Generation Z: A Generation Of Distrust And Disruption

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Generation Z stands to disrupt the status quo, question decades-old societal constructs, and take matters into their own hands; because we feel every conversation should always centre the voices of those closest to the issue being discussed.

Generation Z is the generation of young people born after 1996 composing 32% of the global population. One of the key differences between millennials and Generation Z is our mindset: millennials want a seat at the table, Generation Z wants to flip the damn table. When we don’t trust that the table is equitable, we build our own that creates space for as many of us as possible — and that’s what we try to do every day at JUV Consulting.

I know that I am one of the millions in Generation Z who are jumping into the political field with a heightened sense of ferocity to fight for progress and demand action around issues that are affecting us. We are scared, frustrated, and tired of issues that have persisted for far too long. According to the Harvard Institute of Politics Fall 2018 Youth Poll, 59% of young people in America are more fearful than hopeful about our country’s future. We wake up to more and more headlines about police brutality, natural disasters, the climate crisis, mass shootings, racism, gender inequality, and other global emergencies. We constantly hear about scandals and abuses of power made by the people and systems in power who are supposed to represent and protect us but aren’t.

Unlike generations who have felt similarly in the past, we feel empowered. With social media now being an extension of our own self-expression and a way that we can connect with people beyond our own geographic region, we have all the tools we need to build an audience and collectively take action. March for Our Lives, Black Lives Matter, and #MeToo are just a few examples of young people mobilizing and taking action, often propelling these movements with social media.

Perhaps what you could call a coping mechanism to this collective distrust is Generation Z’s turn to memes – our own art of reactionary, humorous, extremely replicable visual content.

As members of Generation Z, we have an extreme level of distrust in systems and institutions, and it sparks an ambition to be disruptive. We grew up witnessing our parents and adults losing faith in the systems that govern us – very much shaped by 9/11, a financial crisis, foreign conflict, and domestic political turmoil. Yes, of course, every generation grows up with their own set of real-world crises, and it is not a new phenomenon for people to question politicians. The difference is that we have never had the luxury of ignorance. We always know what is happening in the world because we have social media and news notifications at our fingertips. As the most diverse generation in history — we are either personally impacted by what’s happening around us, or know someone who is, so the effect of the crisis is much closer to us, and we feel empowered to do something about it. Our digital presence means that our disruption can become mainstream with a simple tweet — and we are using that power to agitate for progress.

We are constantly looking at platforms that are oversaturated with content, including news that catalyzes a great deal of distrust toward government, major institutions, systems, and people in power. And now, in the era of #FakeNews, we’re questioning whether or not we can trust the outlets publishing that content in the first place. Perhaps what you could call a coping mechanism to this collective distrust is Generation Z’s turn to memes – our own art of reactionary, humorous, extremely replicable visual content. For many younger members of Generation Z, meme groups are one of the final reasons to still have a Facebook account.

With an increasing number of successful young entrepreneurs, activists, creatives, celebrities, and political leaders who are rising to their status and impact in unconventional ways (often through the power of social media), more of Generation Z is realizing their potential to take action now. We look at the world and, yes, feel scared, but we also feel a heightened sense of individual responsibility to do something about the issues affecting us and our communities, and we are feeling more empowered to unite and create.

Of course, you cannot make large blanket statements about an entire generation of people – especially when we’re talking about Generation Z, the largest segment of a population in the history of the world. Obviously, not all young people have an interest in politics, and many may not have the resources or opportunities to build their own movements or initiatives. That being said, these insights here about Generation Z being one of distrust, disruption, and drive to flip the damn table are what we at JUV believe can explain the rising trend of young people inspiring change-making grassroots organizing, mass media cycles, and transformative public discourse.

When I was 16, I started my first nonprofit, which is now the largest youth-run NGO in women’s health in the world with our network of 500+ chapters in all 50 states and almost 30 countries. When I was 19, I ran for public office, and accidentally became the youngest Asian-American to run in the United States at the time. When I was 20, I published my debut book Period Power. And now, at 21, I’m continuing to lead my nonprofit and company as I return to finish my last two years at Harvard College.

I took the last year off of college to work and travel a lot for speaking, and when I speak about my work, many adults are very surprised by it and tokenize me as a unique young leader. But truth be told, while I know that I have been very privileged to have the mentors and opportunities I did to make my work moves possible until now, I don’t feel unique in my attitude or will to make change regardless of age. To me, it just goes to show that they have not talked to enough young people! I’m constantly inspired by peers who are starting even younger and acting upon their passion. I truly believe that we are never too young to make a difference — and JUV Consulting is evidence of just that.

Written by Nadya Okamoto, Chief Brand Officer at JUV Consulting.

Nadya will be in conversation with Rachel Terrace, the CMO of Time’s Up Now, at Advertising Week on September 25th. The CEO of JUV, Ziad Ahmed, will be speaking at Advertising Week on September 23rd about Gen Z behavior and further involvement in politics.

Nadya Okamoto

Chief Brand Officer at Juv
Nadya Okamoto, who grew up in Portland, OR, is a 21-year-old Harvard student on a leave of absence. She is the Founder and Executive Director of PERIOD (period.org), an organization she founded at the age of 16. PERIOD is now the largest youth-run NGO in women’s health, and one of the fastest growing ones here in the United States. Since 2014 they have addressed over 800,000 periods and registered over 500 campus chapters in all 50 states and 30 other countries. In 2017, Nadya ran for office in Cambridge, MA. While she did not win, her campaign team made historic waves in mobilizing young people on the ground and at polls. Nadya recently published her debut book, Period Power: A Manifesto for the Menstrual Movement with publisher Simon & Schuster, which made the Kirkus Reviews list for Best Young Adult Nonfiction of 2018. Nadya is the Chief Brand Officer of JUV Consulting, a Generation Z marketing agency based in NYC. Most recently, she was named to InStyle Magazine’s “The Badass 50: Meet the Women Who Are Changing the World” list, along with Michelle Obama, Ariana Grande, and Dr. Christine Blasey Ford.

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