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How Gen Z's Quest for Change Is Redefining 'Woke' Culture"

An image of people walking in protest

If there’s one word that is unavoidable on the campaign trail this year, it’s woke.

Conservatives hate it, liberals and progressives love it, but neither side can seem to

agree as to what it means.

Elaine Richardson, a professor of literary studies at the Ohio State University, sums it

up this way: “It means being politically conscious and aware, like “stay” woke.”

Perhaps no group of Americans fit the definition of woke more than Gen Z–those born

between 1997 and 2012. Though age wise they may be the most diverse, they’re united

in sharing deep anxieties about the world around them. Recent reports by Gallup and

the Walton Foundation find those in Gen Z have the poorest mental health of any

generation. Just 44 percent of them say they feel prepared for the future.

While they avoided teen pitfalls of many previous generations–lower teen pregnancy

rates and lower rates of alcohol use, they have been dealing with alarming rates of

loneliness, depression and suicidal thoughts. Much of that has been blamed on social

media–but not all of it. Partly by choice and also out of necessity during the pandemic,

Gen Z does much of its socialization online rather than in person–more so than any

previous generations.

Health experts say human contact releases certain chemicals in the brain that boost our

moods. But with the lack of social contact, Los Angeles therapist Alyssa Mancao has

stated that her Gen Z client base “shares a lot of feelings of inadequacy.” It’s that

pessimism about themselves and their world that has led many to seek different

directions with the nation’s politics. “In other words,” she says, “they feel they need an


The reason for this wokeness is fear that the world is more dangerous now than ever

before. Worries about extreme weather, active-shooter drills becoming the norm in

schools, and graduates entering the workforce loaded with student debt, even as costs

for food and housing are ever-increasing. There’s even the fear that AI could replace

the jobs many are studying to someday obtain.

“Across the board, my Gen Z clients are overwhelmed with the uncertainty around

employment and affordable living," said Erica Basso, a therapist with clients

across California. ”Unfortunately, most have had to rely on their parents for much

longer than previous generations and still feel the pressure to hit major

milestones like having kids and owning a home by their age.”

Despite their anxieties, Gen Z is heavily involved in social and political activism,

wanting other generations to join them, trying to shake them and get them to take

action to reverse a course they feel is tearing the country apart.

In other words, to wake them up.


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