The president of MTV, Stephen K. Friedman, explains the Millennial generation’s way of protesting, as evident in the Occupy Wall Street movement. That’s interesting in itself, but what struck me was the concept of “peer-ents” as opposed to “parents.”
What many believe to be OWS’s greatest weakness may be its greatest strength. At MTV, we consider it our job to understand the millennial audience. And a refusal to limit itself to a list of demands may be part of the protesters’ generational DNA.
Millennials’ relationship to authority differs from that of previous generations. Millennials weren’t raised with hierarchical, top-down parenting. They’ve grown up with peer-ents; they’re used to seeing authority figures as equals. Add to that what it means to be born and live within the swarm-power of social media, and you have a potent mix.
Millennials don’t think of themselves as outside the system. They believe they are the system. The fact that there’s no definitive leadership in New York’s Zuccotti Park speaks to this generation’s complex understanding of power.
Young people in the 1960s had a mandate and a message. The boomers stood outside the gate and issued their list of demands.
Millennials are trying to remake existing structures to reflect what they expect from business and government. Consider the protests’ General Assembly — a transparent, open, fair and participatory government. The protesters have shaped from the ground up what it means to have a civil society. Or consider how inclusive the protesters are. The young people at the heart of things have welcomed parents, teachers, administrators, union members and others from across generations.
Where their parents engaged in civil disobedience, the Occupy Wall Street protesters are participating in civilized disobedience. Zuccotti Park is the opposite of anarchy. There’s a lending library and a mulch deposit. When the city wanted to clean up, the protesters refused, preferring to clean the park themselves. OWS’s famed human microphone is a metaphor for the movement: By working together, we can amplify our voices.
Millennials realize that there aren’t always clear answers to their concerns. They know that the multitude of societal problems needs to be attacked in a multiplicity of ways.
It’s that open-door policy that has let the protests grow so rapidly. By providing a blank slate on which an entire society can project its grievances, OWS has spread across the United States and into almost 100 countries in little more than a month. It is also highly inclusive. In the small confines of of Zuccotti Park, environmentalism, anti-sexism, spirituality and more are represented.