What Peace Means to Millennials

We Can't Breathe
We Can't Breathe

As a person born in the ‘90s who works with today’s college and high school students, specifically students focused on the peace movement, I would like to say that I fully understand the “Millennial Perspective” and how it connects to peace. After all, I spend a part of every week meeting with young adults who feel enough of a pull towards peace that they volunteer their time – an easily depleted resource for teens and 20-somethings – to promote it.

I would like to say that these experiences have made me an expert of some sort, a person with enough evidence, albeit often anecdotal, to have a clear insight into why millennials feel connected to organized peace movements. This insight, this understanding of “why,” could enhance the movement, helping peace leaders connect to a generation with whom they have struggled to keep engaged.

Oddly though, I do not think this is where my expertise lies. Yes, I do work with some of the most motivated, talented, and peace-minded young people. And yes, they inspire me daily with their commitment, leadership and innovative ideas. But since my role is to support them, I often find myself looking for solutions to their problems, which means considering where we, as a peace movement, fall short in creating pathways for their involvement. And yes, we do fall short.

I have a variety of theories as to why, theories involving a lack of youth leaders, too few vehicles promoting youth voices, and what is often lackluster social media usage. But ultimately, all of these theories begin and end with Millennial’s (and perhaps even more so, Gen Zer’s) proven desire to enact social change. For the Millennial, peace and social justice are inextricably tied, the former only possible through the realization of the latter. This connection is a boon for the peace movement, but one that I worry we overlook. When we promote the connection between the two, social justice movements, which already successfully attract Millennials, can be gateways to peace activism.

Violence and hate, the antitheses to peace, are also the main enemies of many social justice movements. Race violence, hate crimes against the LGBTQ community, unjust immigration laws, Islamaphobia – these condemnable actions and perspectives have sparked resilient and massive social justice groups working to counteract them. These groups are filled with energy and purpose as they unite against a clear source of conflict. It is this energy, this purpose, that I so often see evaporating among younger peace activists as they struggle to reach a like-minded audience. Because while Millennials support an overarching message of peace, and are inspired by its importance in today’s political landscape, they sometimes find it difficult to translate that message into actions that build momentum. Too often, they are left feeling stagnant, and most importantly, isolated from the energized groups dominating political media.

Millennials, it seems, think that popular social justice movements do a better job at turning abstract theories into concrete actions. In turn, what draws Millennials to the peace movement – their desire for social change – is also what leads to their ultimate disconnect. Whether right or wrong, this perspective is real and one that we need to address if we hope to successfully engage millennials.

Peace and social justice. Social justice and peace. These four words need to infiltrate our messaging and inform where and how we look for allies. The connection need not dilute our mission but instead allow for a more pointed explanation of our actions and how we create viable and effective change. Millennials, perhaps more than any other generation, are defined by a desire to promote equality. We are a generation that grew up as many barriers came down and so we are dedicated to removing those that remain; we are a generation inspired by openness and so we are committed to eliminating exclusion. We are a generation with endless potential that is easily directed at eradicating social injustice because we, in a different way than generations before us, believe that eradication is possible. And because we believe that this is possible, we have less patience for movements that seem alienated from that mission.

In order to promote an engaged youth movement then, peace’s role in social justice movements, its role as its own social justice movement, needs to be better defined.