April 17, 2010
My generation. Conclusion?
I’ve had a hard time figuring out how to conclude this little series–which was never intended to be a series in the first place; it just turned out that I had more than one post’s worth to say–because the conclusion is, as of yet, impossible to know. What we’ve done and what will become of the Millennials will conceivably not be known for 20 years, or 30, or longer.
Two cases have been weighing on my mind lately, in this frame of reference, which I think are in some ways mirrors of each other: those of Constance McMillen and Phoebe Prince. I think the stories of these girls have the potential to say a lot about who we are, and who we’ll be. Constance and Phoebe and most of their classmates are 10-15 years younger than most of my readers, those from the first years of the “millennial” generation. These are the kids who will probably be considered the end of it.
Most of you probably know both stories by now. Constance McMillen, 18, wanted nothing but to be able to take her girlfriend to her senior prom, and to wear a tuxedo to do so. Her school refused, and when the ACLU threatened a civil rights suit, the school canceled the prom rather than allow a lesbian couple to attend and scapegoated Constance to her classmates, who proceeded to have a “secret” prom intended to further exclude Constance and put up a mean-spirited facebook page, filled with their prom pictures, called “Constance quit yer cryin.”
Phoebe Prince, 14, after brief relationships with two older students, was hounded to her death by suicide by four months of vicious, merciless bullying by a group (5-9, in varying reports) of fellow students, in which school officials declined to intervene.
Somewhat astoundingly, both stories of heartbreaking cruelty contain reasons for hope.
The younger end of our generation is represented not just by Constance’s classmates at Itawamba Agricultural High who participated in her exclusion and scapegoating, but by the hundreds of thousands who subsequently became facebook fans of “Let Constance Take Her Girlfriend to the Prom!” and protested her treatment in other ways (and the 2800 or so who hijacked the “Constance quit yer cryin” page just to rail against the level of human meanness and vileness that allowed its creation. It’s now been almost entirely taken over by supporters of Constance and of equal rights.) and of course by Constance herself, who I look up to her for bravery and accomplishment although she’s 10 years younger than I am.
Kids like Constance will be the ones who make our future whatever it will be.
Nothing in the world will ever make up for Phoebe Prince’s death. But the progression of the case indicates that things may be changing in how we treat young victims of violence and bullying, in how adults treat kids and in how we allow kids to treat each other–all of which sets the stage for the treatment of people that we allow in society at large.
In a turn which I feel fairly confident saying would never have happened when I was in middle and high school, nine students who tormented Phoebe to her death have been criminally charged for their actions. I don’t read many forums online which attract commenters young enough to be Phoebe’s classmates, but if what I have read online is any indication (a very unscientific survey, admittedly), people around my age who were bullying victims ourselves are overwhelmingly in favor of the prosecution, and though there are no charges filed against school officials, there’s a great deal of criticism and astonishment directed towards the adults who knew what was going on and failed to step in to protect Phoebe.
Attitudes are changing concerning how we should treat young victims, and young perpetrators; people are demanding that bullying victims be protected and not dismissed. And people my age are starting to become parents. The people my age I know who are parents make me hopeful that our children are going to be raised with far less tolerance for cruelty and injustice.
I think that we overwhelmingly want to make the world a better place than we found it. We can, and we are. My grandmother, a few months ago, told me confidently that she knew that in one more generation, the idea of gay marriage equality would be “no big deal” anymore, that the opposition was simply going to die out. But we can’t just take it for granted that it’ll happen. This is what I want us to do:
Remember the lesson of Obama’s election. Whether you supported him or not, whether you love him or hate him, remember: all of the people who were supposed to know, said that he couldn’t be elected. We cared enough to prove them all wrong. We changed the course of this country. We changed the course of world history with Obama’s election.
Vote, for heaven’s sake. The 18-24 cohort was the only age group to experience a statistically significant increase in voter turnout in the 2008 election…to 49 percent of registered voters. That’s pathetic. The 25-44 year old group participated at about 52%. Still pathetic. This is why our representatives don’t feel they need to take our concerns seriously. We have their jobs in our hands, and we don’t make use of that power.
Never believe anyone who tells you that one person can’t make a difference. Anyone who tells you that, by word or deed, doesn’t want you to get anything meaningful done.
Speak up. When portrayals in the media of our generation, our lives, our problems, don’t match up with your reality, when political leaders use bigoted, false and shallow characterizations of young citizens to push their agendas (as was done in the passage of the health care bill) speak up and say so. E-mail the editor when a publication does it. Call and threaten their jobs when politicians do it. We don’t have to tolerate what they say about us, let alone believe it.
And throw the whole weight of your support behind kids like Constance McMillen, who refuse to be bullied or frightened into submission by idiots. Tell kids what they are capable of, which is anything in the world, rather than what they’re not.