Meanwhile: Where have all the protesters gone?

Sam Graham-Felsen International Herald Tribune


NEW YORK The greatest disappointment of my generation has been its failure to truly stand up to the Bush administration - and particularly, its refusal to actively oppose the war in Iraq.

We are the youth who are living through what will perhaps be remembered as the most scandal- plagued, secretive, privacy-invading, rights-infringing, incompetent administration in American history - and we have barely made a peep.

How is it possible, that during a time of unprecedented promise for youth mobilization that this generation has remained so silent, so acquiescent?

Many point to the lack of personal threat; there is, as of now, no draft to frighten us into action. Others suggest that the pressures of an unstable and uncertain economy have caused my generation to look inwards, focusing on creating a solid economic future for themselves rather than dilly-dally with Utopian visions.

All of these explanations have merit, but I want to offer an alternative hypothesis. The reason that youth aren't protesting about anything, let alone the war in Iraq, is because there is no longer a serious youth political culture in this country. And the reason for that is because this generation does not believe in its ability to alter, or even slightly disrupt, the status quo.

Community service and volunteering is at an all-time high, so young people do, in fact, care. But this generational shift from activism to volunteerism reflects our lack of faith in our ability to affect broad social change.

We were force-fed the ideology that there is no alternative to the existing model of neoliberalism and corporate- controlled globalization. If we tried to suggest that we could play a role in molding our own destinies, we were laughed at. What's best for business is what's best for the world, we were told, and if you disagree with the bosses, too bad, because no one's going to listen.

All you can do is face this cold reality, get a good job, and try to keep as warm as possible within the confines of your isolated, insulated home.

Idealism died in this country because the doctrine of "There Is No Alternative" killed it. We don't dream of utopia anymore. So it's no wonder that our parents, not us, are showing up to protest the war in Iraq. They believe in the power of social movements because they saw the civil rights movement and the anti-Vietnam War movement shape history before their very eyes.

I grew up with the belief that the only people who had real power were CEOs. When you grow up in an age of tax cuts for corporate bosses and slashed social programs, this is what happens.

But we are not asleep. We realize, plainly, that we're inheriting a profoundly precarious world. We know our economy is on the verge of collapse, that the climate crisis will soon leave our cities under water, that nuclear weapons will soon find themselves in the hands of willing detonators.

We know that the current course is unacceptable. We know that the future they want to hand us is far from what we want. And we are finally beginning to channel this anxiety into action.

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