Every generation seems to be preoccupied by a set of issues and motivated to pursue certain goals. During Lincoln’s time, it was a desire to be a self-made man, to struggle off the fabric of their parents’ lives and move west to create their own success. Overshadowed by America’s founding fathers, Lincoln’s generation sought achievements that would be tantamount to the grand accomplishment of establishing democracy and nation building. In the 1960s, the generation of college students preoccupied themselves with activism in the civil rights and anti-war movements, becoming influential actors in these now historical events. Filled with optimism and belief in the individual and the group’s capacity for change, the students of the 1960s went on to build institutions aimed at addressing other issues like environmental destruction and gender inequality.
And now us, the Millennials, what defines our generation? As we emerge into adulthood, generations before us have been busy trying to give us their definitions of the Millennials, draping us with adjectives such as “entitled,” “optimistic,” or “skeptical of institutions.” Yet, we are beginning to take control and shape our own narratives. Immediately in the wake of Ferguson, we see students protest on college campuses across the country to show that we care and that we can rally together. On the other hand, we often feel paralyzed by the enormity and complexity of the world’s issues. Almost everyone in our generation wants to make a difference. Having learned from previous generations’ mistakes, our generation holds on to the mantra of “changing the world in an impactful but sustainable way.”
The Up to Us team at Yale took that mantra and reshaped it into our vision for the campaign. We want to see a generation that is unified and motivated to take a stand on the national debt issue for a new, sustainable future. In the age of information and big data, tons of mega-issues vie for our attention in a cacophony of voices. Our campaign wants to step away from that cacophony instead of adding to it.
Personally, when I decided to join the Up to Us team, it was an acknowledgement of my obligation to draw out the issue and contend with it in the cacophony. It was not until I worked more with the campaign that I started to notice more personal connections with the rising debt. Vividly embedded in my memory was the trip to Yellowstone that a geology class planned that coincided with the government shutdown. A couple of my friends were on that trip, and stepped off the plane to discover that they could only peer at the peaks and plains through the chain-linked fences. Another memory brought up an illustration on a whiteboard and my economics teacher explaining that the taxes we will eventually pay will be a greater percentage of our income, and the money might all be used to pay off the interest on the debt. The national debt is a very real issue that affects our immediate future.
Our hope is that the Up to Us campaign at Yale and elsewhere will make an impact in helping to define our generation and to create a future way of life.