is the generation of socialism. And perhaps the rise of Bernie Sanders would give such a proposal credibility. However, it is clear the claims that Gen Z is a socialist generation are not only inaccurate but grossly manipulative.
In an exclusive interview with Teen Vogue, Bernie Sanders commended Gen Z by saying: “…I think the younger generation today is probably the most progressive young generation in the history of this country.” Yet according to a new poll from Young America’s Foundation, Sanders misses the mark. The report stated that nearly half – 46% – of Americans ages 13-23 believe that the federal government threatens their personal rights. More than half—54%—would rather have a smaller government with fewer government programs and lower taxes. This evident desire for limited government among America’s youth is not reflected in the narrative perpetuated by Teen Vogue and Bernie Sanders. Clearly there is a disconnect between what Gen Z wants and what Gen Z is told they want.
There is something interesting to be said about the perceptions of our generation. When the Left claims Gen Z is a socialist generation, it resonates with people on both sides of the aisle. Many conservatives would actually agree with Senator Sanders that today’s young people are radical progressives. Why do we believe America’s youth is so socialist? It comes down to the culture. Pop culture media outlets such as Teen Vogue and Vox tell my generation what they are, and people outside my generation take their word for it. Pop culture and hip hop icon Kanye West said in an October interview with BigBoyTV: “Think about everything that’s cultural… taking a knee is cultural, being on social media is cultural, wearing high fashion is cultural, pushing a foreign is cultural. All these things are not owned by our culture. So who designed the culture?”
Today’s culture, which influences America’s youth and society’s perception of them, is not owned by America’s youth. When culture tells us that America’s youth wants socialized healthcare, organized anti-gun walkouts, universal basic income, on-demand abortions in the third trimester, and Che Guevara or Bernie tee shirts, we as a society believe them. Kanye was correct to point out that none of these progressive movements are owned by the youth. They are pushed on us. Gen Z has been told they must embrace a culture they don’t own. It is time America’s youth stops being passively told what they are and what they want and instead fight for what they believe: more freedom and responsibility for their own lives.
This brings me to the importance of YAF. Here at YAF, we fight on campus to bring this generation what they actually want. We encourage free thought and discussion. We encourage students to change the narrative by changing the culture. I have experienced hardship throughout high school from my peers and administrators for speaking my mind, but YAF has always stood with me. It is time Gen Z stands up to form a cultural revolution that they own. And YAF is at the forefront of this cultural revolution.
Jack Duffy is the National High School Chairman for Young Americans for Freedom.