Column: Reclaiming a generation’s activism

Uggs. The “O.C.” Starbucks. Reality television. AIM. Camera phones. The Internet. iPods. Are these going to be the defining the characteristics of our generation?

Moving along the assembly line of arbitrary titles handed out in society, “Generation Y” has yet to prove itself a presence worth remembering. The only thing large and in charge about this group of 20-somethings are the amount of songs saved on their iPods. Here we have an unfortunate mob scene for the over-materialized, overachieving and an underwhelming presence in national and world affairs. Unlike our parents burning their draft cards instead of going to fight in Vietnam, the majority of 18-to-29 year olds supported the war in Iraq. Instead of being sprayed by fire hoses in city streets for protesting abuses to freedom of equality, more and more states are authorizing legalizing discrimination with bans on same sex marriage. In a time period marked by surreal international distress and huge opportunities for global change, Generation Y has yet to impress itself upon the world’s tragic condition. Where colleges and youth once stood as bastion of all that was idealism and progress, the lack of student activism with today’s youth seems downright pathetic.

The question I am proposing today: what has happened to college liberalism and activism? Gone are the days of a few guitar chords and John Mellencamp lyrics, “You got to stand for something, or you’ll fall for anything,” ringing through the dormitory hallways. Here to stay are the bumper sticker support system; everything is okay as long as it’s in red, white and blue with a duct tape backing so it can stick to your binder or backpack. Unlike the once-congealed definition of college for the place to go and grow one’s hair out, add a few piercings, try some psychotropic brownies and organize protests over the latest import of sweatshop-made tennis shoes, college life is going through some serious retroaction.

From smaller afflictions like the over inflation of college tuition to the fact that millions of people are dying in the Sudan genocide without so much as a glance from the people or government of the United States, our generation has yet to shout loud enough to be heard by those who matter. Where are the jobless, free thinking, time to spare, no kids yet, twenty-somethings when we need them? A reality of institutional classism, blatant disregard of the bill of rights, the right to preemptive strikes and the understanding that if it’s out of site, it’s out of mind, are not things I want to say down the road, “Yeah, I let that happen.”

Now, of course, I am making some broad generalizations and I am in no way trying to preach from a pulpit of absolute understanding. However, the void remains, and here is one attempt to fill it. If you were one of the students arrested last year protesting the layoff of Aramark workers, if you were one of the Law School students poking signs into the sky telling the army to disarm its “Don’t ask, don’t tell policy,” if you were a student who went to campaign in the national elections, if are going to go march in the AIDS walk to the White House this Saturday, if you have even just read to this paragraph, then you are already above the status quo. Yet I don’t think that I’m alone in the sinking feeling I gather from my interactions with people of my age across the country to say that very few people actually care about anything beyond getting home on time for the latest episode of “Desperate Housewives.”

I do admit that completely writing off an entire generation is a bit cruel, to not only myself, but to the readers of this column. No one has time for every cause; no one has a chance to save every whale. However, as far as I can infer from growing up in the Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco, once upon a time there were people like you and I, with names like Tom and Katie, not Daisy and Skylar, who had the idealism and state of youth to defend the rights of those who couldn’t do it themselves.

This particular rant may seem to fold in it’s own hypocrisy, because after reading this and throwing the paper away in the non-existent recycling bins and moving on to your next class, the message is lost. There was no action. There are only words on a page. However, every fire needs a spark, so take a moment, take time to think: what do I really spend my time doing? Where can I actually make a difference? What letters can I write, calls can I make, protest can I organize to tell my congressmen, my university president, my church that I agree, disagree, want to spit on, put in a frame or change a particular policy that not only affects me, but affects others like me? No matter what your creed or ideology, the future is in our hands. Evaluate your contribution, instead of your resume. All you have to do is imagine.

-The writer, a sophomore majoring in journalism, is a Hatchet columnist.

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