By Liz Henry
My daughter had been planning what she wanted to wear to the polls for a few days: a black “I heart hot moms” T-shirt, fuchsia peace symbol earrings the size of toaster waffles, and wide-leg pants with a purple-ish sheen.
Whatever gets her excited, I thought.
It’s unclear just how many younger voters showed up on November 8, but the anecdotal evidence is clear: Democrats were helped by Gen Z. Without them, the losses could have been tremendous; the slide backward unforgiving. My daughter and her friends, over the course of the past year, all registered and made plans to vote. They knew the stakes, they paid attention, they followed through. I am immensely proud of them.
But I have to be real, this country has failed them. They showed up because, by and large, they are tired of us and our shit—of being slaughtered in school, of the book bans, of the queer panic, of crushing student debt, of the idea that you only live to work, of boiling oceans and scorched forests, of gun availability, of stagnant wages with obscenely rich overlords, of state-controlled uteruses—and this is only the surface. Bubbling beneath is a population crippled with anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues, plus a very real possibility their future includes fighting with each other over access to water. And forget retirement benefits—who knows if they’ll even make it that far.
Let’s not kid ourselves. A vote from Gen Z wasn’t to save us; it was to save themselves—they’ve been waiting a long time to be the adults in the room because they’ve been unable to find any for so long.
I did not anticipate this outcome back in 2003 when I gave birth as a 21-year-old community college student. I look at new parents now and think, well that’s optimistic of you. I know, I’m horrible, but talk about living the glass half-full kind of life you want to see in the world. I can’t remember what I thought when I was pregnant in the early aughts, but I know I wasn’t thinking about my child eventually turning into planetary shish kabob, that’s for sure.
I also did not think about militarized public schools even though Columbine happened a year before I graduated. I also didn’t think about healthcare costs. Back in 2003, with only a high school diploma—and adjusted for inflation—I made $18.50 an hour as a receptionist and paid $50 for my monthly health insurance premium through my employer. When I gave birth, there were no additional costs.
I’m happy for Gen Z’s victory. Elder millennials worked hard for less during the Great Recession and grinded for capitalism—turning on each other and seeing competition instead of collective power. We shit the bed in the mid-to-late aughts, and didn’t show up to vote in midterm elections. We let shame inside our hearts when it wasn’t our fault that jobs left us and banks stopped loaning money. Gen Z would never.
My family and I live in Pennsylvania. The stakes in this election were stark. The Republican candidate for governor was an election-denying insurrectionist and anti-Semite, hell-bent on forcing births and rolling out a white Christian nationalist curriculum. Doug Mastriano took aggrieved white guy and made it into his entire non-personality, promising to save Pennsylvania from itself. And then, for the senate, we had Dr. Oz—Trump sycophant and alleged puppy killer.
When we arrived at our polling place, it was quiet but bustling. I went first, my kid pulling up the rear. Off I went to my little cardboard stall to fill in my tiny democratic bubbles with black ink while my kid checked in.
When we were done, we asked for stickers and took selfies together outside in the parking lot, under the cover of shade.
“The poll worker liked my shirt.”
“That’s awesome, babe. She probably needed a laugh,” I said.
Then we spent hours watching the results. Not until two in the morning did I know John Fetterman won, Democrats sweeping both elections. Unlike 2016, I wouldn’t need to leave a Post-It on my daughter’s mirror announcing the worst. This time I sent her a text message as she slept: FETTERMAN WON!!!! Punching the echo effect on my iPhone so the words filled her entire screen in text bubbles.
In the morning, after breakfast, my kid said to me, “It felt great to be a part of something, like I could help.”
And that’s Gen Z. Aren’t they great?
Liz Henry writes the weekly newsletter, Flop Era. It has a lot of heart, definitely some laughs, and plenty of mess. Subscribe here.
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