Monday, March 7, 2011

You Say You Want a Revolution...

Jason and I were flipping channels over the weekend and we came across Les Miserables in Concert on PBS. I was excited, because we're going to see it live in a couple of weeks so I got to see some behind the scenes stuff about the production. But, as I sat there watching, I was thinking about the actual story behind the musical. The story crafted by Victor Hugo to tell the tale of a student uprising against an oppressive government, which is sort of the story of every revolution that has ever happened in France. And then I started thinking, isn't that the story of almost every uprising? In the 60's, it was the students who started to rise up against the government in protest of Vietnam, and during the Woman's Lib movement, it was the young women who started the uprising against the forces that were holding them down. Later, when bras were being burned, it was the young women who started burning them. This seems to be a common historical theme, that when the world becomes unfair and oppressive, the young people begin to rise up and fight the system. This is even reflected in recent literature. It's in Harry Potter, where the adults have become complacent and the youth rise up to fight evil. It's in The Hunger Games, where Katniss Everdeen lives in a dark and oppressive society and takes it into her own hands to quietly rebel against those in power. Then there's the revolutions we see happening in Egypt, Libia, Tunisia, and Yemen, all working through a small core of students and young people who fought against what was wrong in their country and worked to change it.

This leads me to the question that arose while thinking about all of this: Where are those young people here in the US? Honestly. If you think about it, we hear a lot of complaining about how government is a mess, how taxes and cuts to education are unacceptable, but most of that comes from the over 25 crowd. I don't hear much from those who are between 16 and 25, the ones who are usually starting all of these revolutions throughout history, throughout literature, throughout our very current events. Why don't we have those kids? Why don't we see today's youth fired up and stirring to change the system? I think part of the reason is that, although the amount of world suck is increasing these days, I don't know that the current youth have really felt much oppression or had a lot of struggle. They came out of a mostly decent economic climate for most of their lives, and only recently have they seen any real struggle going on within their lives. When the economy took a dump and their parents lost their jobs, they should have started crying foul but the truth is, I don't think they even really understood why it all happened. They got rhetoric on the situation, not actual hard fact news. So, there was no move to change anything, at least not in the vein of the protests in Egypt.

Then, in the 2008 election we suddenly saw what the youth movement could do as they came out in droves to vote and elect President Obama into office. Suddenly the youth had something to get behind and someone to support, because he promised change, and in a shocking youth turnout they got what they wanted. And then they promptly forgot about that power they had been wielding during that election. They stopped voting, they stopped paying attention, and nothing really changed. No one held anyone to their promises. And why? Because they did their part, they voted like they were told to do in high school government classes. Shouldn't that have solved the problem? I guess we have failed by not informing them that voting sometimes isn't enough.

When I sit down and really think about it though, I think the biggest reason that we see this overwhelming apathy among the youth today is because they've been convinced that nothing they do will make any real difference. They live in a world where protest, even when peaceful, can get you arrested. They live in a world with so many problems that they seem insurmountable, and they are constantly told that small changes don't mean anything and if you can't tackle the huge problems then you won't make a difference anyway. No one feels like their voice is heard anymore, and they find the responsibility of tackling problems to be exhausting. And, the sad fact is, some of them may just not care at all. But I think that the problem is that no one feels like their thoughts matter, and I don't really find this to be a good excuse. When I look around at countries where rebellion could mean death, and those young people are rising up against a much more oppressive government, I can't help but think that maybe our youth is spoiled and soft, and incapable of sustaining enough passion to make it to the end of a sentence, let alone to the end of a revolution. It makes me sad, and it makes me wonder what we've done wrong to leave our youth so disengaged. Or, maybe it's that we've done something right. Maybe that's what the nation wants now, complacency. That may make me even more sad than the apathy I already see.

Despite all of this, I do have hope. There are small pockets of young people out there who want to make real change. They want more from the world than what it currently gives them. There are groups out there, like John and Hank Green's Nerdfighters who strive to "decrease world suck", and groups like the HP Alliance, a group of Harry Potter fans who are out there trying to make a difference in whatever ways they can. And in Wisconsin where there are daily protests at the capitol building, we see students showing up to protest and fight for their teachers. There's a 7 year old girl in Texas who brought a sock filled with loose change into her school because she heard her teachers might be laid off and she wanted to help give the school money so her teachers didn't have to go away. It's out there, the youth movement. Perhaps not speaking out with the roar that it has the power to use, but it's softly rumbling in the background, and I can only hope that it's growing and that it will some day become too loud to ignore and we will see those in power held responsible for providing the world that our youth was promised when our forefathers set their own revolution in motion. I just hope it's sooner rather than later.

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