“OK, Boomer”: A Letter from Gen. Z

By Julia Tilton ’20

image courtesy of Lucas Coriaty ’20

Look, Boomers: it is a fundamental reality that progress in America rarely succeeds without conflict. In an era characterized by school shootings, climate change, and overwhelming political polarization, Generation Z’s latest slang, “OK, Boomer”, perfectly encapsulates the generational tension necessary to continue moving America forward. The phrase  challenges the merits of antiquated beliefs, refusing to accept the status quo simply because an “older and wiser” generation established it. Holly Scott’s recent op-ed fundamentally ignores this reality; instead, it criticizes “OK, Boomer” by suggesting the comment fails to recognize its symbolic parallels between youth activism today and the protests which defined the 1960s. Karen Heller’s recent article shares a similar sentiment, arguing the presence of the comment on social media intensifies ageism, while simultaneously reducing the impact similar remarks had in the 1960s as popular culture and music amplified generational divide. Of course “OK, Boomer” exudes angst and accusation: indeed, it is how today’s youth have realized their historical obligation to challenge older generations in order to live up to the country’s founding ideals .

Today, as Generation Z organizes around key issues from climate change to gun control, American youths have once again emerged as the foot soldiers of a new wave of protest. Baby-Boomers should certainly understand such a concept, for they were once-youthful advocates for peace, feminism, and civil and lgbtq+ rights in the 1960s. In 1964, students at the University of California Berkeley argued their constitutional rights to speak freely and voice anti-war sentiments. Using provocative rhetoric, leaders such as Mario Savio helped launch the Free Speech Movement, which, according to Gina Misiroglu’s American Countercultures, “promoted an oppositional attitude to the status quo that swept college campuses in the mid- to late 1960s”. As young people became difficult to ignore, those in positions of power eventually had no alternative but to address their concerns . Not only did the 1960s and 1970s see historic legislation, such as the lowering of the voting age to 18, it also witnessed momentous progress  in civil rights, women’s and lgbtq+ rights, and efforts to reappraise the United States’ Cold War foreign policy.  

Today, when youth take to the streets to advocate for their own issues, we see not an attack on Boomers, but rather a continuation of their dissident spirit to ignite ambitious measures of progress.  In 2018, Parkland shooting survivor Emma González stood in front of a crowd of thousands at the youth-organized “March For Our Lives” in Washington, D.C. For nearly six and a half minutes, she did not speak. Her silence, which lasted as long as the fatal attack on her school, was intended to bring awareness to the tragedy that killed her peers, while also holding politicians accountable for needless acts of gun violence which continue to occur without gun policy reform. While significant gun control measures have yet to become federal law, Congressional leadership has certainly taken notes from teenagers. During Representative Eric Swalwell’s campaign for president, for example, he appeared at a primary democratic debate wearing an orange ribbon to honor victims of mass shootings and initiate dialogue about gun law reforms.

Inevitably, as members of Generation Z walk out of class to protest ineffective gun laws and march on the streets to demand action on issues related to climate change, some adults will be angry. Generally, authority does not like to be questioned. Boomers do not like to be dismissed. Scott claims the older generation should be given credit where it is due for the progress they made in their time, and they should. Following that same logic, however, youth today also deserve credit. By hurling “OK, Boomer” at adults out of touch with the twenty-first century challenges facing our democracy, youth are practicing the American tradition of questioning authority. In their youth, Boomers sang “I hope I die before I get old” from The Who’s “My Generation” and proclaimed “Don’t trust anyone over 30”. Today, it is Gen Z’s turn to change the nation for the better, and that starts in part by dismissing antiquated beliefs. If the American dream relies upon the notion that each subsequent generation is supposed to be better off than that which preceded it, Generation Z is fulfilling its obligation to do so. Boomers made advancements in their time, but young people today affirm that such progress has yet to be finished.

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