© Henry Walther.
Used by permission.
All rights reserved.
My name is Henry Walther, and I serve as President of the College Democrats of Louisiana. First and foremost, I want to express my deepest gratitude to the Louisiana Democratic Party, especially Stephen Handwerk and Karen Carter Peterson, for being dedicated and generous supporters of College Democrats. In just the first year of our organization, we’ve grown to eight chapters found in every corner of the state, held a lobbying day to raise the minimum wage, and, in case you haven’t heard the news, been chosen to host the 2019 College Democrats of America national convention, held right here in New Orleans. You can follow our work on any social media platform with @collegedemsla and support our work financially through the ActBlue link in our bio.
I’m here tonight to tell you about my generation, and it might not be the one you’re expecting. I’m not a millennial, I’m Generation Z — born in the year 1999 and bearing not a single memory of 9/11 or the election of George W. Bush, it would be fair to say that my generation’s experiences differ greatly from yours. But rather than seeing this difference as an insurmountable obstacle, I see it as an opportunity. Some of the most pivotal pages in American history — the Civil Rights movement, women’s liberation, the fight for marriage equality — all fused the idealism of youth activism with the pragmatism and knowledge of established political leaders.
So that’s why I’m giving this speech — to begin a conversation. A conversation that honestly gives me hope. And the first step in any productive conversation is mutual understanding, so here are a few things you need to know about my generation:
We are progressive. This means standing in solidarity with any group facing injustice. When the likes of Bobby Jindal gut our higher education budget, we do not stay silent. When Republicans in Baton Rouge refuse to expand Medicaid to millions of low — income individuals, we do not stay silent. And when Democrats, in this state, enact draconian restrictions on a woman’s right to choose, we do not stay silent.
Now, my generation is far from perfect. Despite our passion, we rarely turn out to vote, if we’re even old enough to in the first place. Much of the blame falls at our feet. We’re used to instant gratification and immediate tangible impact, something we can all agree voting doesn’t provide. Groups like College Democrats have a responsibility to educate our generation on the importance of heading to the polls in every election, not just in Presidential years. But there are other ways to boost youth turnout. When campaigns treat my generation as meaningful partners, and not just tallies on a vote column, when youth outreach is more than a few hashtags on social media, when young people have a hand in crafting policy that affects us, we turn out to vote. Together, through effort on both of our parts, we can turn apathy into energy and defeat into victory.
My generation is facing an existential threat. Climate change is not just a policy issue for us — to be listed next to health care, immigration, or gun control — climate change is a framework through which we are forced to see the world, touching every facet of our lives. Will we have to say goodbye to New Orleans and the gulf coast because of sea level rise? If the threat is so severe, don’t we have a moral obligation to do every single thing we can to stop it, going as far as dedicating our whole career to a singular purpose? Can we justify bringing children into a world that might be defined by displacement and destruction? In dorm room hallways you can hear frantic echoes of eighteen-year-olds being forced to ask these questions to each other because, quite honestly, we’re too scared to ask anyone else. And here, in the state of Louisiana, oil and gas companies have made billions of dollars in profit, helped by massive tax breaks and subsidies, and while they have supported thousands of workers throughout dozens of communities, my generation is forced to ask, at what cost? I am far from the first to emphasize the severity of this crisis. Indigenous communities have been preaching this truth to closed ears for decades. Now is the time for action because by the time my generation is sitting in your seats, it will be too late.
I know, this speech may sound overly grave and depressing, but as I said just a few minutes ago, I remain hopeful. I remain hopeful because of politicians like Karen Carter Peterson, who stand up for their values, even when it is challenging to do so. I remain hopeful because of guiding voices like Diana Bajoie, who break barriers and preach inspiration. I remain hopeful because of the amazing team at the College Democrats of Louisiana who make my job as President a joy. And I remain hopeful because of conversations like the ones we’re having tonight because together, we can write into history a new page, and forge a better path forward.
Text prepared by:
- Bruce R. Magee
Walther, Henry. “A Generation’s Demand.” True Blue Gala, 15 June 2019, New Orleans, LA. Address. © Henry Walther. Used by permission. All rights reserved.