Flames always burn brightest when they’re about to die.
I’m a Millennial. That means that I am constantly stressed out about the future.
I am part of a generation of people who were born between 1980–1995. (For those who still haven’t gotten the memo, that means that Millennials are adults currently between the ages of 26–41, not 18-year-olds fresh out of high school.) Collectively, our formative years were forged during the AIDS crisis and the Reaganomics-caused recession of the 1980s. We watched planes crash into towers and 2,977 people vanish in a cloud of smoke when we were supposed to be dreaming about our futures and what we wanted to be when we grew up. We came of age amid the failed “War on Terror” and the 2008 financial crisis, which granted us the dubious honor of simultaneously being the most highly educated and lowest-earning generation in modern American history. Throughout our young adulthood in the 2010s, we saw — and many of us actively participated in — a reckoning with this nation’s ugly legacy of racism, patriarchy, settler-colonialism, and unrestrained capitalism the likes of which have arguably not been seen since the 1960s. Last year we were hit by a global pandemic that threw the world into the greatest economic downturn since the Great Depression, stole millions of lives, and laid bare the undeniable faultlines in the American social and political structure that have caused so many of us to struggle twice as hard as the Baby Boomers or Generation X to attain meaningful and stable employment, achieve financial freedom, and build generational wealth. Too many of us are locked out of the housing market and face too many financial barriers to attain or continue higher education. The unaffordable cost of healthcare in the richest nation on Earth is a constant burden on those of us with chronic illnesses or disabilities. Every day we are bombarded with the reality of climate change and the stark consequences that we will have to pay for a problem that we didn’t create unless we change course as a society (immediately, as in 30 years ago when the science first emerged) and switch to green energy, which Republican and even most establishment Democrats are determined to block in spite of dire warnings from the world’s top scientific bodies.
And two days ago, we saw an armed insurrection of white supremacist fascists storm the United States Congress — the people’s house of government — in an attempted coup to overturn the results of a legitimate democratic election, spurred on by a would-be dictator who has lost all touch with reality and has attempted to subvert our democracy at every turn for the last four years in order to create a white nationalist ethnostate.
In short, the outlook is drear. And it’s why so many Millennials and the now up-and-coming Generation Z are finding it hard to maintain any hope for a viable future. Why so many of us are anxious, depressed, and angry. (Some may call it “entitled.” We call it “sick of being infantilized and scapegoated for problems that we didn't start and are now being forced to pick up the slack for.”) Why we spend so much time posting on social media and eating kitschy foods and hoarding tons of houseplants as we try to find little things of comfort and beauty to hold on to in a world that seems to be growing darker every day.
And yet. In spite of everything, I still have hope that the 2020s will be a good decade.
Prison abolitionist Mariame Kaba says that “hope is a discipline.” In other words, it’s not enough to sit on our hands and passively wait on others to create a happy ending for us. Hope is active. Hope is creative. Hope is making an action plan and following through on it because you believe that when we work together, a better world is possible. As much of a dumpster fire as 2020 was, it also showed us what can happen when people with hope pull through for one another.
We saw communities come together to lift each other up when people were going hungry and homeless due to the pandemic. We saw a global outcry and uprising against police brutality and systemic racism in response to the brutal slayings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and too many others. Even when secret police began snatching peaceful protestors off the streets in Portland and Seattle, people didn’t stop showing up to fight for their neighbors. We saw pro-democracy activists in Hong Kong and anti-SARS activists in Nigeria taking their own stands against oppression and state violence. The momentum for climate justice has increased, not slowed, now that the world has moved online. And we saw the tireless grassroots activism of Black and indigenous people of color shatter voter turnout in the most contentious and nail-biting election year in US history. The result was the undeniable ousting of power from the Trump administration, the first woman (and of color, no less) Vice President in US history, and two vital Senate seats filled by the son of Jewish immigrants and the first Black Senator from the state of Georgia — a pastor who preaches from the same pulpit where Martin Luther King, Jr. once rallied his people to fight for their civil rights. Rev. Raphael Warnock will also be the first Black American elected to a Senate seat by a former Confederate state. As someone who has ancestors who fought on the wrong side of the Civil War, I cannot articulate how overjoyed I am at his win. It feels as if maybe some of the wrongs of the past are finally being made right — and that we finally, after two decades of conservative domination in the federal government, have a real chance at progressive reform.
I myself am proud to have participated in the history-making of the past year. In April, I co-founded Crown & Pen with one of my closest friends as a space for people to share their experiences living through the COVID-19 pandemic. We have since grown into a small but recognizable publication in the online writing community with a notable social media following and readers and contributors from around the world, and we continue to be a dedicated space for writing and art that speaks to the painful and uncomfortable and hopeful feelings of this time we’re currently upon. While I could not be physically in the streets during the BLM protests, I donated to bail funds, signed petitions, sent emails, and cast spells for healing and justice for the Black community and all those fighting on the side of justice. I mailed letters to voters in key swing states lovingly urging them to vote and worked the polls on Election Day. I barely slept for two days, but it was worth it all to wake up and see that Joe Biden had defeated Donald Trump with 306 electoral college votes. I sent follow-up letters to voters in Georgia leading up to the run-off election. And I have no plans to slow down now — after all the momentum of last year, the opportunity to create real and sustainable change is closer than it has ever felt before in my lifetime. To quote the late great John Lewis, I’m ready to continue making “good trouble.”
The connections made in the last year, the reckonings, the grassroots movements that changed the course of American politics, and the spirit of everyday people to keep on in the face of so much uncertainty and despair — that’s why I believe that in spite of the horrendous start to the decade, the 2020s still have the potential to be a good decade. Maybe the best decade we’ve seen in a long, long time.
(Hey, better to aim too high than too low, right?)
What we saw in Washington on Wednesday will go down in history as one of the most shameful moments of the 21st century, but I see it as proof that the white supremacist kyriarchy that has dominated our society for too long is, in fact, losing; flames always sputter and burn brightest just before they die. And from the ashes of a forest fire, new things can grow back better than what came before.
I choose to tend that soil here, now, because I have hope that the future is possible.
Will you join me?