Millennials, unite!

You have been cheated. Do something about it. Plus: Cary dives into the comments section

Published September 25, 2013 11:00PM (EDT)

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       (Zach Trenholm/Salon)
(Zach Trenholm/Salon)

Dear Reader,

I have never spent much time in the comments section but that is going to change.

Let me tell you what being in the comments section has been like for me in the past, and how that is going to change.

It has been like doing a plumbing job. Afterward people critique your plumbing job. They weren't there when you were doing the job. They aren't plumbers. They don't know what obstacles you met or how you had to improvise or what little things you tweaked free of charge because you wanted to do a good job.

They don't know any of that. But they critique your plumbing job.

The plumber stands there wondering what his role is. Should he apologize to those who don't like how he did it? Should he try to explain the difficult circumstances -- underneath the pipes, face covered with gunk, looking up and trying to tighten things just so? What is his role? Should he intervene in fights between people who disagree about what course the job should have taken? Should he stand up for his client and why his client chose him to do the plumbing? Should he say nothing and just observe? What is his role?

So I asked myself, How could I engage?

The answer came like this: Ask me questions and I can answer them.

Questions might be in the form of, Did you consider this? Are you aware of this treatment? Have you had personal experience in this area? Did you mean for this sentence to be read in this way? Did you mean to imply this? Those are questions I could entertain. But even then, only briefly. Because, you must understand, I'm the guy who's been working on the pipes. When I'm done, I'm ready to go home. But I will come and answer questions. Just not all day. For maybe half an hour.

I consider myself a working man who makes things for a living. I have been engaged in this trade for a long time and have worked hard at it. I think I do a decent job but I also know I make mistakes. That is how I think about what I do. Like other tradesmen and professional people, I take some pride in what I do. I have figured out how to conjure up the energy and focus to do it day after day for many years and that is something not easily acquired. Try it and you will see. It requires the development of certain habits of mind and body. It requires a good deal of sacrifice. Part of it involves husbanding one's energy for the important work. After the show, the veteran musician goes home and goes to sleep so he can do a good job the next day. Writers and musicians are workers. We have to limit our activities to ones that are productive. When we are done with a day's work, we want to get off the bandstand, away from the desk.

But responding to comments is now part of the job. That is how things change in the world. This is how I respond to changes in the world, as a worker. For that reason I would appreciate it if we could all extend the appropriate courtesies. And, since I am lucky enough to have the power, I will not hesitate to get rid of comments that cross the line of civility. I won't even justify it or apologize. That is one of the perks of being the guy that people are criticizing. If I'm going to participate, I'm going to use my power. Crude attacks upset me. But lo and behold, lucky break that it is, I have this little button here I can push and you are ejected! Which will give me great pleasure! I really won't mind doing that at all. In fact, if you go out of your way to insult me and attack me, I will enjoy banning you. I will sleep well at night after having done that. It will be a small consolation for a sometimes onerous duty.

So that's how we'll do this thing. I agree to participate in a principled way. But I won't suffer nonsense and attacks. I will treat this like my house. I will treat you like guests in my house. You are welcome to come in, but you don't get to insult me or the other guests. That seems fair to me and I hope it seems fair to you.

I won't be in every single day. But I will be a regular, engaged presence, starting today. -- CT

Dear Cary,

I looked at a job board today, had a violent panic attack and spent the rest of the evening sobbing and rocking myself in a corner. I have worked temp jobs wherein I was solicited, threatened, bullied and tormented about my disability. I have slept on a floor because I couldn't afford a bedroom, have subsisted on change and what people could share with me. I expatriated to find a good job that legitimizes $100,000 worth of student debt.

I have recently reached a milestone. I am just shuffling past 300 official application rejections. Technically, the three that greeted me this morning pushed me past this mark somewhat, but, it is still, in a perverse way, an accomplishment.

I know I am not the only one who faces this, and surely not the only one who haunts their phone, stares at their ceiling while in bed furiously cobbling together the desperate accounting required to survive on very little. Lately I have spent more and more time asleep, and I know this isn't normal. I do it because it is far better to be asleep and unaware of my failures and fears, than to be reading how I am not good enough for people to pay me even poverty wages.

I have a wonderful family and they are supportive. But I am also 30, and feel I was lied to my whole life when I was told from childhood, "Go to school, work hard, get the best grades -- and a great job will be waiting for you." Everyone said this -- beaming parents, brainwashed guidance counselors at school and especially my student loan adviser, holding a pen for me, waiting for my signature that locked me in to compound 5.5 percent interest that I will likely never pay back.

My question is: How do you cope? Two years, 300 rejections and no interviews. I have had my applications looked at by human-resources departments, professional career advisers and friends who have secured interviews. I have forgone meals to pay for professional editors who could make them glow. Everyone tells me, "This looks great! You are perfect for this job!" and then I get a rejection a few weeks later. Then they tell me to do an unpaid internship. But I must join the ranks of the excluded rather than merely exploited, as I just cannot afford to work for free in a country where I am alone.

I have glowing volunteer/intern experience, that everyone desperately wants me for. But they hesitate when I tell them that I need a paycheck to do the job.

So I pour coffee and staple papers in office basements to make my rent. But this isn't what I envisioned during my master's, during my diplomas, or even during high school.  I cry suddenly for no reason, and cry myself to sleep, and then in the morning again.

A therapist will not help because a) they cannot give me a good job and restore my worth, and b) they are too expensive, anyway. I will be honest, there are increasing moments wherein I wish I could sleep weeks at a time.

What would you do?

Fed up

Dear Fed Up,

You were lied to. That's a political problem. You were swindled. That's a political problem. You want to sleep all the time. That's a personal problem. But they are connected. You can't solve either one alone.

But you don't seem to know that. You, a smart person, don't seem to know that your situation is political and has political remedies.

So let's make it very simple. When a large group of people are aggrieved, their remedy is first to make their grievance known. They do this by getting the attention of others and then communicating their message in a form that others, who are different from them, can understand. That often means using the simplest and most basic form of communication, which is bodily going out into visible areas of the public space and just being there. Maybe making noises or carrying signs or maybe just being there. There is nothing quite like a large group of people who won't go away. We ask, why are they there? What do they want?

It begins with the statement of a mass grievance: You were sold a bill of goods. You were lied to. You were swindled. There are millions like you. Why are they not in the streets? If they were, things would be different. There is a political and historical context for this.

Your condition is not unique; it is general. You are part of a class of people to whom this has happened. As such, you have political power.

Individual people in positions of power caused your situation. You didn't cause it yourself. You just believed what you were told by presumably reliable sources. People made policy decisions that caused you to be unemployed. People are still making those policy decisions. People could decide right now to give you and millions of others a job. They could. It's not like it can't be done. They're choosing not to do it because they don't have to. There is no cost to their inaction because you are not in the streets. You are home, trying to sleep.

This situation did not fall on you like a rainstorm out of the heavens. It was caused by people thinking about things and making calculations about what it would cost them to do what they wanted. It was foreseeable and preventable and so those people who caused it have to be held accountable.

It's as simple as that. So if you do not demonstrate by the hundreds of thousands, if you do not disrupt markets and streets, if you do not unite with other millennials and refine your message so that it reaches the people who need to be reached, then you will have been robbed and you will have done nothing about it.

Maybe you don't see your problem as political. That has been so with many political problems. Women's issues weren't seen as political problems until women made them political problems. They were seen as personal issues, private issues, issues of the family. Your unemployment may be seen that way now, as a personal problem, as your own personal failing, as you have only waited two years and have only received 300 rejections so far. Yes, you must be lazy. That's what it is. It is up to you to define your problem.

Now, as to your personal problem: Wanting to sleep all the time is not good psychologically. You need help on that. Find free help. It's out there. Put aside your belief that a therapist cannot help and is too expensive and find some low-cost or free emotional support. You're going to need it.

You're going to need it if you are going to organize your generation into a vital political force.

Why haven't millennials, who obviously were deceived and screwed over, why haven't millennials demonstrated and gone on strike already?

I say do it. I say organize a worldwide millennials demonstration, a strike against student loan servitude and unemployment in which collectively you say that you were screwed over and you deserve to be treated better and you are not going to take it anymore.

After all, what happened is natural. It is, as Edward McClelland said in Salon recently, "the natural drift of the relationship between capital and labor, and it can only be arrested by an activist government that chooses to step in as a referee."

Or as Robert Reich, the former U.S. labor secretary, said on the "Daily Show" the other night, "We're coming up to a, a kind of tipping point. ... What happens is, we get to a point in this country where the ideal that we all live by, equal opportunity, is so far from the reality that we live in every day, that the cognitive dissonance just brings forth  citizen activism. ... It starts with citizen activism. It starts with people who are so, basically, pissed off that they say, I'm not going to take this anymore. This is not the society I want to live in."

So what I would urge you and all other people caught in this monstrous trap to do is to get together and hasten that tipping point. Why wait around? Why not strike now while you are young and fresh and still have some food in the refrigerator?

Imagine the world's middle-class and upper-middle-class elite who have sent their sons and daughters out to be educated and to join the workforce. Imagine them looking out the windows and seeing their sons and daughters marching in the streets because these promises that were made have been broken. Would they perhaps begin to consider supporting measures such as forgiveness of college loans and a jobs program?

For look at what is being squandered: All this education, all this talent, squandered. All this disillusionment born, incubated and fed, turning to despair, confusion and finally rage as it finds its target: The generation responsible: the parents, government officials and business leaders who let it happen.

At a certain point things are going to change because a movement will arise. It has to. There are too many people unhappy and outraged about how they have been swindled.

You have been swindled. And if you don't stand up and say you have been swindled and demand the return of your goods, no one will do anything about it.

Millennials unite!

Other Links:

About a quarter of American adults between the ages of 18 and 30 now live with parents.

Millennials and the future of politics

Boomers and millennials: National Conference on Citizenship survey

Time magazine's poll on influential millennials

Time magazine's most influential millennial: Jenna Marbles

By Cary Tennis

MORE FROM Cary Tennis

Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Edward Mcclelland Millennial Generation Millennials Robert Reich Since You Asked Unemployment