Gen Z is the largest and most racially diverse generation in the United States; we distrust power and dislike authority; we are masters of technology and pioneers of social media. With that said, Gen Z has inherited a mess of a world, from 9/11 and the war on terror, to two of the worst economic recessions since the Great Depression, a global pandemic, hundreds of school shootings and thousands more police shootings. In a 2019 report, Irregular Labs found that 71% of Gen Z believes that being politically and socially active is very integral to their identity, and for many, being politically and socially active are signs of being a good person. In addition, 63% said they primarily inform themselves about social and political issues through social media channels.
Apps designed for everyday amusement are now exceedingly powerful tools of revolutionary organization and mobilization. Amid nationwide political unrest as a result of George Floyd’s death, apps like Instagram, TikTok and Twitter have become primary sources for updates on demonstrations, police whereabouts and safety precautions. Activists and other politically engaged groups post anything and everything — from the civil rights lawyers you can contact if you get arrested to what to do if you’re exposed to tear gas, how to dress a bullet wound, mutual aid requests and anti-racism resources.
Twitter hashtags used to trend when a celebrity’s nudes got leaked, now they are used to organize revolutionaries. Gen Z’ers on TikTok turned a Trump rally in Tulsa into a complete joke, reserving thousands of seats with no intention of showing up, and causing the campaign to lose over two million dollars in a matter of days. Instagram stories, which were designed to be a carousel of snapshots, selfies and alerts to a new post, are now filled with anti-racism resources and educational topics to edify millions.
Yet, Gen Z’s revolutionary transformation of social media isn’t just about trolling the president — it’s about making real change. Without it, the world would likely not have heard the names Ahmaud Arbery or Breonna Taylor, and the horrifying video of George Floyd’s death may not have gained any national attention at all; students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School wouldn’t have had the platform to start a movement and register hundreds of thousands of young people to vote; Greta Thunberg wouldn’t have become a global icon to lead the fight against climate change. Remember, when older people rag on teenagers for being consumed by our phones, we’re not just sitting and playing Candy Crush (and the next time your Uncle Hank makes fun of you for always being on your phone, remember that he probably still believes in trickle-down economics). Generation Z has turned what was a superficial tool for self-indulgence into a radical tool of revolutionary justice.
Gen Z knows that they need to apply pressure on our government in order for radical change to be implemented, and they will continue to protest until it is. Young people have carried every single historical movement across the globe, and the intoxicating power of youth is the driving force behind these revolutionary efforts. As Nupol Kiazolu said, “We are not just the future. We are the present.”