From activism to apathy in three easy generations

Saturday my wife and I drove through a large part of Florida listening to Janis Joplin, The Beatles and some of their contemporaries on our way to St. Augustine. Since then, I have been wondering why the music of these artists has found an audience in today’s youth, but the political overtones saturating the music have not.

A professor of mine lamented in class last week that students today do not use all the techniques at their disposal to make their voice heard. Speaking about technology in general, he mentioned that students today have more ways of getting organized than those in the 1960s ever had. Cell phones, laptops and the Internet, he reasoned, make it much easier to organize. I am writing this in a hotel room using all of the above.

The problem is that while that statement is absolutely right, the twenty-somethings of today don’t really seem to care all that much.

But is my age bracket really to blame? Or do we just feel overwhelmed, outnumbered and, most of all, disillusioned?

One reason why the movement in the ’60 was so strong was because young people the world over felt constricted by the rules and guidelines established and enforced by the previous generations. The remarkable thing was that this seemed to be the case across the globe. It didn’t really matter where one lived, be it the United States, Spain, France, Great Britain or Western Germany. Even in the Eastern Bloc, particularly Czechoslovakia and Poland, movements that questioned the status quo were springing up.

I’ve always wondered what it would have been like to watch such events unfold as they are happening. I thought I was seeing it when U.S. citizens took to the streets by the thousands, joined by millions worldwide, to protest the war in Iraq. And while those movements came close, they never really seemed to take off to the extent of those in the ’60s.

One explanation for such lack of initiative is that most of the individuals that were against “selling out” later did. In many ways it was their actions — not those of the previous generations they so heavily criticized — that bequeathed us the corporate landscape in which we now live.

Surf culture was seen as a sign of rebellion when it started. Now officially branded “surf” shirts can be purchased in every mall. Charmingly designed, comfortable coffeehouses were meeting places when they started out. Now USF alone has three Starbucks, all of which look nearly identical. The area surrounding campus has at least two more, both similarly cookie-cutter in design and service.

My point is that while we have more potential to change things than ever before, meeting at your local Starbucks to organize rallies protesting the excesses of capitalism seems a bit counterproductive.

Customers of these corporate giants defend them because they feel it is partially to their credit that our standard of living has risen. While it’s not a perfect world, most individuals feel they have everything they need and are content with what they have or cling to the prospect of “making it” some day.

One could say a reason why less female students are seen burning their bras on campus these days is that bras are more comfortable (I am told, anyway) than they used to be. And who would burn a designer bra, right? But that doesn’t change the fact that women are still lagging behind men in the rights department.

I asked Gloria Steinem, feminist extraordinaire, about civil rights at an event at the Sun Dome last year. She said the Bush administration “is so hostile to women’s rights that when his administration goes to United Nations conferences the only allies he has are the Vatican and Muslim fundamentalists. That’s it.” Harsh, but true. But where is the outrage?

Naturally I asked how we could improve conditions, to which she replied, “You go around and speak to as many people as you can and try to get the information out.”

But while people my age are astutely managing every minute of their time on PDAs, calling their friends on cell phones and posting the excruciating minutiae of their everyday lives on their blogs, activism seems to be taking a backseat.

Who knows, maybe I’ll be proven wrong soon. I certainly wouldn’t mind.

Sebastian Meyer is a seniormajoring in geography andis the Oracle Opinion