Introducing The Gen Z Collective

By Elizabeth Gracen:

“Okay, Boomer.”

My kid LOVES to say that to me.

“Whatever you say, Karen. Do you want to speak to the manager?”

That’s another one of her favorites.

Yep, I’m an “older” mom of a Gen Z teenager, and it goes without saying that the world my kid is growing up in is much different than the one I struggled through oh so many years ago. Even though the good ‘ole teenage eye-roll and snarky retort may be exactly the same, my daughter is part of a stage in history where the small screen’s siren call lures her away in uniquely frustrating ways. It is the number one challenge for me as a parent, and apparently the confiscation of her iPhone is the only true trump card I have in the deck if I am to wield any sort of control. I doubt it will ever change.

However, I am acutely aware that as preoccupied as my daughter and her peers might be with texting and social media, their awareness of “worldly” issues is astute. Their voices can be fierce, powerful, and angry—and for good reason. You see, we’ve been negligent with the planet—their planet—and they are rightfully pissed off about it.

Generation Z kids regard human rights, gender identity, equality, diversity, and above all the climate crisis as life-challenging issues that define their generation. Global news is bleak almost every minute of the day, and these young people are faced with an uncertain future that demands that they take action before it’s too late. They have become warriors. I’ve come to think of them as “superheroes.”

Photos: Elizabeth Gracen & Andy Casillas

I first filmed interviews with this demographic at the LA Women’s March in 2017. Along with a friend as creative partner, we embarked on a nebulous beginning, unsure what we would find. The idea was to take to the streets and talk to young people about the future. We’d sit down with youth all across the USA and interview them about their concerns. We weren’t really sure what the end product would be—would it be a documentary film? A series? Would we be able to get funding? Where would the adventure lead us?

In the end, due to creative differences, we split ways on the project by the anniversary of the second Women’s March in downtown LA. Needless to say, the dissolution of the initial project was beyond disappointing, and I shelved all the hours of footage I had filmed, uncertain what to do.

About a month later, in mid-February 2019, I turned on the radio for my regular morning dose of NPR’s Morning Edition to start the day. Little did I know that it would be the last time I would ever listen to news (too depressing) first thing in the morning. As I put together my daughter’s lunch, Rachel Martin interviewed David Wallace-Wells about his new book, The Uninhabitable Earth: Life After Warming. Slowly but surely, the interview set off a slow-burning panic attack that I was barely able to stave off until my husband and kid set off for school and work. Wallace’s dire words were a turning point for me—the first moment I truly understood the hard facts about climate change and the harsh reality of what the future will look like.

I went for a walk. I cried. I read. I meditated. What could I do? How could I live with myself if I didn’t do anything? Yes, I could reassess my use of single use plastics and contemplate my carbon footprint, but there had to be something else I could do that would make a difference. I mean, this was my daughter’s future!

That is when I remembered that optimistic feeling I’d always had after I interviewed the kids of Gen Z. I recalled how I always walked away feeling hopeful, certain that if the older generations could contain themselves and not blow it all up before Generation Z could take the reins that these young warriors would do everything in their power to make the world a better place—for everyone.