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Gen Z was fed up with the status quo. The coronavirus could reinforce their liberal politics. – Washington Post

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“There’s so much anger and frustration that these are things that have been impacting us for so long, and it took a pandemic?” Rehac said. “Here’s all of this attention and, all of a sudden, all of these resources that everyone said didn’t exist.”

Generation Z was already politically liberal, increasingly activist and fed up with the status quo. The oldest members of the generation — which includes those born from 1997 to 2012, according to the Pew Research Center — grew up amid soaring inequality and overwhelmingly backed Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) in the Democratic primaries for the presidential nomination.

Now the coronavirus crisis may solidify their political identity, experts say. As the pandemic and its economic havoc exacerbate disparities, some Gen Zers see grim validation of their support for the government-run programs and social-welfare policies less popular with their parents and grandparents. Seventy percent of them believe the government should be doing more to solve problems, compared to 53 percent of Gen Xers and 49 percent of baby boomers, according to Pew.

Gen Z caresreally deeply about inequalities and addressing that directly,” said Kei Kawashima-Ginsberg, who directs the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement at Tufts University. “And that’s part of the reason big government appeals to them … universal health care, universal income and all that. And I think this pandemic, if anything, would really kind of affirm their position.”

Images of carefree spring breakers, who traveled to beach towns last month as concerns mounted about the virus’s spread, have dominated popular views of the generation. The nation erupted with fury at Miami Beach revelers who griped about bar shutdowns. They fed the worst stereotypes of young people as self-absorbed and thoughtless about the elderly most likely to die if they didn’t help “flatten the curve” to slow the spread of infection so that the health-care system isn’t overwhelmed.

But for another segment of the generation — which turned the trauma of school shootings and grim forecasts about the climate into millions-strong movements — the virus has energized their political activism. They see this crisis as inextricably linked to other problems that plague them and wonder whether the coronavirus pandemic could bring more people around to their calls for radical change.

As the seriousness of the crisis settled in for 17-year-old Xiye Bastida, she canceled a trip to Mexico and drew up a strict “quarantine schedule” for her weekdays holed up indoors, limiting herself to one hour of Netflix.

Sacrifice is a driving philosophy of Bastida’s politics. The climate activist, whom news outlets have dubbed “America’s Greta Thunberg,” has begged others to make big, uncomfortable changes to avert disaster.

“It’s for the greater good,” she says of the societal shutdown that put her senior year in limbo.

She and other young activists have been using some of their time in self-quarantine to organize protests and grow the movements behind their own causes. They have incorporated the pandemic into their messaging about health care, climate change and income inequality.

Written into Bastida’s Friday schedule: “Strike for Climate and an appropriate government response to COVID-19. ”

“They will see this as a life-changing moment in many ways,” Kawashima-Ginsberg predicted, “whereas older adults may see this as a really major disruption in our lives, hopefully going back. ”

The crisis generation

Bastida doesn’t want the world to go back to normal, even as her life in New York City is upended. Yes, prom was canceled; her parents’ jobs and work visas are newly uncertain; her family has fled their apartment for a friend’s home in Massachusetts, worried about staying in the building where young and old share the same elevator.

But for Bastida, back to normal would mean returning to a society in which individual interest reigns and each generation fends for its own well-being.

“Emotionally, a lot of people are very unsettled … feeling like this is a crisis,” Bastida said of the pandemic. “And this is how we feel every day. ”

In a Pew poll conducted in late March, the majority of adult Gen Zers said the virus is a “major threat” to the country’s economy and the health of the population. While only 22 percent saw it as a threat to their own health, a majority believe the pandemic put their personal financial situation at risk.

Recent data from the center found workers age 16 to 24 — half of whom work in the hard-hit service sector — will be disproportionately affected by layoffs due to the virus, although most high school and college students won’t get checks from the government’s massive stimulus plan. Researchers are wondering whether the coronavirus pandemic will become to Gen Z what the Great Recession was to millennials.

Millennials “came into adulthood in a really difficult economic time, and they really struggled to get their footing,” said Kim Parker, director of social trends research at the Pew Research Center. “We thought it was going to be different for Gen Z. But now this sort of turns that all upside down.”

Rather than be sidelined by that turmoil, many young activists are finding ways to push their political efforts forward.

Normally, Bastida would march out after AP Calculus and set up at city hall for a climate change protest. But in these strange new times, it was a digital strike, with video chats and tweeted pictures of cardboard signs. Social media savvy and already serving as tech support for work-from-home parents, Gen Z was perfectly fine moving online.

Joe Hobbs, a 17-year-old volunteer for Fridays for Future, the youth climate movement that Thunberg founded, said the pandemic has only intensified many young people’s commitments to their causes.

“We’re finding that across the globe, Fridays for Future activists and organizers are doing even more because they have nothing else to do,” Hobbs said from Columbia, Md., where he’s under a stay-at-home order. “They don’t have school to distract them. ”

March for Our Lives, the student-led group that mobilized for gun control after the Parkland, Fla., school shooting in 2018, has been tweeting about two public health emergencies: “Denial isn’t a policy: not for #COVID19, and not for the gun violence epidemic.”

“We need our leaders to ACT to save lives,” the group wrote. “We need REAL policy solutions. ”

In Harlem last week, Rehac was talking about rent cancellation at a pro-Sanders town hall held by video. New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo (D) has halted evictions for 90 days, but Housing Justice for All, a coalition that Rehac belongs to, is pushing him to completely wipe out those months of rent. Rehac argues it’s necessary as people stare down weeks and maybe months of unemployment.

She thinks the cancel-rent campaign is gaining steam. And maybe, she added, the pain of shutting down New York City could get more people to listen about the bigger ideas: more stringent rent control, more money for affordable housing.

“If we had a #HomesGuarantee millions of people wouldn’t be worried about paying rent tomorrow,” Housing Justice for All tweeted as the April 1 rent due date loomed. “Or on May 1. Or on June 1. Imagine that. ”

Other young devotees of Sanders, a self-described democratic socialist, also say the virus has underscored vast gaps in wealth and a broken health care system. Voters age 24 and younger favored Sanders by huge margins in this year’s Democratic primaries, with three-quarters choosing him in California and Michigan exit polling.

While their turnout lags behind their elders, Gen Z will comprise 1 in 10 eligible voters at the time of the November presidential election, according to Pew.

The coronavirus crisis “really does expose all the inequities that people knew existed but maybe couldn’t see as clearly until this point,” said Roxie Richner. Her high school in Michigan has turned to non-graded “enrichment” activities, she said, unsure how to handle the fact that not everyone has laptops and Internet access.

For years, Richner has been a fervent Sanders supporter — holding a campaign kickoff party in her living room, volunteering ahead of the March 10 Michigan primary and feeling crushed when her candidate lost every county. But maybe, she thought, this moment of upheaval could shift politics in the United States for good. The senator from Vermont has been tweeting about the millions of Americans laid off with “nothing in the bank,” the big companies that said they couldn’t afford paid sick leave, and the people who would die because they waited too long to go to the hospital, anxious about the bill.

A day after celebrating her 18th birthday on March 26 with friends over FaceTime — someone tried to light a toothpick because no one had candles — she was feeling stir-crazy and scared, but also wondering if the country might emerge from all this a bit more open to her generation’s demands.

“I think it does give people some insight into what it’s like experiencing a time of crisis,” Richner said, “and that realization that a lot of America lives in crisis mode 24-7, whether there’s a pandemic or not. ”

The greater good

Bastida is wondering whether the needle could move on climate change, the issue that she says became personal for her when her Mexican hometown flooded. She spent the last Friday night in March tuning in from her family friends’ kitchen to a “Zoom party,” which was really a planning meeting for the Earth Day demonstration that would now have to take place fully online.

“Every crisis needs to be treated like a crisis,” her fellow activist Thunberg had said on a public Zoom call last month, not long before announcing she was recovering after exhibiting symptoms of covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.

Bastida ran down to-dos with 11 high school and college students calling in from various time zones, some of them wearing pajamas. They wondered who they could get to appear in an Earth Day video. Willow and Jaden Smith? What about Miley Cyrus? TikTok star Charli D’Amelio?

Someone had reached out to about 50 social media influencers and gotten encouraging responses, although one had asked whether the video would be a “paid gig. ”

Bastida and her friends laughed: No.

Back in the city she left, her 22-year-old friend Daphne Frias is fighting the coronavirus and pneumonia, isolated in a hotel room that ambulances wail past a dozen times a day.

Immunocompromised with cerebral palsy, Frias spent so much time in hospitals growing up that she calls herself a “professional patient.” She has gotten pneumonia almost every year for the past seven years. She didn’t wait for a stay-at-home order, retreating indoors before a single case of the coronavirus was confirmed in New York.

But March 9 was a beautiful, warm day, she said, and she allowed herself a trip outside. Four days later, she was coughing and tired, then dizzy and feverish. She tested positive for the coronavirus.

Her mother and sister quarantined with her at home, donning masks and gloves to throw out the garbage. Friends dropped off groceries outside their apartment. But after making a slow recovery, Frias’s fever came roaring back last week, and she decided she needed to separate from her family.

Some of Frias’s health-care costs were covered, she said, but other bills — the hotel room, the medications, the four-times-a-day inhalation treatments that clear her already-weak lungs — are adding up to the point that her bank sends fraud alerts. She needs savings to move to Baltimore in a few months for graduate school, where she’ll work toward a medical degree and master’s in public health. While she found financial relief in a friend’s GoFundMe campaign, she knows others are less fortunate.

Like Bastida, her friend and fellow activist, Frias sees an opening. The usual election-year politics seem distant to her as the ups and downs of campaigns gave way to headlines about the struggles of average Americans amid the pandemic.

We’re able to listen in a way that we haven’t been able to before,” Frias said. “And I hope that when things go back to normal and it gets noisy again, we can remember to still listen and help people the way that we have now.”

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U.S., UK, Germany clash with China at U.N. over Xinjiang

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The United States, Germany and Britain clashed with China at the United Nations on Wednesday over the treatment of Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang, angering Beijing by hosting a virtual event that China had lobbied U.N. member states to stay away from.

“We will keep standing up and speaking out until China’s government stops its crimes against humanity and the genocide of Uyghurs and other minorities in Xinjiang,” U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Linda Thomas-Greenfield told the event, which organizers said was attended by about 50 countries.

Western states and rights groups accuse Xinjiang authorities of detaining and torturing Uyghurs and other minorities in camps. Beijing denies the accusations and describes the camps as vocational training facilities to combat religious extremism.

“In Xinjiang, people are being tortured. Women are being forcibly sterilized,” Thomas-Greenfield said.

Amnesty International secretary general Agnes Callamard told the event there were an estimated 1 million Uyghurs and predominantly Muslim ethnic minorities arbitrarily detained.

In a note to U.N. member states last week, China’s U.N. mission rejected the accusations as “lies and false allegations” and accused the organizers of being “obsessed with provoking confrontation with China.”

While China urged countries “NOT to participate in this anti-China event,” a Chinese diplomat addressed the event.

“China has nothing to hide on Xinjiang. Xinjiang is always open,” said Chinese diplomat Guo Jiakun. “We welcome everyone to visit Xinjiang, but we oppose any kind of investigation based on lies and with the presumption of guilt.”

The event was organized by Germany, the United States and Britain and co-sponsored by Canada, Australia, New Zealand and several other European nations. Germany’s U.N. Ambassador Christoph Heusgen said countries who sponsored the event faced “massive Chinese threats,” but did not elaborate.

British U.N. Ambassador Barbara Woodward described the situation in Xinjiang as “one of the worst human rights crises of our time,” adding: “The evidence … points to a program of repression of specific ethnic groups.”

She called for China to allow “immediate, meaningful and unfettered access” to U.N. human rights chief Michelle Bachelet.

Human Rights Watch executive director Kenneth Roth called out Bachelet for not joining the event.

“I’m sure she’s busy. You know we all are. But I have a similar global mandate to defend human rights and I couldn’t think of anything more important to do than to join you here today,” Roth told the event.

Ravina Shamdasani, deputy spokesperson for the U.N. Human Rights office, said Bachelet – who has expressed serious concerns about the human rights situation in Xinjiang and is seeking access – was unable to participate.

“The High Commissioner continues to engage with the Chinese authorities on the modalities for such a visit,” she said, adding that Bachelet’s office “continues to gather and analyze relevant information and follow the situation closely.”

(Reporting by Michelle NicholsEditing by Chizu Nomiyama, Alison Williams and Elaine Hardcastle)

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Ex-finance minister breached ethics rules in charity dealings

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Former Canadian Finance Minister Bill Morneau breached conflict-of-interest rules by not recusing himself when the government awarded a contract to a charity he had close ties to, independent ethics commissioner Mario Dion said on Thursday.

In a parallel probe, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was cleared of having broken any ethics rules when WE Charity was tapped to run a C$900 million ($740.9 million) program to help students find work during the COVID-19 pandemic last year.

The charity later walked away from the contract.

Trudeau and Morneau both apologized last year for not recusing themselves during Cabinet discussions involving WE.

Trudeau’s wife, brother and mother had been paid to speak at WE Charity events in previous years, but Dion said this appearance of a conflict of interest was not “real”.

Morneau, on the other hand, was a friend of Craig Kielburger, one of the charity’s founders, Dion said. The charity had “unfettered access” to the minister’s office that “amounted to preferential treatment”, a statement said.

No fines or penalties were levied.

Morneau said on Twitter he should have recused himself. Trudeau said in a statement issued by his office that the decision “confirms what I have been saying from the beginning” that there was no conflict of interest.

Ahead of a possible federal election later this year, the opposition could use the ruling to underscore the government’s uneven track record on ethics. Trudeau has been twice been found in breach of ethics rules in the past.

In August 2019, he was found to have broken rules by trying to influence a corporate legal case, and in December 2017, the previous ethics commissioner said Trudeau had acted wrongly by accepting a vacation on the Aga Khan’s private island.

In a statement, opposition Conservative Party leader Erin O’Toole said: “To clean up Ottawa, Conservatives will impose higher penalties for individuals who break the Conflict of Interest Act and shine a light on Liberal cover-ups and scandals, ending them once and for all.”

The controversy over Morneau’s ties to the charity was a factor in his resignation in August last year, when he also left his parliamentary seat, saying he would not run again. Chrystia Freeland was named to take over for him a day later.

($1 = 1.2147 Canadian dollars)

(Reporting by Steve Scherer; Editing by Frances Kerry and Jan Harvey)

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EU prepares new round of Belarus sanctions from June

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The European Union is readying a fourth round of sanctions against senior Belarus officials in response to last year’s contested presidential election and could target as many as 50 people from June, four diplomats said.

Along with the United States, Britain and Canada, the EU has already imposed asset freezes and travel bans on almost 90 officials, including President Alexander Lukashenko, following an August election which opponents and the West say was rigged.

Despite a months-long crackdown on pro-democracy protesters by Lukashenko, the EU’s response has been narrower than during a previous period of sanctions between 2004 and 2015, when more than 200 people were blacklisted.

The crisis has pushed 66-year-old Lukashenko back towards traditional ally Russia, which along with Ukraine and NATO member states Latvia, Lithuania and Poland, borders Belarus.

Some Western diplomats say Moscow regards Belarus as a buffer zone against NATO and has propped up Lukashenko with loans and an offer of military support.

Poland and Lithuania, where opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya fled to after the election she says she won, have led the push for more sanctions amid frustration that the measures imposed so far have had little effect.

EU foreign ministers discussed Belarus on Monday and diplomats said many more of the bloc’s 27 members now supported further sanctions, but that Brussels needed to gather sufficient evidence to provide legally solid listings.

“We are working on the next sanctions package, which I hope will be adopted in the coming weeks,” said EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell, who chaired the meeting.

The EU has sought to promote democracy and develop a market economy in Belarus, but, along with the United States, alleges that Lukashenko has remained in power by holding fraudulent elections, jailing opponents and muzzling the media.

Lukashenko, who along with Russia says the West is meddling in Belarus’ internal affairs, has sought to deflect the condemnation by imposing countersanctions on the EU and banning some EU officials from entering the country.

“The fourth package (of sanctions) is likely to come in groups (of individuals), but it will be a sizeable package,” one EU diplomat told Reuters.

More details were not immediately available.

 

(Reporting by Robin Emmott in Brussels, additional reporting by Sabine Siebold in Berlin, editing by Alexander Smith)

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