Annu Subramanian: Where have all the founding fathers gone?

People say the Democrats have no spine. People say the United Nations has no backbone. People say my favorite baseball team, the San Diego Padres, is a jellyfish for trading away our good players before giving them a proper chance. Well, if that’s the case, then much of society in general has a bad case of Scoliosis.

I can’t help but marvel at the risks our founding fathers took in order to build what is arguably the greatest country in the world. George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin and all of the men and women who blindly, but boldly and bravely, began our country’s construction essentially conducted a major experiment that could have blown up in their faces. But the magnitude of their successes was defined by the audacity of the risks they took. Their gains were much greater because they committed to bold actions.

I remember my U.S. history teacher used to lament, “People today just aren’t as capable as our founding fathers,” and I could not disagree more. Thanks to increased access to information, growth of attendees at universities, rise of think tanks and a slow-but-sure sewing up of the digital divide, people today are more knowledgeable than ever. No issue is unsolvable, and yet it seems progress and crisis resolution continue to baffle us. We are the inhibiting factor in this equation – it is because of the restrictions we place on our colleagues and ourselves that international and even local conflicts remain unanswered.

Think back to our founding fathers again. When they ran into an issue, they found compromise, committed to it and initiated change. We must seek that drive for action once again.

Technology has helped to create one of the greatest paradoxes of our generation, as it has increased both success and stasis. We’ve constructed a culture in which we can stand for issues without having to stand up at all. Clicking a link on Facebook is seen as a form of social activism. No more chaining ourselves to trees or camping outside Congress. Activism 2.0 isn’t much of a strain on anything but our fingers, pounding out our causes on Twitter and updating our political blogs. This lack of real action is definitely going to atrophy our backbone. We have got to realize that while social media like Facebook and Twitter allow for increased awareness, they also render people passive bystanders to the events that affect them.

An example of virtual activism is The online philanthropy venture donates 1.1 cups of food to the hungry every time someone clicks on the home page. I think this a noble cause, and have visited it daily for almost seven years. But what happened to feeding the hungry ourselves? Where was the physical change that I was able to enact? Habits like these are not gratifying, nor should they be the extent of our daily charity. Issues, even when they exist far from our homes, require tangible responses in order to have efficacy. Just imagine if those men and women who built our nation simply spread messages and discussed their opinions in Twitter’s 140 characters. Our nation would have seen much less progress (and our constitution would be a whole lot shorter). Technology, if used as a supplement to activism, can be hugely beneficial. But we must step away from this “click to care” mindset and be active participants in the world we envision.

I don’t want our generation to be characterized by big talk and small change, but that seems to be the direction in which it is headed. This can be reversed. When you have an idea, capitalize on it – don’t just make it your Facebook status. Face your opponents in stride, be gutsy and take the leap. The result could be catastrophic. But, chances are, with the bright minds of the students we have here, the result may end up as successful as our founding fathers’ work forming our nation. If nothing else, you’ll end up with a spine that’s just a little bit stronger – no gym trip necessary.

The writer is a freshman majoring in journalism.

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