The past year has brought us good reason to be nihilistic. Infrastructure that we thought was untouchable — the Capitol Building, healthcare, and the seamless transition of power during elections — all proved not to be. It’s understandable why many from our generation have turned to the philosophy that politics are unchangeable.
The recent uncertainty and instability provide a stark contrast to the stability and progress Gen Z grew up around. Gay marriage was finally legalized as we started high school, we elected our first black president, and women had been steadily making gains in the labor force for the entirety of our childhood, making up almost 50% by 2016. Even the election of an unprogressive president didn’t deter our generation, as we continued to be active political participants during the annual Women’s March, March for Life movement, and the most recent resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement. Equipped with the knowledge that the youth made a substantial difference during the Civil Rights Movement and the safety of a booming economy, our generation truly believed we could make a difference.
Seeing as our generation went from believing we had the power to influence important political decisions to having our most basic personal decisions rendered impossible during the pandemic, it makes sense that the dialogue around politics has changed in tandem to this loss of control. Too often I hear from classmates that they don’t engage with politics because they don’t think their input has any impact.
Although many find comfort in disengaging, as there’s no disappointment where there’s no hope, it’s important to recognize its dangers. Believing that nothing matters renders your actions inconsequential. In other words, choosing to disengage from politics is a political decision, and this decision does have consequences. Representatives work to satisfy the needs of their constituents, and if young people don’t continue engaging in elections, representatives won’t work to represent our interests. These representatives don’t care if you’re politically disillusioned as a result of their past actions; if you’re not a part of their possible voter base, your wants and needs won’t be considered. Nihilism proves its own theory: Those who believe their political engagement doesn’t matter don’t engage politically, and thus never see any change that would satisfy them.
Despite the tragedy and confusion of the past year, I call for naive optimism in politics. After all, it was this naiveté that made Berkeley the center of sociopolitical change in the 1960s, and it will be this almost illogical belief that we can make a difference that will decide whether our generation continues to do so.