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This Independence Day, Generation Z Celebrates Its Moment of Radical Hope

Radical Hope

Generation Z isn't afraid to admit we are uncertain of the specifics of what this new culture will look like or even exactly how we're going to get there. But we know that next Independence Day, we will be the same people on the same soil, but we hope to celebrate a different president, a different government, and a different culture—one that uplifts us all.

In the two decades Generation Z has been alive, we have experienced an entire lifetime of crises. Within the first few months of my life, my parents fled the 9/11 World Trade Center terrorist attack with me in their arms. When I was seven, I watched the 2008 global financial crisis cripple Wall Street. When I was ten, Hurricane Sandy flooded my home. And now, at nineteen, I look out my window and see makeshift hospital tents in Central Park and exhausted healthcare workers at the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Because of the indelible courage of our parents, teachers, and mentors in these crises, the United States has always come out of the other side intact—irreversibly changed, scarred, but in one piece. The American people are nothing if not tenacious.

Inspired by the resilience of previous generations, Generation Z is tackling the most pressing issues of modern America: police brutality against BIPOC, gun violence, and the United States' role in global warming—to name a few. As my generation reaches young adulthood in the face of these issues, we ask ourselves the two questions philosopher Emmanuel Kant believed define the human condition: What can I know? and What ought I to do? Well, we know these crises stem from the worst parts of American culture; the "American Dream" of meritocracy is built on racism and exclusion—on the mindless accumulation of wealth and power at the expense of oppressed groups and our planet.

As for what we're going to do? We have decided to reject the paradigms of past generations in the most patriotic way possible: by exercising our first amendment rights, which constitutionally guarantee freedom of speech and assembly. Members of older generations have denounced our activism as overzealous teenage rebellion or performative counterculture. But when I stood in the middle of the Women's March, school walkouts, Fridays For Future, and, most recently, Black Lives Matter demonstrations, I did not sense misplaced anger or insincerity. Instead, I experienced an overwhelming feeling of hope. And not just any kind of hope—not your run of the mill "thing with feathers" hope—but radical hope.

As explained by author Jonathan Lear in Radical Hope, "What makes...hope radical is that it is directed toward a future goodness that transcends [our] current ability to understand what [that] is." In context, it is an unshakable determination in the face of cultural devastation.

Generation Z's version of radical hope is not a passive dream that the world might turn out alright, but an utter conviction that we have the power to materialize the socio-structural change for which we yearn. Because we have witnessed the incredible perseverance of the American people, we are not afraid to unabashedly challenge the rotten core of American culture that corrupts our nation's institutions.

What makes this year a pivotal moment for Generation Z and American history is not that it coincides with a "Civil Rights Movement 2.0." Our actions constitute more than a "cultural revolution," they are intentional cultural destruction. Think we don't have that power? Ask yourself, what keeps a culture alive? Lear would answer that "culture tends to propagate itself...in the young." Instead of the current national culture, Generation Z will teach radical hope to our children. We will become our nation's future leaders. We will write our nation's history books.

Politicians denounce our efforts as "unpatriotic" because they are scared of cultural destruction. They believe that a culture defines its people, when, in fact, the opposite is true. And if you have nostalgically bound your identity to the remnants of a romanticized national culture that perpetrates harm against the majority of the American people—looking at you, "Make America Great Again" folks—then you should be scared, too. Generation Z has severed our ties to this culture in favor of radical hope--a hope that marks the genesis of a new, empathetic culture that prioritizes human and planetary wellbeing over the financial profit of an elite minority.

A key tenet of Lear's radical hope is that "those who have the hope as yet lack the appropriate concepts with which to understand it." Generation Z isn't afraid to admit we are uncertain of the specifics of what this new culture will look like or even exactly how we're going to get there. But we know that next Independence Day, we will be the same people on the same soil, but we hope to celebrate a different president, a different government, and a different culture—one that uplifts us all.

Gwyneth Bernier

Gwyneth Bernier

Gwyneth Bernier is an undergraduate student at Duke University studying globalization and refugee policy.

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