Life is complicated.
That fact doesn’t change regardless of your age or the generation you were born into. For our future to be what it could be, we must work collectively to break down the barriers between class, culture, and generations to facilitate conversations that push everyone forward – especially in the social change and activism spaces.
While young people have been catalysts for most of the major social movements of the 21st century, these movements lost momentum to one degree or another because we didn’t build the necessary coalitions – or the coalitions weren’t strong enough – to ensure there would be enough resources, infrastructure and collective will to keep pressing forward.
Therefore, building intergenerational “tables” is essential in ensuring future movements with the capacity and inertia to change our world earn a reasonable chance of doing so.
So what exactly does this look like?
Where do we start as young, multicultural creatives to set these tables and help bridge generational gaps?
And what will we experience as a result?
The Four Improvement “States” Resulting From Stronger Intergenerational Table-Building
With young people leading the charge, there are four improvement “states” resulting from building bridges across generations, cultures, and class lines:
There are a few variables worth considering for each of these states.
Young people have historically been on the frontlines of movement-building because we’ve placed that burden on ourselves – based on the assumption that no one will do it for us; therefore, it has to be us.
Naturally, this creates burnout. No matter how passionate you are about the work – and the cause that the work supports – if you’re too exhausted to press ahead, you’re too exhausted to press ahead.
Building bridges with folks who have been down this road before and know what it means to handle it with “grace and pace” is essential. You have to build a consensus of support for movements to succeed – or at least a level of baseline tolerance – and experienced activists and changemakers can help cultivate strategies making it more likely.
Plus, setting the table for these types of relationships now ensures they’ll be easier to build in the future as we reduce gaps in understanding between generations and better focus on the project’s goals as a whole.
When supporters of your cause clearly see why you feel the way you do and the message you’re sharing starts to resonate, it’s easier to earn their solidarity. With that solidarity in place, an overwhelming sense of togetherness propels everyone forward.
Forward to great things – to work that transforms the world.
All these “fluffy feelings” are great, but without the right infrastructure, they’re pipe dreams.
Most young people want support from people who have already experienced a challenge they’re facing. Two-way mentorship is an incredible mutual learning tool when actively fostered and encouraged. For example, activists and storytellers in Gen Z can soak up so much from their Gen X or Millenial counterparts about how to build coalitions and react quickly to change.
On the flip side, Gen X and Millenial folks – and yes, even those in the Baby Boomer generation – can learn from Gen Z’s inherent understanding of the social media landscape and our natural ability to tell stories online that catalyze action offline.
The learning benefits here run in two directions, and that’s a powerful backbone for resilient, sustainable movements. When we share what we know, it’s easier to build effective strategies and the tactics that support those strategies. With better systems comes a greater chance at success.
It’s simple math.
The work I get to do right now is because of adult allies sharing resources (whether funding or energy) and offering support while letting me lead.
In short, we need each other. Our strength comes from our social bonds.
When we intentionally invite all generations to the table, our networks grow exponentially. It’s far too easy to get caught up in a “silo mentality,” when you’re used to working with certain people in certain environments. We build networks with the people that are physically around us. With our friends, family, and trusted contacts, we join together in a “bubble.”
There’s nothing wrong with this necessarily. But it’s limiting.When you reach across the aisle to leaders in generations other than yours, with perspectives other than yours, you find fresh ground from which to work. And that common ground is a foundation to dig even deeper into finding shared values.
Community building is a powerful side effect of shared values. You start to develop real momentum when people want to be a part of something bigger than themselves. Something that they feel in their bones and which they couldn’t imagine not being a part of their lives.
Loneliness decreases as we build more diverse communities that cross generational and cultural lines. And let’s be honest here: When you’re working on a cause you believe deeply in, even if like-minded people surround you, it’s easy to feel lonely. And you’re the only one who cares as deeply as you do.
When your support community is deeper and more diverse, loneliness is less of a factor, and you can be yourself – flourishing within and around a new base of support.
When we form strong emotional and social bonds and the right infrastructure is in place, your organization naturally starts to flourish. And it’s easier to continue to mobilize and organize behind the message you want to share with the world.
Undeniably, you need easy and continual access to resources to sustain a social movement over time. Older generations tend to be the ones with these resources. It isn’t true in all cases – there are exceptions to the rule – but there’s an opportunity here for “cross-leveraging” networks and resources, which is particularly powerful.
It’s essentially one generation “passing the mic” to the other and vice versa.
Younger generations – Gen Z and even now, Gen Alpha – natively understand the power of digital platforms for crowdfunding, advocacy, and awareness-building. When cross-generational teams work together on campaigns, a natural “upskilling” results. This upskilling amplifies the reach and impact of movements and ensures everyone operates with a new degree of power.
The lasting impact of any social cause depends on sustainability. And we build sustainability through shared values, experiences, and commitment to the cause.
Older generations have these baked into their DNA the same way younger generations understand the power of storytelling, image, and visuals to drive a message home. The transformation of “the old way of doing things” into a modern context contributes to long-term success.
Accordingly, organizations can take calculated risks and push boundaries when new ideas intersect with tried-and-true strategies. This blend helps everyone attached to a cause be more creative and approach problems with a can-do spirit and attitude, which not only strengthens the day-to-day organizational activity but also helps the message of a movement appeal to a broader audience and coalition of support.
The promise of the future rests in our hands and fosters a unity that transcends class, culture, and generations. The lessons from the past reveal how necessary it is to build stronger inter-generational coalitions to supply the resources, infrastructure, and willpower needed for continuous forward momentum.
Young, multicultural creatives must set the tables as we work toward a collective goal of social change that improves our lives. By blending our talents, strengths, and resources with those from other generations, we ensure that the future we dream of is an attainable future.