Generation E

One thing’s for sure about us—the children of the late 60s and 70s known as Generation X—we hate being referred to as “slackers.” Sour on politics, and viewing elected officials as self-interested, wasteful bureaucrats who don’t truly represent our concerns, many “twentysomethings” are taking to the streets to improve our cities, put a stop to corporate despoilers, and do battle with environmental threats. Though an eclectic bunch with diverse interests, today’s young adults scoff at “not-in-my-backyard” ethics and generally agree that the world is “everyone’s backyard,” and that the first steps to reclaiming our polluted communities include hard work, volunteering and individual optimism.

Meanwhile, a poll in the young adult philanthropy magazine Who Cares reveals that X’ers are well aware older generations view them as “lazy” and “unfocused.” But in stark contrast, many see themselves as the “clean-up crew of previous generations,” here to guide their younger siblings, recreate communities, repair the environment, and focus national agendas on the issues that really matter-education, health care, crime and pollution. The Who Cares poll also found that a majority of young adults feels tremendous anxiety about the way things are going in this country-politically, economically and environmentally. X’ers are realizing that nothing will change until people start working at the grassroots level.

Of college-aged adults, 78 percent believe our communities are disappearing, so they’re working to improve them from the roots up (two-thirds of young adults polled volunteer in their communities). One Who Cares respondent commented, “I believe we can make a bigger difference at the community level. People can be better recognized for the things they accomplish.” The majority of these so-called slackers believes in the motto “Think Globally, Act Locally.” And act locally, they do. Two-thirds agree “the best way to make a difference is to get involved in your local community, because that’s where you can best solve the problems that are really affecting people.”

Fifty-six percent of “Generation E” regularly help with neighborhood or environmental clean-ups-turning lots abandoned by industry into viable community gardens and green spaces; 59 percent also volunteer to help children.

As one Los Angeles X’er put it: “I think our generation is made of survivors. We don’t let things get us down. We just keep moving forward, trying to better ourselves and our world.” It’s this attitude that’s guided Generation X away from the polls (only two-fifths of X’ers registered to vote during the ‘94 election cycle; over one-third chose not to vote, citing “disgust with the political process”) and into the streets, where they can visibly see the results of their efforts. A majority say they’d become more politically involved if their generation were represented in government.

In the meantime, highly motivated X’ers are becoming better educated (two-thirds go to college), volunteering, and rebuilding neighborhoods—one at a time. This issue highlights the efforts of young adults with its feature story on Generation X activism, an interview with 24-year-old Sierra Club President Adam Werbach and accompanying coverage on youth-powered organizations like the Student Conservation Association (Currents).

E would like to thank the Joseph Rosen Foundation for a recent grant in support of E‘s publishing efforts.

—Tracey C. Rembert