If there is anything I hate, it’s self-satisfaction of baby boomers who wistfully wonder why young people aren’t as noble and politically involved as they remember themselves being. The spectacle of a smug middle-aged influence peddler condemning young people for being insufficiently engaged in the very political process he and his generation have rendered largely irrelevant smacks of unparalleled arrogance. Thomas Friedman, today, criticizing America’s youth for a lack of courage:
Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy didn’t change the world by asking people to join their Facebook crusades or to download their platforms. Activism can only be uploaded, the old-fashioned way — by young voters speaking truth to power, face to face, in big numbers, on campuses or the Washington Mall. Virtual politics is just that — virtual…
Above the archway, carved into the stone, is the word "Courage." That is what real activism looks like. There is no substitute.
How about some courage from the people who shape policy in this country, the talking heads and journalists who drummed up support for war and blithely advocate an agenda that will enrich multinational corporations while doing profound damage to the economic prospects of future generations of American kids? What about courage from the media that has allowed itself to become co-opted by corporate interests? For someone like Friedman, who shapes the agenda of this nation’s discourse and squanders his opportunity with fickle war-mongering, to condemn young people is both misguided and deeply cynical.
Working with high school kids, I see incredible idealism every day. Idealism and outrage. They are angry about politicians disinterested in the environment, pundits who proclaim the need for wars, and parties that serve partisan rather than public interest. Is it any wonder that they, as Friedman notes and then dismisses, choose to act rather than speak, in a system that doesn’t hear their voices?
Young people don’t grow out of idealism because they mature or because they lack the courage to fight for change: they grow out of it because of the example set by an older generation that long ago gave up any semblance of sacrifice and the common good for a cynical, self-absorbed narcissism that allows them to believe that they do much more good than they ever have. From whom are the younger generation suppose to learn this activism? From their parents, who have willfully mortgaged their children’s future for their economic benefit? From political "leadership" that silences them, spending exorbitant sums on corporations and the voting elderly, while denying all children access to health care?
No. Our youth aren’t failing us. Sure, maybe posting a message about the Jena Six is just virtual activism, but it’s a damn sight less dangerous than the virtual leadership of Friedman and his generation.