For In These Times’ December 2013 cover feature, “Generation Hopeless?”, the magazine asked a number of politically savvy people, younger and older, to respond to an essay by 22-year-old Occupy activist Matthew Richards in which he grapples with what the movement meant and whether Occupy’s unfulfilled promises are a lost cause or the seeds of the different world whose promise he glimpsed two years ago. Here is Sarah Jaffe’s response:
The occupations are gone and with them the media’s attention, but Occupy was never the only way young people were moving and people from within and without it continue to move. I say this after a week of phone calls with former Occupiers who saved lives and rebuilt homes and provided healthcare after Hurricane Sandy and have now moved into helping organize in storm-ravaged communities far from the heart of finance capital. I say this because I get text messages and emails from friends and contacts at Occupy Homes in Minnesota and Georgia, because I run into organizers I met sleeping in a park who are now organizing boycotts, sit-ins, strikes of their own. I say this because I have talked to Dream Defenders and students desperate to save (and fix) their schools and people taking the streets to stop stop and frisk.
Meanwhile, the mainstream press loves to write trend pieces about the Millennials and how self-absorbed they are, how defined by the Internet and “selfies” and gadgets and toys they are. Sydette Harry at Salon pointed out that this neglects the realities of race and class — and the millennials who are organizing around those issues.
No one can ever seem to tell me if I’m a Millennial or not, if I am one of these people allegedly too busy snapping flattering photos of ourselves with a camera phone to bother trying to change the world. I’m 33; I grew up on the touchstones of Generation X — slackers and Ethan Hawke and riot grrl. The first presidential election I could vote in was the year 2000. I voted for Nader (please spare me your lectures). I read Emma Goldman and Marx and waited for something to happen.
During Occupy, I met people of all ages. I met Vietnam veterans and Iraq veterans, Raging Grannies and parents bringing their children and yes, so many young people. After Occupy, I met even more of them. Some of those brilliant, inspiring young people are in this issue, and they can tell their own stories so much better than I ever could. They made things happen that people my age never thought possible, and they are still making those things happen, as I sit back and smile, waiting for the phone calls, the emails to roll in. “Here’s what we’re doing, Sarah, will you come cover it?”
Yes. Yes, I will.
Sarah Jaffe is a Type Media Center Fellow, co-host (with Michelle Chen) of Dissent magazine’s Belabored podcast, and a columnist at The New Republic and New Labor Forum. She was formerly a staff writer at In These Times and the labor editor at AlterNet. Her previous book is Necessary Trouble: Americans in Revolt, which Robin D.G. Kelley called “The most compelling social and political portrait of our age.” You can follow her on Twitter @sarahljaffe.