I am a 15-year-old girl at a Denver High School. I do not have tax returns (but I promise that I would release them if I did). I have never worn a pantsuit (but I have worn a snuggie). And I know what Aleppo is. From the get-go, it was going to be difficult for me to relate to the 2016 presidential race and its candidates. But I tried: I watched the debates, I listened to my parents discuss issues, I even traded Taylor Swift for political podcasts during my runs. I gave it my all. Turns out that was not enough.
Like many others in Generation Z, I am lost. Getting forgotten in the national conversation is not new for us Gen Z-ers. Unlike the Baby Boomers, we were not born into America’s prime. Unlike Generation X, massive strides in human rights did not inspire our upbringing. Unlike Millennials, we never knew the 1990s boom–just got the post-2008 bust. And in terms of numbers, we are, to borrow a phrase from the Donald, “huge.”
Walking down the hallway of my school, I see kids divided into three groups:
First, there are students who are strongly opinionated. Students who once were good friends are put at odds over issues like immigration and free trade. For the most fervent students, the election has even driven a wedge between families. One friend of mine recently came off the school bus in an emotional wreck after arguing with his father. His father had told him he could move out until his values mirrored that of the family. My friend insisted that he would rather be homeless than have a father who supported that candidate. For this group of teens, the inability to vote doesn’t equate to an inability to be outraged.
Second there is the group of teens that is indifferent towards the issues and sees the election as a source of entertainment. In classrooms, students comment on how hilarious they find Hillary’s shoulder-shimmy. Check their phones and you see dozens of likes about a caterpillar in the Amazon that resembles Trump’s hair. A student in one of my classes commented that the presidential debate was the best reality television she had seen since Keeping Up With the Kardashians.
Lastly, there’s the group that I am in – the group of teens that is just disappointed. I asked my classmates about this election, and overwhelmingly, many responded by sighing, complaining that neither candidate is ideal.
We were expecting a presidential race, not a verbal boxing match. The infantile back and forth never seems to end, and the actual issues have lost priority. We want to know why we have grown numb to daily shootings, why colleges keep raising the price of our education, and cyber-security is a national joke.
This election has seen a lot of big talk about returning to lost greatness or better times. Our siblings blame our parents for borrowing too much. Our parents blame our grandparents for taking too many entitlements. And the other way around. We never knew the alternative America. Without knowing the alternative, I am not sure what my sister, mom, and grandmother stole from me. But I don’t care, I just want my questions answered.
For this last group in Gen Z, all outcomes of this election are equally dissatisfying.
If teens like me are already moved to tune out our civic responsibilities before we even get the chance to go to the ballot box, why on earth would we vote when that time actually comes? Youth voter participation has dropped in recent elections, after hitting a high in 2008. Can Gen Z afford to be forgotten?
Like the rest of my fellow Gen-Zers, these questions leave me feeling lost. If this is the best that America has to offer us, we may not want to be found.
Jasmine Bilir is a freshman in high school in Denver.
Illustrations by Youth Radio’s Desmond Meagley. Lead Designer: Teresa Chin.