I was reading the New York Times today when I came across Tomas Friedman’s article ‘Generation Q‘.
He writes: “I just spent the past week visiting several colleges… I am impressed because they [students] are so much more optimistic and idealistic than they should be. I am baffled because they are so much less radical and politically engaged than they need to be.”
Friedman calls this generation of college students “Generation Q- the Quiet Americans, in the best sense of that term, quietly pursuing their idealism, at home and abroad.”
He continues: “America needs a jolt of the idealism, activism and outrage (it must be in there) of Generation Q. That’s what twentysomethings are for – to light a fire under the country. But they can’t email it in, and an online petition or a mouse click for carbon neutrality won’t cut it. They have to get organized in a way that will force politicians to pay attention rather than just patronize them.”
“Activism can only be uploaded the old fashion way – by young voters speaking truth to power, face to face, in big numbers, on campuses or the Washington Mall.”
The article incited many conflicting emotions within me. If you follow the Princeton Review, I apparently attend one of the top five most politically active colleges in the United States. So are “we” the exception? Should my college be the model for the rest of the US? No, not really. We certainly attend many protests in our state and abroad, but this is hardly what Friedman is calling for. It’s going to take more than 10 students in front of a Wal-Mart or on the corner of the street with ‘Impeach Bush’ signs to make a difference. Thousands of students meet at protests around the US every year, to what end?
Oh, and “young voters”? Give me a break. What happened to the last kid who confronted a US politician about the bungling of election results?
If our generation is to be the fire lit under this country, then it’s to make people aware of the road this nation is heading down. We need to be seen and heard, and this is where the older generations have failed us miserably. How can we start a fire in a media vacuum? In a country where the government has engineered the most powerful techniques to silence us. Sure we can “protest” as long as we stay in our “free speech zones“. We can be fined and arrested for loitering in malls, and we should be protesting there? Sounds like fun, but when the previous generation organized they faced this. Today, if we organize in mass we face this and this. Rubber bullets being shot at us, getting lodged in our skin, with broken arms and bloody faces. Our message mangled and distorted in the news as we are all dubbed anarchists. And still many of us continue to protest.
Tomas Friedman, we are active and we certainly are outraged but we face a government that has learned from previous generations. In the 60s college students met face to face with the state and learned it was even stronger than they imagined. The government won’t allow such a threat to arise again.
I may come off sounding hard, but I sympathize with Friedman’s message. He is certainly right about one thing: “Virtual politics is just that – virtual.” Many of us have mistaken the tool which enables us to organize for the act of organizing itself. In other words, it’s pointless to form groups on social networks such a facebook for political ends unless students actually mobilize, all at once, and are heard.
There may be another explanation for “Generation Q”, one that Friedman unsurprisingly looked over. As the old saying goes “beware of the quite ones”. Perhaps some of us have learned that protests are inefficient. Perhaps we have experienced the power of the media, of culture, of corporations, and of politics. And perhaps a few of the really smart students are sitting in their library carrels studying hard and hoping to one day make obscenely dirty and wild love with their shadow. If you can’t beat ’em, become ’em.
And please do not miss the irony of my post because – “In the blogosphere, no one can hear you shout.”