In a sign of hope, a mainstream media organization has acknowledged popular youth activism today as being a relevant, powerful tool that is changing the world. In an article from the Philadelphia Inquirer called “Ardent Elders, Unaware Youth,” Michael Socolow has called out the adultism inherent in today’s anti-war movement. Instead of summarizing his words, I’m going to paste a chunk of what he wrote. Let me know what you think.
For the elders, 1968 is the year activism came of age. From the takeover of Columbia University to the riots in Chicago, a new vitality energized American politics. Finally, the voice of their generation was being heard. If you lived through 1968 – and, demographically speaking, the majority of readers of this column will have memories of that pivotal year – then you will never forget it. But 1968 was 38 years ago. For today’s kids, that’s ancient history. Imagine going back in time and asking a 20-something in 1968 whether the events of 1930 were relevant to his or her situation. The response you would receive is obvious; yet, today we are as far away from 1968 as 1968 was from 1930. There is plenty of youth activism today, but you need to know where to look. Much takes place at the local level, where young people are involved in campaigns for everything from marriage equality to the legalization of marijuana. Nationally, Hurricane Katrina resulted in tens of thousands spending vacation time helping Louisiana to rebuild. Others march regularly to support a woman’s right to choose – and still others march to protect life. Some volunteer to serve in the military, enlisting for service they find less repugnant – and more admirable – than many of their elders. America’s youth are animated by life experiences that differ considerably from their elders. Their personal context is both more global and local. Threats to personal existence are no longer solely embodied by nation-states. Their personal vulnerability is impossible to ignore; with each airplane ride or news update, they are reminded of it. They watched nearly 3,000 die in direct attacks on New York City and Washington. They might not be able to identify Ho Chi Minh, but they know Osama bin Laden would kill them if given the opportunity. The older generation must remember that history has no default setting. There is no “normal” in the human or national experience. Each generation must make sense of the complex variables informing its singular context, and every older generation fails to appreciate the process. Today’s youth face challenges unimaginable to their parents, just as their parents lived in a world that made little sense to their parents. But somehow every generation figures it out. The kids will be all right.
That’s awesome, and I thank Professor Socolow for doing justice to youth activism today.