By Lucas Lee
At the University of Victoria, a row of cargo vans pulls into the parking lot. They carry soil, plants, and young, local farmers. These farmers have a single goal – to convert a portion of campus grounds into an urban farm, capable of producing healthy, sustainable produce for students experiencing food insecurity. This ambitious project is the result of collective efforts from the staff of Meal Exchange, a charity with the goal of improving food security on Canadian campuses through empowerment of campus food banks, gardens, and volunteers. On this day, one of the staff members is Susanne Nyaga, the charity’s full-time campaigns, chapters and communications co-ordinator.
Nyaga is in her element. Before her job at Meal Exchange, she served as president of the Ryerson Students’ Union. Before that, she was a social worker, helping re-integrate black youth within the criminal justice system into society. She has also worked as a family support worker. Whatever the position, and where she has held it, Nyaga’s M.O. has stayed the same: to provide support to those that are underprivileged in the name of equality.
She’s not alone in her mission. Nyaga and her peers hold strong, politically charged opinions: that governments should be held accountable for what they perceive as systemically instituted barriers to equality. “Within our institutions, there are policies implemented to systematically oppress people based on their race and gender,” says Nyaga.
These views, widely considered left on the political spectrum, are becoming increasingly common among millennials. According to a study performed by the Canadian Provincial Election Project, young Canadians are much more likely to prefer higher spending on environmental concerns and social welfare. And Nyaga doesn’t see her positions changing as she gets older.
And she may very well be right. Ethan Fosse, an assistant professor at the University of Toronto who researches generational politics, says that millennials may well trend further left as they age.
“Millennials in Europe, Canada, and the U.S. tend to have financial burden in the form of student loans and credit card loans and the rates of mental illness are skyrocketing,” says Fosse. “Those two things combined make me think millennials are going to lean left even further.”
For Fosse and most other researchers of generation politics, one’s age is not as important as the social context in which the aging occurred. He says the idea that getting older leads to acquired wisdom, which correlates with right-leaning politics is overblown. “A lot of political outlook depends on your economic situation,” he says. “If your income is low, you’re going to want a redistributive economic system. If not, you want things to stay the way they are.”
This principle might help explain where the idea that aging leads to a right-leaning worldview comes from. According to a 2015 study by Abacus Data, the most conservative politically-active generation in Canada today is the baby boomer generation, which enjoyed economic prosperity. The economic growth in the post-war era allowed young people to move from a lower social and economic class to a higher one, explains Fosse. He says that this sort of trajectory is much less available to millennials and future generations, barring a drastic political change.
According to a study done by the Conference Board of Canada, the average income for a degree-holding millennial is around $16,000 less than the national income.
Paul Kershaw, a researcher at the University of British Columbia, says that the economic outlook of millennials is even bleaker. Kershaw says that millennials, more so than any other generation around today, have been hit by the steep rise in housing and rental prices. And with increased urbanization, jobs become more concentrated in densely populated urban areas, keeping young people stuck in cities where the costs of living increase year-to-year.
When the clock strikes five, Nyaga packs up her things and tidies up her desk. But her efforts to further equality and equity in her neighbourhood is not complete. Once home, she has more work to do. Today, she might make progress on Black in Post Secondary, an independent documentary she is helping produce. Tomorrow, she may complete some tasks on behalf of We the Students, another not-for-profit organization in which she is involved. And perhaps 20, 30, or even 50 years from now, she will be hard at work, pursuing the same goals with the same values.