The millennial generation is going to be remembered in one of two ways: the lost generation, or the one that revived the greatest nation in the world. There is no middle ground -- the country is, most assuredly, on the brink, and it’s time to rise up and say it’s time for America to be America again.
The effects of stubbornly high unemployment are particularly acute for a generation that was promised a good education automatically translates into a great job, just to find out that jobs are few and far between.
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I'm a 24-year old American -- one who is lucky enough to have found a job as a reporter at a major media outlet. I cover Wall Street and communicate with financial professionals from across the world on a daily basis.
After the stock market closed last Friday, I took a 25-minute subway ride from FOX News' midtown New York headquarters to Zuccotti Park, the epicenter of the Occupy Wall Street movement. I wanted to get a sense of why the financial sector has become a flashpoint for the troubles we face today.
The intense frustration is palpable in the city park turned part commune, part rally, and part command center for what is now a global movement.
"I am experienced," one protester shrieked at the top of her lungs, riling up a dozen other protesters who chanted the same phrase. Another held up a sign that read "F**k unpaid internships."
Highly educated, but without jobs to pay the rent, let alone the tens of thousands in debt they owe -- it's easy to see why they would be angry, furious maybe.
In Zuccotti Park, and across the globe, banks and bankers, the financial system, Wall Street, have become the personification of evil, the representation of all that’s bad in the world. Surely if Bank of America could be just a little less greedy, perhaps if Goldman Sachs shared its profits just a little more, the little guy might be able to thrive again, some of the people occupying New York’s Financial District say.
"Class war ahead," one particularly poignant sign read. While I couldn't track down the individual who made the sign, the message is clear: it's the rich versus the poor, the haves against the have nots.
And that’s the problem.
We’ve turned to pointing fingers and holding up scapegoats to address what are legitimate concerns about the path the country is taking.
When asked what the key problem today is, one protester told me it's that the Federal Reserve is "looting" our money, although the particular method the central bank was using to do so is unclear. Others pointed to a slew of political figures as the root of the problem: former presidents Ronald Reagan, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton were among the offenders.
"It's beyond the banks, it's beyond Washington, it's beyond rich people," said Ben Zolno, a freelance filmmaker who traveled across the country from California to join the movement.
"At the end of the day it's based on an economic system that has to grow forever, and we've got systems that can't grow forever."
Zolno is correct on that point -- there are fundamental challenges this country is facing. But attacking each other and utilizing packed political phrases like "class war" aren't going to help tackle the problem; in fact, they are only serving to widen the chasm.
Somehow the simple fact that America performs at its best when faced seemingly overwhelming adversity has been lost amid the economic malaise. We only need to look back a decade, however, to see the case in point. Mere hours after jumbo jets struck the twin towers in the worst terror attack on U.S. soil, Americans banded together, stood united, and took heroic action in response to unspeakable tragedy.
The World Trade Center site literally overlooks the streets that are currently occupied by protesters. And, ironically, it was the very same financial professionals who are being demonized today, who worked along with firefighters, police, and an almost endless number of otherwise regular Americans to try to save lives in the hours, days and weeks following the attack in what has become one of the hallmarks of modern patriotism.
Income, profession, political affiliation, sexual orientation, race didn’t matter. Why should it now?
That isn’t to say differences didn’t exist then, and haven’t in the past been present. Of course they have. But it’s time to take those increasingly diverging views to the table, and have a substantive conversation, putting conflicting ideologies aside, about how to get America back on its feet.
This may be silly, but wouldn’t it be great if Jamie Dimon or Lloyd Blankfein put on a pair of jeans and a sweatshirt and went down to Zuccoti Park and met with the Occupy Wall Street demonstrators? Maybe then they could empathize with the frustration over a seemingly rigged game, the fear and uncertainty for jobs and a secure future, the pervasive lack of faith in the institutions created to ensure that certainty and security.
That’s one way of reviving America’s broken spirit. Acts of Congress, presidential speeches, rallies, debates and the like won’t matter until Americans adopt the ideal that ultimately we all have one goal: making America the greatest country in the world again.
We’ve reached the precipice. The country seems steps away from spiraling out of control.
As the death last week of Apple co-founder Steve Jobs reminds us, the ideas of even a single person with enough conviction can transform the world. Imagine what an entire generation could do.