Since I graduated and have started interacting with people older than me, I've been really obsessed with what it means to be a party of "my" generation, which I guess is "The Millenials" or "Generation Y" a generation, that as my friend Tony once said, our biggest accomplishment "is popularizing, though not creating, the internet smiley face :)" I feel that I fit a lot of the descriptions I've read--my parents are very involved in my life, sometimes more as "friends" then parents; I am always online, especially facebook; I want a job that is emotionally fulfilling; I'm more likely to talk about changing the world then do anything to actually change it.
So considering all this, I'm surprised that until I read Tina's comments and this article "Generation Overwhelmed"
) in response to Thomas Friedman's column "Generation Q" I didn't connect my disdain for protests as a part of my generation. I think I didn't make the connection because many of the people I see protesting are older, so I think in some ways the state of protests right now is a comment on the state of the world right now, and not just of people my age. But given the role models set for us people my age are supposed to be leading the protests, so I guess it's all circular? And me, as a liberal college educated person, should be part of that, right? But I'm not reallly.
Ok, to summarize (but do read both yourself): Friedman wrote what I thought was a kind of condescending column based on his experiences with his daughter Orly (who's my age, and it seems everyone I ever met from Maryland was bff with her at some point in their childhood) and his other daughter and some ROTC kids he met on college campuses that were state schools who consistute his random sample.
Apparently our generation is "too quiet" and "too online" for the huge problems we'll need to conquer—terrorism, global warming, the huge debt Bush is leaving us, etc, etc. Then this American Progress writer said we are just overwhelmed by so many choices of what to get involved in, so we talk about the world but we don't really know what to do, so we just go on facebook and have dance parties.
I agree and disagree with both of them. I agree with Progress girl that the protests for the Iraq war left me jaded that we can't really do anything. And I felt the same at March for Women's Lives when I went to D.C. freshman year and was so excited and uplifted until I realized the hundreds of thousands of people marching did NOTHING to stop Bush from staying president as all the speakers promised it would (though I'm sure it didn't help that Kerry didn't bother to show up at the rally and instead sent his liberal daughter as a surrogate). And some point that year me and my roommates, in a burst of 3am genius, decided to launch "Generation Why the Fuck" which was going to be a revolution, but in the end it was just a sign we put on the outside of our dorm room that eventually fell down.
But I don't think it's just that there are so many things going wrong that we're overwhelmed by what to pick. I'm sure there's ALWAYS so much going wrong. It's just that none of the things going wrong are immediately impacting my life right now. It's as David Brooks just said in a column I would link to if I wasn't so lazy: Most Americans are deeply upset with the state of the country but are satisfied with their own lives. And I definitely think that applies to me.
But the false nostalgia everyone has of the hippie days of the late 60s, when the young white elites (of which I consider myself a part right now) were politically active, from everything I've read and heard, the political WAS the personal. I'm not worried about my brother and my friends being drafted, so I'm morally opposed to the war in abstract, but not enough to do anything drastic. I cried when we bombed Afghanistan the first time, but now I barely read the articles about Iraq because I don't want to deal with it. And even the civil rights fight, where the white elites didn't HAVE to do anything, and most didn't, I think it was still much closer to home and was really a part of the fabric of America, though that's just a guess.
Same with the ACT UP protests of the 80s. Those "gay white men" and friends everyone talks about who had those amazing protests were fighting for their lives. Literally. I have to imagine if half of my friends were dying of AIDS and the government wasn't doing anything to help, I would hope I would do something, but again, I don't know. Now, I have lots of friends with HIV/AIDS...but only because of my job, not because lots of people in my normal circle of upper-middle class college grads are getting infected in droves But even my friends and colleagues with HIV are thankfully not wasting away. While many people in the U.S. are of course still dying of AIDS, if they have money and catch it early enough, HIV and AIDS is manageable, so the fight is for the minor details. And of course things are different in Africa and other parts of the world, and I don't think I was there long enough or exposed to enough people to TRULY feel engaged. But like both columns said, our generation is going abroad to feel connected to the world. Still it's different volunteering or observing than being.
Considering how many people my age I know without health insurance, you'd think that that would be a fight that people would lay their lives on the line for, but I guess it's not enough?
And I know global warming is going to suck for my hypothetical kids or grandkids, but right now I'm ambivilently enjoying the weather and recycling when I remember. And blogging about it. God, I'm a cliche.