It’s true. The left is a mess. In particular the young progressive, like myself. We have the beliefs but not the drive, not the push. Despite the importance of standing up we get lazy. There is little form to our efforts and the protests we do participate in get fractured into dozens of little ideas rather than strengthened on one.
With the presidental elections now less than a year away and the world in such a mess I wonder if change is going to come and I wonder if I can push myself to help make it happen. While playing racketball the other day ‘our generations’ apathy became a topic of conversation. Or maybe it’s not apathy because we feel strongly we just don’t act. Maybe it’s just our stagnation.
I’ve been thinking back, wondering when it happened, when I stopped thinking I could make a difference. The past eight years have been a slow form of torture with the government slowly beating us down, making us feel inadequate to fight. But I remember distinctly the let down and depression that came in 2004. The day is very clear in my mind. I went to vote, hung out with my mom. Everyone in line was voting for Kerry, you could tell. Everyone was out. Everyone was feeling the same thing as me (of course we are talking everyone in NW DC, not the rest of the country). Some friends came over, we watched John Stewart for a while and then went to the Black Cat (okay, not much has changed in the past 4 years). Everyone was excited, we knew in a few hours we would be dancing in the street. And every minute that went by we got quiet and quieter until it was useless to talk. People walked around the cat like shadows, glancing at the tv screens hoping that if they looked away and looked back it would say something different. But it didn’t and at that time I knew, and I think we all felt, that we did not matter.
A few months ago I read an article in Adbusters about the state of the current left and in particular my generation. The writer, Matt Taibbi, delivers more than a rant and is able to articulate some of the current frustrations. I highly recommend reading the full article but this really struck home with me:
But to me the biggest problem with American liberalism is that it hasn’t found a new legend for itself, one to replace the old one, which is more and more often no longer relevant. … But we often make the mistake of thinking that the “revolution” of the sixties is something that rightly should continue on to today.
While it’s true that we’re still fighting against unjust wars and that there’s unfinished business on the fronts of women’s rights, civil rights, and environmental preservation, there’s no generational battle left for America’s rich kids to fight. In the sixties, college kids had to fight for their right to refuse to become bankers, soldiers, plastics executives or whatever other types of dreary establishment lifestyles their parents were demanding for them. … It was a sort of Marxian perfect storm where even the children of the bourgeoisie could semi-realistically imagine themselves engaged in a class struggle.
But American college types don’t have to fight for shit anymore… Which is why they look ridiculous parading around at peace protests in the guise of hapless victims and subjects of the Amerikan neo-Reich. Rich liberals protesting the establishment is absurd because they are the establishment; they’re just too embarrassed to admit it.
When they start embracing their position of privilege and taking responsibility for the power they already have – striving to be the leaders of society they actually are, instead of playing at being aggrieved subjects – they’ll come across as wise and patriotic citizens, not like the terminally adolescent buffoons trapped in a corny sixties daydream they often seem to be now. They’ll stop bringing puppets to marches and, more importantly, they’ll start doing more than march.
The article, is just as bitter as I am but he does hit on a very interesting point. The 60s model of protest does not work any more. And I do agree that frequently when I go to marches it feels like we are all trying to bring back something of the past, a fight that isn’t working. And it is true, we are spoiled and we are comfortable so how can we fully give ourselves to the fight when we are pulling out our blackberry’s and iphones. If we have other tools maybe those are the ones we should be using.
And then there is the question, what are we fighting against? do we care? The world has gotten smaller and yet the war seems further away. It is possible to live your life and forget what is happening. It is easy to go days without paying attention. Even hearing on the news about a suicide bombing doesn’t pull at the heartstrings anymore. Would we feel differently if there were a draft? Possibly. If it were the upper middle class college educated kids being called to Iraq then we may feel affected. But the government knows that. So there is no draft, and instead incentives drive lower income kids to the war machine, joining the army seems to be the key to a better life. And as horrible as it is that doesn’t affect me. And so I don’t do anything. Shouldn’t we be providing other ways for people to have successful lives?
Which brings me to another problem with my generation, giving to charity. How often do you? I know that in Jewish tradition it is huge you are required to give a certain amount to tzedakah a year. I don’t. It’s not that I don’t give anything. And over the past couple of years I’ve added one giving to my list of places I give but I certainly don’t give enough and I certainly don’t make it the priority I should. Though I’ve never asked my friends, I’m guessing most of them are not big givers either. And I think there is an attitude of “I’m an artist,” “I’m liberal,””I believe in good causes” but I need my money so therefor I don’t have to give the same way someone who is a businessman or lawyer would give (tell me friends if I am wrong, I would love to be wrong).
In a Jewcy posting this week the writer admitted “I’ve made the mistake of mixing up my progressive lifestyle for true charity.” And I know the same is true for me. Reading her article I felt like she was pointing a finger at me. I am the same. She ends with a short quiz asking questions that I think would make a bunch of people I know (myself included) hang their heads in shame:
1.) Do you have bumper stickers or T shirts that advocate missions you haven’t actively contributed to in the last year?
2.) Do your organic purchases each week outnumber the quantity of organizations where you’ve volunteered?
3.) Have you traveled in a developing nation and then come home and bought items made in China?
4.) Is the amount of money you spend on alcohol each week more or less than the amount of money you spend of charitable causes?
5.) Do you belong to Working Assets? If so, how often do you actually make an additional donation when you pay your bill?
But it is not just my generation that doesn’t do their all. Though older generations may be giving in charity they still are like us when it comes to standing up for beliefs. In October Frank Rich wrote an op-ed piece on American’s lack of action in relation to our knowledge of torture advocated by the White House. He closes his article with a call to action:
Our humanity has been compromised by those who use Gestapo tactics in our war. The longer we stand idly by while they do so, the more we resemble those “good Germans” who professed ignorance of their own Gestapo. It’s up to us to wake up our somnambulant Congress to challenge administration policy every day. Let the war’s last supporters filibuster all night if they want to. There is nothing left to lose except whatever remains of our country’s good name.
And yet, how many of us will do anything? We will read it, we will acknowledge the problem but how many people will step up. I’m guessing I won’t. I’m not sure I really know how, or if it would make a difference. But here’s what I do: I help produce and create political theater. I know it’s not enough but at least it’s something. At least it gets people thinking, both the artists who have to challenge their own beliefs in their writing and the audience who hopefully will open their mind to questions. And what else? I will try to give more to charity this year. I will try to stand up for what I believe. And I will keep talking and writing about it and hopefully making you, my reader, think some more about what you can do as well.