On the internet, the lingua franca of millennials and Gen Z is brevity. Enclosed by lean timeframes or stubborn character limits, young people have distilled a kind of superhuman power: the ability to make and do more with less.
Several of the most transformative apparatuses of this era tend toward concision. TikTok videos max out at 60 seconds. Tweets are capped at 280 characters (up from the original 140). The entire crux of Vine, which shut down in 2017, hinged on quantitative thrift: Creators had to mastermind spurts of elliptical, comedic genius in six seconds. On each of these platforms, of which teens and young adults make up the core consumer, users bewitch and ensnare, able to create short-form content of the most compelling sort, all within a tight criterion. The lesson being: It does not matter how much time one has, what counts is how uniquely it is choreographed.
That is just another way of saying young people have learned to make the most of what they were apportioned. Since being elected to Congress in 2018, US representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-New York)—who counts herself among this very mutable generation—has worked with the same mindset. On Tuesday, during night two of the first all-virtual Democratic National Convention, Ocasio-Cortez was given just 90 seconds to address the nation. There were people who felt that wasn’t enough time, that her slot in the lineup was an outright snub, if not a total corralling of the party’s destiny. “The failure of a major political party to showcase one of its most talented politicians, a young person whose communicative reach and facility positions her to be among its leaders deep into our future,” Rebecca Traister wrote at The Cut, “is self-sabotage.”
In a way, it was. Establishment Democrats only know how to feed the establishment, despite calls for systemic reform. A progressive like AOC doesn’t, in their eyes, really have a place in the same arena, even as Americans who have been failed by the state so desperately need people like her advocating on their behalf. That has not deterred her one bit; alongside Ilhan Omar (D-Minnesota) and Stacey Abrams, she is trying to rebuild government from the inside.
Last night, backdropped by symmetrical American flags, Ocasio-Cortez addressed “a mass people’s movement working to establish 21st-century social, economic, and human rights.” Absent the singular flair that typically animates her speeches on the House floor, she spoke of wanting to build “reimagined systems”—around racial justice, gender equity, immigration, and foreign policy—that would take America in a new direction.
The polished compactness of her speech is as good a metaphor as any for the kind of generational politics that divide the Democratic party; where many of this week’s speakers will be allotted well past five minutes—yapping about why the country needs to get back to the way things used to be, blind to the fact those ways got America in this mess in the first place—Ocasio-Cortez’s capsule soliloquy was a nimble performance in how to get things done, an education in synoptic skill and vigor. (For now, former first lady Michelle Obama remains the exception; her 18-minute Monday keynote was a master class in grace and realness.)