where will brexit leave the activists of generation z?
Will we come out of this permanently disillusioned with a political system that shows little love for our futures, or with a new found energy to build a better world?
Once the depressed memes subside on social media, the brute shock softens, and we start to comprehend the fallout from this most momentous political vote of our lives, we can start to put the pieces together of our political futures. Right now it feels hard to comprehend anything, though.
The overriding feeling in my own personal pro-European bubble on Friday, as the result became known, were variations on how could this be possible? Emotions ranged from anger to shame to despair. A few lonely voices flew their flags for a hopeful future, a rallying cry to build something positive out of the ashes of our involvement in the European project. The overriding feeling, though, for my generation, is that we will be forced to live through a future we overwhelmingly didn't vote for.
For all its glibness as an advertising slogan "we are the Easyjet generation" feels rather apt in a way. European youth culture feels amorphously and inextricably linked these days; the UK and Germany and Spain and France and Holland are all one and the same, essentially. We have more that connects us than divides us, we all speak the same cultural language. We effortlessly slip from work in London to clubbing to Berlin to festivals in Spain to romantic weekends in Paris. Brexit, for us, feels like a vote for revanchist chauvinism rather than the independence day proclaimed by the right wing tabloids.
Large portions of our generation in London are either first second gen continental Europeans who've settled in the UK for work, love, culture, a better life, a future. Many of us, too, are descendants from various corners of the continent who became uprooted because of the kind of inter-communal political violence that the EU was precisely designed to prevent, and which, largely, has prevented.
How far do you have to go back to find, closest to home, friends with Irish ancestry? Or further afield, the Balkans? Poles and Jews who came here during the Second World War? Those who fled here from across the Iron Curtain after the war ended? Those who came here when financial crisis ruined a generation's prospects in southern Europe? These are the bonds and links that the EU represents, fosters, encourages, enshrines. And regardless of your own deeply held personal opinion of the EU, this is the most shocking blow the vote to leave the EU signals — that this country is no longer the kind of open place that can foster such bonds.
The campaign for Leave fought a dirty war on a dirty platform that fanned fear instead of hope — fear of faceless bureaucrats and an abstract Other coming over here and ruining our way of life. Depressingly for most of my generation, though, Brexit feels like the foundation for a glibly creeping fascistic future, heralded not by goose stepping jack boots and leather-clad whip hands, but a pug faced ex-stockbrocker raising a pint in a Kentish pub to the quashing of an imaginary elite he helped create in the minds of the people of provincial England and Wales. Brexit is a instinctive convulsion by an old generation in the face of a changing world, a reaction against things not being like what they used to, and a dream that things could be better, like what they were before.
Where does this leave us though? Those who have to live with it for the rest of our lives. If the old voted to leave, the young voted to stay. A generation given free education, great pensions, social mobility, and sexual freedom have gifted us racist police officers, unaffordable rents, ridiculously expensive university education, the looming threat of terrorist attacks, a financial crisis, and an austerity economy that disproportionately affected us. And now, the cherry on the cake, Brexit. Stripped of freedom of movement and work in a continent we used to call home, and that feels like home. The divide between generations and geographies in this country has never been starker. It's depressing.
But this referendum has been played out in a world that has increasingly felt politicized for young people, and where our interconnectedness and informedness via social media has at times felt like we'd reached a tipping point towards a generational revolution of people who desire to live in a fairer, more equal, more inclusive society. Where will Brexit leave them?
Recently we've seen a wave of youth politics centered around single issue campaigns, often launched, sustained, and built over the networks of social media. From Black Lives Matter to fighting fracking to solidarity fostered around the tragedies in Paris and Orlando, our communities coalesced on our social feeds to offer solace in the times of despair, to fight for our interests, and to ultimately bleed over into real life by trying to change the world we live in for the better. But it increasingly seems and feels like the impact of these movements has no impact on a world where the electoral system is skewed towards an aging population who are increasingly conservative and selfish. Brexit is merely the latest iteration of that trend. It's a final blow on a generation who believe in free movement and the freedom to work and live around the world, who believe in the rights of refugees, and the hopes and dreams of those coming to the UK to build a better life for themselves.
The main question for us, a politicized generation, will be whether this leaves us in a more apathetic state or a more engaged one. Will we come out of this permanently disillusioned with a political system that shows little love for our futures, or will we come out of this with a new found energy to build a better world? Can we unite to stop an even more right wing government from taking power and continuing to dictate the terms of our futures to us?
Thankfully we've seen over the weekend, even as the Labour party tries to tear itself to pieces, a wave of grassroots opposition to the Brexit referendum. As the leavers back track on their promises to cut immigration and increase funding to the NHS with all the money we're meant to be saving by not sending it to Brussels, a petition to look again at the results has reached 3 million signatures. There have been hastily organized protests to defend migrants rights and show solidarity with refugees. There have been youth led groups and marches springing up, as we're the ones to live with this decision, and those most against it, it makes sense for us to make sure our voices are heard loudest. On Tuesday there's a big protest planned for Trafalgar Square, as well as satellite events in Oxford, Manchester, Cardiff, and Liverpool.
When the politics of division is taking a grip on the majority of people in this country (as the referendum result highlights) coming together is the most important thing, and the only hope we can cling onto at during these dark and depressing days.
Text Felix Petty