Jonathan Collier: The silent and silenced generations
“What old people?” That was my friend’s response when I told him we’re a retirement community. My friend spent his teens here, moved to LA and back. It’s easy to run in our own circles and not see the broader perspective.
Nevada County has one of the highest per-capita retirement populations in California. It’s evident in the way that our county is run. When elected officials talk about their constituents, this is who they mean.
Recently the county conducted the National Citizen Survey to provide insight into the issues we face. The range of topics included: jobs, housing, medical services, nuisances, internet, safety, recreation, crime, schools, cannabis and anything else in the purview of the county. It’s a document that helps substantiate the county’s decision-making process. It’s also a good practice. The better the information, the better the decision.
Looking at the respondents, 78 percent were age 55 and over, while 22 percent were between 18-54 years old. In comparison, the U.S. Census they referenced shows ages 55+ account for 37.62 percent of our population while 20-54 year olds account for 40.91 percent. Granted the survey results were statistically weighted to compensate for this discrepancy.
Anecdotally, I feel these numbers tell the story of our county: Yes, a significant part of our population is older, and they participate by voting, responding to surveys and have a louder voice. However, a significant part of our population is also younger, but doesn’t participate or doesn’t know how, and hence has practically been silenced.
The point is about accurate representation and how do we get there? Especially if it’s the duty of elected officials to represent all their constituents.
Let’s take cannabis for instance. Looking at national statistics on cannabis from a 2016 PEW Research Center study: 33 percent of the Silent Generation (ages 71-88), 56 percent of Baby Boomers (52-70), 57 percent of Generation X (36-51) and 71 percent of Millennials (18-35) support legalization. The latest numbers show support increasing across all generations. And when we look locally at Measure W, 59.45 percent of the county voted against banning outdoor and commercial cultivation. In addition, 52.95 percent voted in favor of Prop 64, which legalized the adult use of cannabis.
From what I’ve witnessed, the county holds the interest of the older generations as sacrosanct and those of the following generations as whimsical. It’s not surprising given the peer group of our elected officials.
It’s also reasonable, considering that peer group usually consists of those that attend public functions such as lodges, rotary and church clubs, chamber and Economic Resource Council meetings, and board meetings of various organizations. I’ve attended or belong to many of these and from my experience, the survey disposition is reflected at these meetings: people under 35 are a very small minority. It’s easy to run in our own circles and not see the broader perspective.
The concern is that county leadership often makes decisions reflective of only one segment of our population: the older generation. Meanwhile ignoring or dismissing the generation that represents the future, and which will be most affected by the decisions they make today.
For a healthy and functional government all age factions should be considered and respected. Understandably, the younger generation has often failed in its civic responsibility to participate not only in elections but also in community engagement. There’s a generational gap and the idea of attending these groups is boring or more likely doesn’t even appear on their radar. To them, these meetings might as well be telephones with cords. Even if they know about them, they are surprised they still exist.
To the youth I say: show up, your voice will only be heard if you speak up! And when we do speak and we’re not listened to, keep speaking, and speak louder at the voting booth. It also helps to get involved. We build trust when we build relationships. There’s a lot of community groups comprised of older folk who are excited when younger people show up, and there’s a lot we can learn from them.
To the older generation I would say: listen. We’ve bought homes here, we work here, we’re raising families here, we’re your constituents too. Also, allow us to do things the way we do things. You didn’t follow directly in the footsteps of your parents, no generation really does.
The future doesn’t look like the past, especially in these times of dynamic change, and there’s a lot you can learn from us as well.
Jonathan Collier, who lives in Nevada City, is a member of the Nevada County Cannabis Alliance Executive Board .
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