As the streets of cities in England were ablaze, and groups of unemployed youths marched in the streets of Spain and Greece, I wondered where were the protests in the United States. If you responded that the situation in the US is better, then I respectfully differ, and there is no point in continuing a discussion. If you responded that the young in the United States still believe that their future will be better, then you will have to explain why this is so. In any event, as someone who marched in the streets in the 1960s, I am deeply puzzled by the apathy across the Atlantic.
It was certainly not always this way. Students of my generation rioted in the United States over the military draft, the Vietnam War, and civil rights. These were three specific issues that touched us. Most of my senior year in college from 1967 through 1968 was taken up with the pros and cons of military service. Actually, we protested against other issues as well, but it is slightly embarrassing to remember how agitated we were about visiting rights of women in our dormitories. More seriously, riots at Columbia University were set off by a confrontation over access to a new gymnasium for local residents of Harlem.
My point is that we were engaged, and that we felt that our actions could have an effect on policy. Oh my how we celebrated Lyndon Johnson's announcement that he would not run for re-election and that he was winding down the war in Southeast Asia! From the streets of Selma and Birmingham to Chicago and Miami, even to the village greens in small New England towns, we were present. We believed we could make a difference. We followed Mario Savio at Berkeley, we read the Port Huron statement of Students for a Democratic Society and listened to Tom Hayden tell us about the situation of poor workers in Detroit. Some even flirted with the Black Panthers. We read Angela Davis and Herbert Marcuse; we levitated the Pentagon.
The question is not where we are today. The question is where is the next generation. For all the buzz about social networking and its role in the Arab Spring, it has had little political impact in the United States. Yes students are worried about jobs, but what are they doing about the unemployment situation in general? Where is the solidarity with those losing their homes?
Someone once said that if you are not an idealist in your twenties, there is a serious problem. Students in the United States unite; you have nothing to lose but your headphones!
August 15, 2011