There’s a common theme in discussions about political movements these days. Whether the talking heads on the radio are discussing the war, global warming, or urban poverty and race relations, there’s one observation that always comes to the surface: Young people are not angry. “We can’t achieve our goals, you see,” say the baby boomers, “because unlike how we responded to the challenges of our day, you remain apathetic.”
As a politically engaged “young person” I find this a difficult message to stomach. Don’t get me wrong. I can’t dispute the voting statistics, and it’s a great shame that such a small percentage of people under 30 vote. But is our level of involvement really so surprising? Were the 60s and 70s really such an eden of political activity? Did the anger really lead to a lasting revolution? I’m not trying to downplay the achievements of the last 30 years—lord knows I wouldn’t want to live in any earlier time—but can you blame the grandchildren of the 60s for their cynicism?
Here’s one way to read the lesson: when the baby boomers had a chance to nominate presidents from their generation we got Clinton and W. Baby boomers in power have spent their time dismantling the liberal institutions set up by their parents and grandparents in favor of lower taxes, and the drug policy they’ve implemented has been a grand combination of “just say no” and just lock them up. The lesson that we’ve learned about what anger in the streets achieves in terms of real policy change is a disappointing one.
So before blaming the problems we are inheriting on our own lack of political involvement, please take a moment to recognize that these problems don’t get solved because they’re hard and because they take more than a few slogans shouted in the streets. And also remember that the best way to get “youth” involved probably isn’t to repeat over and over “these kids today…” After a while it starts to sound like “We ran out of steam… You fix it.”