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“Our Chapters are at the core of grassroots strategy to build a program that equips students with the knowledge and ability to improve the political culture in their communities. Click on each icon to learn more about a chapter!”

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“We champion viewpoint diversity, promote a solution-oriented political culture, and teach constructive engagement in order to develop a generation of political leaders that value empathy and common purpose”

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The Intergenerational Divde

Why ‘Karen’ memes and “OK, Boomer” insults stereotype people we don’t really know By Chloé Johnston .ugb-fa48833 .ugb-blockquote__quote{width:70px !important;height:70px !important}Show a people as one thing, and only one thing over and over again, and that is what they become. — Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie On a slow Sunday afternoon, I found myself half-heartedly engaged with work while talking with a coworker about our anxious anticipation of finals weeks, a distant thought now. Until, that is, the door opened. A woman, who appeared to be in her 60s, approached the counter. All three of us struck up a conversation, moving through the latest fashion to high health care costs and landing on the shooting by a Saudi soldier on a military base in Pensacola, Fla. The conversation was pleasant, as was the woman. When she talked, you could tell she was a person who cared. But in discussing the Pensacola shooting, she casually said, “I’ve realized I’m somewhat xenophobic.” I wasn’t sure how to respond, but my coworker asked, “What does xenophobic mean?” “It means the fear of foreigners,” the woman said. We sat in stunned silence. And realizing the conversation was over, the woman said a polite goodbye and left. Throughout this exchange, I didn’t think she was a bad person, not even at the end. Quite the contrary, I liked this lady — she had spunk and enthusiasm — but the encounter puzzled me. How could someone, who so obviously cared about people, hold such an opinion? What made this woman fear foreigners? I revisited the conversation several times to gather my thoughts. The woman had mentioned having a husband on active military duty in the 1970s, when the Vietnam war and its aftermath shaped a generation. She also had experienced the shock and fear of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. I also thought about flashbulb memories — shaped by experiences so profound that even minor details are recalled years later. For tens of millions of Americans, 9/11 is a flashbulb memory. And for some, it’s a memory that has fostered, or perhaps deepened, a fear of foreigners. For those not yet born or too young to remember 9/11, the fear of foreign terrorism doesn’t carry the same weight as it does for older generations.  For my generation, it’s the fear of being shot at school, in a movie theater or in a nightclub that shapes our view of the world. Active shooting drills start in elementary school (my 9-year-old sister now participates in them) and continue into college. The memories that have shaped me come from watching the news on my living room floor, feeling distraught about the mass shootings in Aurora, Colo., and Sandy Hook Elementary. I realized that the woman I met that Sunday was like me. She has been shaped by her fears and experiences, but where she fears “outsiders,” I fear those from within who shoot innocent people in schools, theaters and houses of worship. A second difficult encounter with an older person also highlights an intergenerational divide. On a flight from Dallas, I sat next to a rude man who appeared to be pushing 70. After a weekend of sleepless nights and great conversations, I was riding a high, which exhibited itself as a stream of consciousness that I poured out to the friend nearest to me on the plane. We hadn’t been able to secure seats next to one another, but I continued to talk, as I do. The plane had yet moved, but I could sense the frustration roll off of the man sitting next to me. I didn’t see a problem with conversing across another person before the plane took off. That is until heard the man say, “Would you be quiet! I’m tired of hearing your voice. I don’t want hear it anymore.” I attempted a rebuttal but was shut down with, “I said I don’t want to hear your voice anymore.” My face began to color with rage. I said in the politest words I could find, “I’m sorry if I’ve offended you, but you are being extremely rude. Now I’m going to finish my conversation with my friend, and only then will I stop talking.” As I choked this out, the man said, “Didn’t your parents ever teach you that talking across someone is rude?”  I swallowed my pride, as I sat next to this man for the next two hours, face turned to the air vent holding back tears as best as I could. When the plane landed, I was offered a half-hearted apology, and then the man gave a more sincere apology to my male friend. For weeks, I tried to forgive and forget this man who made me feel so insignificant. I tried hard not to transfer feelings of borderline hatred onto other people of his age and gender. Because, although I knew not everyone is like him, I also knew I never wanted to feel that helpless and alone again. It wasn’t until I remembered a conversation I once had with my grandmother, that I moved forward.  More than once my grandmother has remarked at how vocal children are now, because growing up in the 1950s, children were “seen and not heard.” But I was raised to speak out, not to be silent. The rift in communication between the man and me stemmed from a fundamental difference in upbringing. His question of “didn’t your parents teach you this” seemed off-base because I wasn’t acting out of disrespect. My point in illustrating these encounters is to acknowledge that people are a product of their upbringing and the events that shaped their narrative. Until we’re confronted with differing ideals, we remain unaware of the bubbles we live in. Years ago, I was introduced to the concept of a single story through the eloquent words of Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Her TedxTalk, “The Danger of a Single Story,” introduces how impressionable and vulnerable we are in the face of a story, especially as children. The single story is this: when you show a people as one thing, and only one thing repeatedly, that is what they become. This single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are not true, but that they are incomplete, which makes the one story become the only story. As a consequence, the single story robs people of dignity, makes our recognition of our equal humanity difficult and emphasizes how we are different rather than how we are similar. My impression of these two people was based on a single story. I felt angered at older individuals, creating a divide between generations within me. That divide has been reinforced through online encounters, off-putting interviews and “OK, Boomer” memes. Memes like the overused “Karen” putdowns, aimed at middle-age white women, have become a socially accepted way of promoting stereotypes and bigotry. The woman I met on that Sunday afternoon, ironically enough, is named Karen. Our image of her, based on this stereotype, is not necessarily untrue, but it is incomplete. Yes, she may walk and talk like and, actually be, a Karen, but there’s more to her story. So, let’s jump out of our fish bowl, into a larger body of water and begin to explore our own stories and the stories of others. Let’s gather more than one perspective by having conversations with people you disagree with. Let’s learn to listen and not to respond, to approach people with open hearts and minds, and to converse without trying to change the other person. Let’s start with empathy and understanding, because with these two things it is possible to move beyond what we assume to be true and truly listen to people different than ourselves.  To allow them to be more than just a single story. This piece was originally published as an Op-Ed with USA Today. .ugb-a75c862.ugb-feature{background-color:rgba(151,151,151,0.5)}.ugb-a75c862.ugb-feature:before{background-color:#979797}@media screen and (min-width:768px){.ugb-a75c862 .ugb-feature__item{grid-template-columns:1.50fr 0.50fr !important}.ugb-a75c862 .ugb-img{width:756px;height:auto !important}}About the Author Chloé Johnston is the Counterweight Editor and Graphic Designer for the BridgeUSA National Team. She more recently graduated from Oregon State University with her Honors Bachelor of Science in Psychology. In her free time, she freelances and writes for her blog, The Extroverted Introvert.
14
Oct

Climate Change is Here

Climate Change is Here

Andrew Brennan Chairperson, Seek Common Ground & Fellow, National Geographic By Chloé Johnston “Climate change is here. From the wildfires in California to the Hurricanes in the Gulf, hundreds of communities in America are already being displaced by the effects of our changing climate.” As a member of the Generation Roundtable Steering Committee, Chairperson of Seek Common Ground and Fellow at National Geographic, Andrew Brennan hopes to use this opportunity to “shine a light on the youth researchers, storytellers, and organizers who are on the front lines addressing our community’s most pressing problems.” “I hope to demonstrate that young people are not just the future but that we are stepping up to lead in our communities right now.” The unprecedented challenges our world is facing, a climate emergency, a refugee crisis, and a global pandemic, to name a few, may take on different forms, but all of them require the same solution. Brennan cites the “passion, creativity, and urgency that young people bring to the table” as pivotal to the solution-making process.In 1966, during a speech to students in Cape Town, South Africa, Bobby Kennedy described a phenomenon that he argued could “sweep down the mightiest walls of resistance and oppression.” Kennedy argued that young people, full of hope, working together to “improve the lot of others,” are a powerful force for change. “I agree.” Globally, young people make up about 50% of the world’s population, “but about 80% of the world’s best ideas,” according to Brennan. “Our generation has the ingenuity, creativity, and diversity to finally come together and end the cycle of inaction.” This is our last chance.The three issues the Steering Committee focuses on–Environment, Democracy, and Economy–are at the core of some of the most contentious political debates in the United States. Having fought for education justice in his home state of Kentucky for the better part of a decade, Brennan has experienced first hand the value of working across the political aisle to achieve lasting change. Brennan believes that the example of “young people across ideologies coming together to conduct research and propose solutions to these three issues demonstrates what’s possible to our fellow citizens everywhere.” For more information about the Generation Roundtable, and it’s Steering Committee members, read our previous blog about “A Vision for Better Politics.” .ugb-a349031.ugb-feature{background-color:rgba(151,151,151,0.5)}.ugb-a349031.ugb-feature:before{background-color:#979797}@media screen and (min-width:768px){.ugb-a349031 .ugb-feature__item{grid-template-columns:1.48fr 0.52fr !important}.ugb-a349031 .ugb-img{width:756px;height:auto !important}}About the Author Chloé Johnston is the Counterweight Editor and Graphic Designer for the BridgeUSA National Team. She more recently graduated from Oregon State University with her Honors Bachelor of Science in Psychology. In her free time, she freelances and writes for her blog, The Extroverted Introvert.
07
Oct

A Vision for Better Politics

A Vision for Better Politics

By Amanda Shafer The American political system is not living up to its highest ideals. Our government is gridlocked, and our citizenry is divided across party and cultural lines. Countless issues have arisen in the past decades that threaten the prosperity of Generation Z and Millennials. Yet polarization prevents politicians and private actors from acting, and the vast majority of Americans have been turned off by how toxic politics has grown. Politics is failing our young people. It’s easy to write off the system as damaged and ineffective, to give into disillusionment, and grow politically apathetic or extreme. Especially in an election year where the stakes are so high, and compromise is a nasty word. Succumbing to these polarizing pressures though, is a wholly ineffective solution for addressing the issues that we currently face. Instead of falling further into the bitter partisanship entrenched in politics, Gen Z and Millennial leaders are taking a step back to examine and acknowledge the problems facing today’s young people by working through the polarization to find common ground. In a show of generational unity, BridgeUSA has convened the Generation Roundtable, a bipartisan coalition of youth leaders who agree that Climate Change, diminishing Economic Mobility, and a weakening Democracy prevents young people from reaching their highest prosperity. The Generation Roundtable demands that our political system take action to find solutions in a bipartisan fashion. The Generation Roundtable’s core committee includes Benji Backer, President, and Founder of the American Conservation Coalition; Andrew Brennan, Chairperson of Seek Common Ground and Fellow at National Geographic; Daniel Di Martino, Economist and Activist; Jesse Barba, Senior Director of External Affairs at Young Invincibles; Alexandra Hudson, Writer on Civility; and Maria Yuan, Founder of IssueVoter. These voices join together, for the future of this country, to make a statement that issues, such as climate change, economic mobility, and a weakening democracy, must be addressed.  Through the Generation Roundtable, we can begin to envision a future that works for every American and leaves no one behind, no matter their race, their gender, their economic status, or their geographic location. In realizing bipartisan action on these three issues, we can mend our social fabric and build a culture that is tolerant, empathetic, and grounded in the highest ideals of our constitution. As young people, we have hope for a future where climate change is mitigated, where everyone has the opportunity to prosper economically, and where our democracy lives up to its fullest potential. We the Young People demand change to reach a better future because the American ideals have always aspired towards progress, liberty, and opportunity. .ugb-a825a0c.ugb-feature{background-color:rgba(151,151,151,0.5)}.ugb-a825a0c.ugb-feature:before{background-color:#979797}@media screen and (min-width:768px){.ugb-a825a0c .ugb-feature__item{grid-template-columns:1.30fr 0.70fr !important}.ugb-a825a0c .ugb-img{width:500px;height:auto !important}}About the AuthorAmanda Shafer is a recent graduate of UC Berkeley, working as the Executive Director of the Bridge Institute at BridgeUSA. She is passionate about fixing politics and making our government more productive. She has worked at several non-profits, written opinion pieces for national outlets, and worked in the U.S. House of Representatives.