Michigan Daily columnist Jeremy Levy makes it clear in a recent column (Don’t compare 2011 to 1960, 02/24/2011) that our generation should not attempt to recreate the activism of 1960’s because our problems today are so drastically different. For this reason, Levy believes that criticism of student apathy is unwarranted and irrelevant. The problem is, there are still detrimental problems within every facet of our society. So where does this apathy come from? How is it measured? The choice by the majority of our generation not to vote is hardly a qualifying factor indicative of our generation’s political apathy. Let us not forget that 2008 yielded the highest youth voter turnout since 1972. Around two years ago, it appeared as though our “generation” (give or take a few years) was more motivated than ever. And all for something as simple as “change,” the harmonic buzzword loaded with utopian undertones. Our voters turn their backs on any political responsibility as soon as they leave the voting booth. The fact that the 2010 midterm elections yielded a significantly lower number of voters under age 30 than the presidential election underscores our youth’s lazy assertion of political influence. It’s disheartening to see so many youth get up in arms for “change,” while many only cared enough to try and change the face of the man behind the curtain.
Activism is not solely a means of political expression or a symbol of bandwagon politics. Activism is a crucial tool ingrained in our political system and is as American as our right not to vote. The Boston Tea Party, John Brown’s rebellion, the March on Washington and the Million Man March are just a few examples of red, white and blue-blooded activism varying in extremity. Though it may seem unjust to compare today’s political happenings with the American Revolution and the Civil Rights Movement, America is not perfect, and we are in dire need of improvement. What would any movement matter if neither the standard of living nor quality of life were improved and maintained afterward? We cannot just give blacks the same rights as whites and expect our issues of racism to diminish just as we cannot expect our deficit and war issues to go away because we voted in a Democrat two and a half years ago.
Furthermore, Levy claims that our political climate is more stable than that of the 60s and thus does not necessitate extreme activism. This is the mentality that breeds apathy and inhibits understanding. Nobody should sit idly by until some egregious event calls for immediate action. Levy feels that the activism is glorified and over simplified, and we should therefore not hold ourselves to those standards. Though I agree our generation’s lack of concern and greater lack of action is undeserving of the critical comparison it draws, I don’t think anybody ever thought it would be easy to make even the slightest amount of change, and nobody today should expect any different. The youth of the decade long gone shouldn’t be our only role models though. We see young people out and about in Egypt and Wisconsin alike because they feel they are being wronged. If we shouldn’t compare our student activism to that of the 60s, let’s compare our generational counterparts across the globe. People who bemoan the 60s don’t understand that those activists paved the way for LGBT, HIV/AIDS, feminist and NAACP activists of the 80s and 90s, just to name a few. Student apathy is not bemoaned because it doesn’t live up to the 60s; it is lamented because it doesn’t live up to its potential.
Levy also maintains that rallies like those seen in Wisconsin “take place when most people involved have something to lose.” Aside from stating the obvious, Levy is discrediting those unaffected, yet sympathetic to the cause. Let’s not forget or downplay the role the white-middle class youth played in the activism of the 60s. People saw injustice all around them, and that motivated them to protest, lobby, march and educate others through art, music, literature and community. Many of this day and age’s disaffected youth are satisfied with linking an article with some pictures to their status. Others do take the time to stage protests, lobby and arrange educational events, and then send out mass invites to everybody within reach. Still, you’d be hard pressed to wander into a University auditorium that has reached full capacity. Although plenty are motivated, most are apathetic, and that’s the problem. So check your invites, and don’t just click ‘attending.’ Attend. Learn where you stand and what surrounds you. Sometimes it even means a free meal.
Nicholas Zettell is an LSA sophomore.