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The Wall Street Journal: The Generation of Progressive Change

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The Wall Street Journal: The Generation of Progressive Change

Your grandparents may brag to you about the good old days, and your parents may tell you that your generation is apathetic and self-centered. But I’ve seen something different. You are the most activist generation in decades.

Of course, none of you thought you would graduate into this world. Now, baby boomers have left you with an economy in shambles, in large part because we allowed the best public health system in the world to atrophy. The pandemic has laid bare our country’s faults and taught us much about ourselves. You now see a country with gaping holes in the public-safety net; an excellent education system for the most affluent but an inadequate one for so many others; soaring income and ballooning wealth for the tiny sliver of people at the top, alongside declining opportunity and stagnant wages for the vast middle class and those who aspire to the middle class.

Luckily, your generation has never been very good at quietly accepting the hand you’ve been dealt. Through all the pain and death and shrunken wealth and lost jobs for millions brought on by this pandemic, I see a glimmer of hope—an opportunity for a new start for our country, brought on by the leadership of your generation. You have a chance to build a new society out of the failures of this one.

You could be recognized as the generation that tackled the existential issue of our times, climate change.

If you accept that chance, decades from now, American history students will study how the Class of 2020 and your brothers and sisters of Generation Z created a fairer, more just and more diverse society than existed before the pandemic. Future generations will learn how you led this great country out of the worst recession in 90 years and built a public health system that proclaims to the world, never again. They will recognize you as the generation that tackled the existential issue of our times, climate change. Your grandchildren will remember how you met the challenges of economic justice. And they will be inspired by the new, diverse, competent leaders you elected.

Your generation believes in science, and you’re the most pro-union generation since the New Deal. You understand a concept—long cherished by our brothers and sisters in the labor movement—that has become a matter of life and death during this pandemic: solidarity.

Don’t just applaud workers in grocery stores and nursing homes and Amazon warehouses—fight for the dignity of their work. Join AmeriCorps and work with other public health workers to combat this pandemic and prevent the next one. And then become the nurses and doctors and community health workers who build a health system for all, erasing the huge gaps and health disparities we have allowed to fester. Use science to help us meet the challenges of climate change. Take your newly acquired skills to help us remake and rebuild the kind of economy that you want, with the values of inclusion and fair play that your generation already represents.

As the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. admonished us, “Human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability.” It’s up to us. Graduates, it’s up to you.

—Mr. Brown is the senior U.S. senator from Ohio and the author of “Desk 88: Eight Progressive Senators Who Changed America.”

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