Words by Josh (he/him) 19, NSW
When I was younger, around seven or eight years, I counted down each day until I could be an adult. I dreamed I would be the smartest, the person who was asked all the questions, the person who had all the answers, the centre of attention. In retrospect, I realise that my dream was to be heard, to have my voice and my presence acknowledged, even if I didn’t know it then.
But as the years passed and childhood turned to adolescence which turned to young adulthood, I became cognisant of how that dream would probably remain just that, a dream. There was nothing I could do about it. My words would paint but one brick in a wall of a million, soon to be covered over by another coat of grey distrust.
I never liked the colour grey, because it represented blankness to me, a loss of hope, neglect, skepticism in anything and everything I did. As I became more aware of the world, I noticed greyness appearing in every voice I interacted with. Quickly, “dream big and work hard to reach it” turned into “don’t shoot too high; it won’t hurt as much when reality drags you down.”
And through all of those dips and downs, I remembered those voices, the greyness that stains me even now. I fought hard to clean my canvas, but a haze of grey remains.
So, this is a message to those so-called ‘adults’ whose doubt and skepticism filled my youth.
There is more to young people than you want to believe. We are discovering our voice and speaking with intent, and yet, you still cast untrue shadows upon us. You make us feel small, immature, and ignorant, but we are actually watching you more closely than you realise – learning from your mistakes and understanding how to make amends.
Perhaps it is YOU who are the ignorant ones, unable to see the truth and power of our youthful voice. You have been listening to your own aged and dated words for too long, and it has skewed your minds into closed-off boxes filled with shadows, sheltered from the sun – sheltered from the young world and its potential.
I want no part in a world that does not care for my voice.
I want no part in a world that does not care for my thoughts.
I want no part in a world that does not care for the love I have to give.
I want no part in a world that does not wish to see me prosper.
I often find myself struggling in a vat of murky water, the drain plug chained to my ankle, myself fighting to reach the surface. The water level of the vat rising from the growing graveyard of ideas and aspirations filling its bottom. They are the discarded memories of dreamers, labelled as foolish, and ignored like any other fish in the sea. People forget that it is dreams that have made our society what it is today. They weren’t the dreams of old geriatric scholars, but those of sprightful young minds and their great plans for change.
In the city of Flint, water became too polluted to consume, so a young Mari Copeny, who believed those around her could not get the help the city needed, sought out and wrote to the highest power she could think of who happened to be the then President Barack Obama. She continued fighting for change, for help, for access to safe water, raising over $500,000 for her community.
Do not tell me this is not change.
In Florida, a young Jack Petocz heard rumors of injustice in the hands of those meant to run his home state. The “Don’t Say Gay” bill crept through the hedges and burst into the streets. Jack knew the danger the bill would bring but he did not sit idle like many of you would have predicted. Instead, he gathered his peers and called upon peers across the state in a student walkout in solidarity for those who would be ostracised by the bill.
Do not tell me this is just childish action.
You often cast us into the light of easy-to-offend, the “snowflake” generation. Olivia Julianna saw through the bullying tactics, using the slander directed to her by Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz as the fuel to keep the engine burning in her fundraising machine, collecting $2.2 million within a single week for abortion funds across the country.
Do not think degradation can stand between youth and change.
Ignorantly, you insinuate the dreams of young people as money-driven – you think all we wish for is millions choking our pockets by the ripe old age of 24. This is NOT the case. We are not defined as the generation of superficial monetary greed. We have ambitions, we have inspirations, young people have hope.
Our voice is often silenced, reduced to senseless hooligans who know nothing but drugs and indolence. I cannot help but feel insulted. We do not wish to be the conduits of your projections. Your choices in your youth, however foolish they may have been, are not reflections of our own lives. This is not an inescapable cycle. We are free-thinking, free-roaming, free-living entities, young entities. Our experiences are individual and unique, and it is crucial our expressions are listened to.
Something needs to change so we are given a voice.
Something needs to change to free us from our restraints.
Something needs to change so they will finally listen.
Something needs to change, or our generation will lose hope.
I find it heartbreaking that you, our mentors, our guardians, have falsely preconceived some sort of ignorance on our part. Isn’t it the act of learning that brings us to become better people, better citizens, better human beings? And when we mention your own ignorance, you suddenly become defensive and defiant and tell us these conclusions are from our own inexperience. I believe you ought to recalibrate what you think we are made of because there is life in the breath of young people, and it is a spirited breath at that.
You tell us to grow out of our innocence and learn what it means to be in the “real world”. But then, in the same breath, you say we are too weak to survive out “there” – wherever “there” is. Can you not see the contradiction? By your very words, we are being led to our own slaughter, walking hand-in-hand with our peers to a place where you have told us to go, but which we will not survive.
My voice is buried deep beneath your rejection, my ideas falling like ash in a firestorm. I can feel the water rising, creeping up my legs, my body drowning in disappointment knowing I was failed by you, the voices that raised me. A final breath I shall take if you and your diverted attention abandon me yet again.
We will not last as a society if you discard the thoughts of young people. Do not mistake our imagination for naivety, our passion is not some blind zeal. For that is what stops a stream from flowing; do not be the dam to progress.
Illustration by Aileen. You can find more of her work on Instagram @aileenngstudio