After the record turnout in voting and the importance of young people’s support in popularizing and eventually electing Barack Obama, many people are praising our generation for its new brand of activism. Citing our generation’s affinity for topics ranging from social networking, to the influential young evangelical movement, to our record number of college applications, it seems that the world has a lot of hope for us. I, however, am not so confident.
Now, I don’t believe our generation is suffering from a shortage of ideas. I’m sure every student on campus has ideas about what he would like to change about the world, ranging from ending the violence in Darfur to tax reform. But when Gandhi suggested that people “be the change you want to see in the world,” he didn’t mean make a Facebook group about the change you want to see in the world. Or make a cute t-shirt. Or rant incessantly to your friends about this change.
While all of these tactics can raise awareness, our generation thinks it is enough to make a difference. When I compare clicking on a Facebook group to end the war in Iraq to the protests my father participated in to end the Vietnam War, it is almost laughable how small of an impact our efforts will have.
Our generation is the first in recent history that will be making less money than our parents. If we continue on this complacent path, we will be making less progress than they did as well.
Yes, our generation did help elect Barack Obama, and that’s a good start. But what will happen when the politician we think will accomplish what we want isn’t so historic, isn’t so trendy and isn’t so young? Will our generation still be as interested? I would like to hope so, but I am far from convinced.
Former Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill once said, “All politics are local,” and one of the most important and effective ways young people can get involved is through local politics. But while many people our age could tell you who of their distant acquaintances just broke up via their Facebook news feed and which celebrity is struggling with their weight via Perez Hilton, most of us — myself included — would probably have trouble naming all our local congressional representatives.
Many of the priorities of my peers are issues legislated at the local level, such as lowering the drinking age, changing abortion laws and increasing the quality of public schools. And while some of these issues have wide support in our community of young people, no politician will care unless we start to vote, and not just for Obama but also for our city council, our state delegates and our United States senators.
So the next time you are tempted to make a Facebook group in support of student loan reform, or make a puffy paint “save Darfur” t-shirt, or text your friend about how everyone in your class is a raging liberal/crazy conservative, instead write to your congressman about it, turn on the news or submit a letter to the editor of a newspaper instead.
Most importantly, vote in every election you can. Perhaps your efforts won’t get your goal accomplished every time. But as more of our generation start to get involved, politicians will take notice. Instead of pushing reforms in Medicare and social security, our local representatives will begin to ensure that the issues that affect students’ everyday lives find their way onto the desk of the new president we helped elect.