Elections in Iran have dominated the news over the past week. For many analysts, the sight of impassioned youths sporting Mousavi bandannas, shirts and other colorful pro-reformist paraphernalia is a key indicator of the growing role of Iran’s student populace in local politics. The images from Iran reminded me of last year’s celebrations, when Ann Arbor exploded with joy as the first news of President Barack Obama’s election drifted in.

Election fever defined 2008 and the better part of 2007 and demonstrated the growing influence of students in politics. And the influence was apparent around the world. In November of 2007, Pakistani students rioted against the imposition of emergency rule and protested the sacking of the chief justice by then-president Pervez Musharraf, capturing global attention. But with Musharraf’s forced resignation, activism more or less petered out.

The Pakistani example should serve as a warning to student movements around the world. Activism is necessary and needs to be sustained, not abandoned at the first victorious achievement. At the very least, an enduring atmosphere of concern will break apathy and enable the youth to make informed choices regarding not only their own future, but their country’s future.

Predictably, youth and student movements are met with skepticism. In Ann Arbor, I was fascinated by recurring invitations to rallies, news of protests, videos of marches and political newsletters. So upon my return to Pakistan last summer, I sought to cover the student movement at a local university for a magazine. For those involved, defying the charges and general perception that the protests at Pakistan’s leading urban universities were elitist and out of touch with the harsh realities of life in the third world was a major hurdle. Similarly, Obama supporters in Ann Arbor were accused of blindly jumping on the bandwagon.

The interest of advantaged college kids does matter. As one student argued, it was impressive that Pakistani students — otherwise content to remain in their bubble — were willing to rebel against the very system that, despite its dictatorial nature, had provided them a freer atmosphere than previous democratic regimes. It’s easy to vilify student movements for being impassioned, disunited or even elitist. But, like it or not, students ushering in a new generation of activism are most likely — at least in the short-term — to bring about change where needed. In Iran, for example, 70 percent of the population is under 30. Without political awareness and will, reform would remain a pipe dream for a rising generation. And a strong platform for student activism is a base from which to judge politicians and, where necessary, demand reform.

The student movements can learn from each other. The students’ charge for change in Obama’s election campaign showed that youth, given a collective purpose and organization, can make a difference. For American students, the determination of protestors in Pakistan and Iran — evident in their demonstrations and trenchant slogans (“Go, Musharraf, Go!”) — was a reminder that concerted effort can make a difference even in the face of strong opposition and political might.

It isn’t a coincidence that students across the board are suddenly clamoring to raise their voice in the belief that they can change their lot. Activism in one part of the world reverberates to other countries, providing both hope and a precedent to other students. Obama’s grassroots youth campaign, given America’s prominence on the world stage, has undoubtedly provided hope to many students who now believe they can replicate its success. And even though the Iranian students’ push for the Reformists has thus far failed to oust Ahmedinejad, their mobilization may well inspire hopeful students in other unsatisfied countries.

Any achievement, however, will prove redundant if movements aren’t sustained. The largely abandoned student movements in Pakistan are just one example. Content with stardom on YouTube and coverage on CNN after Musharraf’s resignation, student activists returned to obscurity. Pakistani students’ voices are now conspicuously absent from the tumultuous political sphere. Obama-mania, too, has softened despite Detroit’s continued plunge and the fact that the persistent economic crisis refuses to share in the post-election euphoria and subside.

It seems that student organizations such as the College Democrats here at the University showed that high-charged rallies, while infectious and inspiring, aren’t sufficient to produce long-term change.

It’s evident that there’s a lot at stake for students as far as local politics are concerned. It’s equally evident that concerted action can provide the basis for change and recognition for the youth as a substantial political constituent. But activism needs to be sustained even after prominent issues fade to overcome apathy.

Emad Ansari can be reached at heansari@umich.edu.

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