by Renee Fisher
A majority of Americans went to the polls this election year convinced that we were about to elect the first female president in history. Not only that, but someone who would continue the Obama legacy as well as the strides we had made in women’s rights and gay rights. We were smug about the win. We planned post-election parties, and we told our children and grandchildren that they were about to see history being made. We didn’t realize that we were, indeed, about to see history being made; a history that we were unprepared to experience. For the first time in many of our lives, we no longer knew what our country was.
What we experienced was a forced look at the people we had either ridiculed or ignored throughout the campaign—the great misled masses who supported Trump, the people who wore the silly red baseball caps, chanted “Lock her up!” and “Build that wall!,” and were undeterred by the ongoing appalling behavior of their candidate. Of course, we knew others—friends or family members, or perhaps one of our doctors—who were also Trump supporters, but because they were educated and articulate and didn’t wear tee shirts proclaiming a love of guns or heavy metal bands, we dismissed them as well. They confused us because they looked and sounded like us but had somehow reached a different conclusion about who they believed would make the best president. We could chalk the ones we saw at rallies up to ignorance, but we didn’t know how to react to these others.
Now, almost a month later, many of us are no further along in the grieving process. Others of us are angry and react to every single decision or utterance of the president-elect as though it were a personal affront. We send links to friends of articles we have read in the Washington Post or New York Times, we post on Facebook, we sign petitions, we stew. We know that, at some point, this president-elect will be our president. We still can’t wrap our heads around this.
Being an elder at this time has its own degree of difficulty. For elder women, we know that Hillary may have been our last chance in our lifetime to see a woman in the White House. If we are post-75 or have health issues, we may fear that we won’t live long enough to see our country recover from its current division. If we are grandparents, we may fear for our grandchildren’s futures. None of us wanted to experience this at this time in our lives. Many of us became activists during the Vietnam era. Few of us still have that degree of stamina.
What we all must realize is that our country is exactly the same as it has always been. And the Trump supporters we believed to be either ignorant or misguided were neither. The liberal, progressive bubbles in which we lived had us believing we had the power to push the country in a progressive direction that we determined. Instead, we met a wall of resistance, and we had no way to scale that wall.
But our power remains. We no longer have the energy we had, but we have the wisdom, the experience, and the perspective. It will be the Millennial generation, those now aged roughly 18-29, who will move this country forward. Credit (or blame) technology. Credit (or blame) the very real dangers posed by climate change, by terrorism, by the knowledge that one small part of the planet now has the ability to dramatically affect us all. The Millennial generation wrestles daily with issues their parents never faced and that history has provided no answers for. If the rallying cry of the boomers was “can do,” the rallying cry of Millennials is “must do.”
College-educated boomer parents marched against an unjust, unwinnable war. They marched for civil rights, for women’s rights. Having felt vindicated, they were ready to be rewarded. They put away their armbands and peace buttons. They settled down to extract their hard-won share of the American dream. They raised their children with mostly liberal ideals about what life should be.
And their children listened. Many grew up in multi-cultural communities. Others were awakened by social media. They became less accepting of bigotry, of intolerance, of the status quo. They saw the corruption around them, and they demanded change. They saw that their chances of having as financially successful a life as their parents were slim to none. They saw college costs spiral out of their control. They saw that the country their parents worked so hard to change seemed to have even more need for change now.
They did not take to the streets, as their parents had done. Instead, social media gave them a platform. They rallied around Bernie Sanders, a person old enough to be their grandfather, who symbolized to them the change they craved. Other Millennials craved change as well, yet had their own symbol of that change. Still others were angry and felt that the political system had passed them by entirely.
And they then voted. Among the younger portion of the millennial generation, 18-29 year olds, Clinton garnered fifty-five percent of the vote. Eight percent of the 18-29 demographic voted for someone other than a major party nominee, compared with just three percent in 2012. Millennial anger can now be seen daily, in front of Trump Tower in New York, in front of Trump Hotel in DC, and on the streets of major cities across the country. In an action vividly reminiscent of what their parents went through so many years ago, it is this election that has finally propelled Millennials out into the public.
Eventually, the daily screaming and protests will subside. What will be left will be a choice Millennials will get to make about how best to influence the country that they love. The realities are these: no public figure will lead them out of the wilderness; they are divided about what they believe in; their future rests solely on their own shoulders. Yet also, because of social media, they wield a power that goes well beyond the marches and the demonstrations of their parents.
As a boomer, I am in awe of the possibilities that Millennials hold. I will do whatever I can to support them in their desire to bring this country to a place of understanding and of common ground. Politics and politicians will not improve until this younger generation enters public service. Women will not wield their power until millennial women take up the cause. There will be no movement without millennial movement. And this boomer will do all she can to support that movement.
Renee Fisher lives in the Washington, DC area with Now Husband Dan. She has three adult children and is expecting her sixth grandchild at any moment. Her blog and other writings can be found at Life in the Boomer Lane. Renee has authored two memoir-style books about life after 50, and is also a frequent contributor to Huffington Post. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.