Generation Y: Changing the World Since 2008 (1)

The first of a series of articles about Generation Y´s political coming of age.


Generation Y, Echo Boomers, or the Millennial Generation, the present-day teenagers and young adults, will be arriving at positions of power and responsibility during the next twenty years. And what do we have to offer?

It is true that we have arrived at adulthood, amidst a global recession, major unemployment and strong social unrest. But there are reasons to be resilient and stay focused.

We have the knowledge and tools to endure. We have opportunities our parents could only have dreamed. In some countries, including my own, we are entitled to political rights that were unattainable some decades ago. We are travelling, studying and working abroad.

We are political actors in a new globalized stage, one where we can reinvent ourselves into several different roles. Web 2.0´s impact is being felt all over the world. Internet-users have evolved into internet-authors, not only reading, but interacting, creating and making a difference in the real world. It is happening now.


Some noteworthy examples:




Iowa, USA, January 2008: Illinois Senator Barack Obama won the Iowa Democratic Caucus, against long-time favorite, Hillary Clinton. The keys for his surprising victory were grassroots activism and youth vote. College students and recent graduates spent months volunteering for Obama, fundraising, mobilizing and visiting households. Web 2.0 was pivotal in rallying thousands of supporters. YouTube speeches that were watched for 14.5 million hours, 1.5 million friends on MySpace and Facebook, and 45.000 followers on Twitter, allowed Obama to circumvent classic media and spread his message of change. Generation Y was listening and ready to go on board.

Many of them first-time voters, Generation Y electors flocked in record numbers to the Iowa ballots, giving 17.000 votes to Obama. He finished with 20.000 votes ahead of his Democrat opponents. And his campaign was definitely in motion for the following caucuses. On November 4, Obama defeated Republican John McCain, reaching the highest share of youth vote (18 – 24 years) since US exit polls began discriminating results by age, in 1976. About 22 to 24 million young North-Americans voted for the 2008 US Presidential elections. About 70% of them voted for Obama.




Chişinău, Moldova, April 2009: Protests ensued in Chişinău, capital of Moldova, and other major cities, following the victory of the Communist Party at the general elections. They were called by 25 year-old reporter Natalia Morar (previous picture) and other activists, through instant messages, emails and Web 2.0 sites. Morar expected a few hundred people to show up, but as many as 10.000 came to protest in front of the Parliament of Moldova. They were mostly students and youngsters, coming against the regime, claiming electoral results had been fraudulent and demanding a recount. Web 2.0 and instant messaging helped activists to spread information about the protests.

Police retaliated with tear gas, batons and water cannons. The demonstration at Chişinău escalated into a riot, with some protesters invading the parliament and the presidential office. Hundreds of protesters were imprisoned, including minors. The United Nations and Amnesty International reported several cases of torture and police brutality. Four protesters died in different circumstances. The Amnesty International suspects that the police was responsible for these killings. Natalia Morar was charged for “calls for organizing and staging mass disturbances” and put under house arrest. Eventually, her charges were dropped. On April 15, Moldova´s President, Vladimir Voronin, called for a general amnesty, covering protesters and the police. Moldova´s Communist government survived, but only for three months. Special elections were held in July 2009, which resulted in a pro-western government, formed by a coalition of four former-opposition parties. The 2009 Moldova civil unrest is now recalled as the “first Twitter Revolution”, considering the pivotal role of this social network site in rallying the protesters.




Teheran, Iran, June 2009: Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was reelected, with a reported 64% of the national vote. His closest rival, Mir-Hossein Mousavi, and his followers, who promised a democratic change for the Islamic Republic of Iran, claimed electoral results were fraudulent. Protests irrupted around the capital Teheran and other major cities. Iranian authorities retaliated by closing the country to foreign media and disrupting cell phone use and text-messaging. Anti-governmental activists, many of them young, educated and tech-savvy, turned to blogging, Twitter, Facebook, Flickr and YouTube. It was the dawn of the age of “hacktivism”.

Web 2.0 became the vital tool for Iranian activists to rally demonstrations, warn about governmental counter-information, make appeals to foreign countries, and denounce human rights´ abuses by the Iranian authorities. Riots turned to mass protests, with hundreds of thousands assembling at Teheran’s Freedom Square. The Iranian regime retaliated, with the police, snipers and voluntary militias named basij, opening fire against its own people.

Reports of mass-killings were tweeted to the world, at the rate of over one per second. Hundreds of amateur videos were uploaded to YouTube. Web 2.0 disseminated the iconic footage of 26 year-old protester Neda Agha-Soltan bleeding to death, after being shot by a basij. This event was filmed with a mobile phone by a protester at the scene, in Kārgar Avenue, Teheran, who sent it to a friend in the Netherlands. “Please let the world know”, he wrote. Only some minutes after the tragedy, the video was uploaded into YouTube and published on Facebook. It attracted over a million YouTube views in under a week.

As Iranian authorities started to restrict access to Web 2.0 sites, Iranian activists turned to “proxy servers” abroad. A proxy server is software that allows a person to “share” his or her computer with another one, regardless of location. Activists in Iran then accessed social media sites, through proxy hosts in other countries, typically belonging to activists or sympathizers. The Iranian regime fought back with a “proxy war”, searching for and blocking access to open proxies, while also filtering Internet traffic.

Unfortunately, Iranian ”hacktivists” did not met success. The Iranian regime repressed demonstrations, killed, tortured and imprisoned hundreds of thousands, from political oppositionists, to reporters, writers, filmmakers, and students. Ahmadinejad´s government endures and it’s on the brink of war with Israel. However, it also stands on a very shaky ground, as a very significant and out-spoken segment of the Iranian population has already demonstrated to be tired and ready to retaliate.




Stockholm, Sweden, September 2010: The far-right political party “Sweden Democrats” secured a 5.7 percent of the national vote in Sweden´s general elections, doubling their previous score and entering, for the first time, in the Swedish Parliament. 17-year-old Felicia Margineanu (previous picture), living at the Stockholm suburb of Sollentuna, was so appalled by the results that she posted a protest event on her Facebook page. In response, about 6.000 Swedes gathered at Stockholm´s Sergel Torg for a peaceful demonstration against the rise of the Swedish far-right and, particularly, their racist and anti-immigration views. At the protest, Margineanu spoke to the people: “I am only 17 years old. Look what I have done. Imagine what we can do together!”

NEXT: The Arab Spring, 12th of March in Portugal, 15th of May in Spain, and Occupy Wall Street, Occupy the World.