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Generation Q

Page history last edited by Kelly Behrend 12 years, 7 months ago

Below is the article mentioned at the Summit on Political Engagement. Although others may have already shared their views, read this article for yourself and let's begin thinking about our response. Post yours in the comment box.

 


October 10, 2007

Op-Ed Columnist

Generation Q

By Thomas L. Friedman


 

I just spent the past week visiting several colleges — Auburn, the University of Mississippi, Lake Forest and Williams — and I can report that the more I am around this generation of college students, the more I am both baffled and impressed.

 

I am impressed because they are so much more optimistic and idealistic than they should be. I am baffled because they are so much less radical and politically engaged than they need to be.

 

One of the things I feared most after 9/11 — that my daughters would not be able to travel the world with the same carefree attitude my wife and I did at their age — has not come to pass.

 

Whether it was at Ole Miss or Williams or my alma mater, Brandeis, college students today are not only going abroad to study in record numbers, but they are also going abroad to build homes for the poor in El Salvador in record numbers or volunteering at AIDS clinics in record numbers. Not only has terrorism not deterred them from traveling, they are rolling up their sleeves and diving in deeper than ever.

 

The Iraq war may be a mess, but I noticed at Auburn and Ole Miss more than a few young men and women proudly wearing their R.O.T.C. uniforms. Many of those not going abroad have channeled their national service impulses into increasingly popular programs at home like “Teach for America,” which has become to this generation what the Peace Corps was to mine.

 

It’s for all these reasons that I’ve been calling them “Generation Q” — the Quiet Americans, in the best sense of that term, quietly pursuing their idealism, at home and abroad.

 

But Generation Q may be too quiet, too online, for its own good, and for the country’s own good. When I think of the huge budget deficit, Social Security deficit and ecological deficit that our generation is leaving this generation, if they are not spitting mad, well, then they’re just not paying attention. And we’ll just keep piling it on them.

 

There is a good chance that members of Generation Q will spend their entire adult lives digging out from the deficits that we — the “Greediest Generation,” epitomized by George W. Bush — are leaving them.

 

When I was visiting my daughter at her college, she asked me about a terrifying story that ran in this newspaper on Oct. 2, reporting that the Arctic ice cap was melting “to an extent unparalleled in a century or more” — and that the entire Arctic system appears to be “heading toward a new, more watery state” likely triggered by “human-caused global warming.”

 

“What happened to that Arctic story, Dad?” my daughter asked me. How could the news media just report one day that the Arctic ice was melting far faster than any models predicted “and then the story just disappeared?” Why weren’t any of the candidates talking about it? Didn’t they understand: this has become the big issue on campuses?

 

No, they don’t seem to understand. They seem to be too busy raising money or buying votes with subsidies for ethanol farmers in Iowa. The candidates could actually use a good kick in the pants on this point. But where is it going to come from?

 

Generation Q would be doing itself a favor, and America a favor, if it demanded from every candidate who comes on campus answers to three questions: What is your plan for mitigating climate change? What is your plan for reforming Social Security? What is your plan for dealing with the deficit — so we all won’t be working for China in 20 years?

 

America needs a jolt of the idealism, activism and outrage (it must be in there) of Generation Q. That’s what twentysomethings are for — to light a fire under the country. But they can’t e-mail it in, and an online petition or a mouse click for carbon neutrality won’t cut it. They have to get organized in a way that will force politicians to pay attention rather than just patronize them.

 

Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy didn’t change the world by asking people to join their Facebook crusades or to download their platforms. Activism can only be uploaded, the old-fashioned way — by young voters speaking truth to power, face to face, in big numbers, on campuses or the Washington Mall. Virtual politics is just that — virtual.

 

Maybe that’s why what impressed me most on my brief college swing was actually a statue — the life-size statue of James Meredith at the University of Mississippi. Meredith was the first African-American to be admitted to Ole Miss in 1962. The Meredith bronze is posed as if he is striding toward a tall limestone archway, re-enacting his fateful step onto the then-segregated campus — defying a violent, angry mob and protected by the National Guard.

 

Above the archway, carved into the stone, is the word “Courage.” That is what real activism looks like. There is no substitute.


 

Comments (25)
 
 

Jack said

at 6:00 pm on Jun 8, 2008

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I think that Freidman needs to do some research before he writes. One can't assume that nothing is happening with our generation because they visit three colleges. Get serious, there's something like 4000 learning institutions in the U.S. (according to a database form the government) and without taking a broad look at them then there's no possible way to have a qualified opinion, especially to write about it. We definitely need to show this 'columnist', if you can call someone who doesn't check facts that, that our generation is probably the most progressive to date, we're just not stupid about it.

Kelly Behrend said

at 10:42 am on Jun 9, 2008

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I definitely agree with your critique, Jack. Friedman's mentioning of only a short list of schools (none of which are Bonner schools) might not give the best representation of our generation. This generalization is infuriating to those of us who do service and feel politically or socially engaged. Of course we don't think it's true. But what if, on a general scale, it IS true? Regardless, there's no way to measure this stuff. Generalizations have never been reliable, so it may be good to keep in mind that we should definitely stray away from broad statements (positive, negative, or otherwise) in our response.

Kelly Behrend said

at 10:44 am on Jun 9, 2008

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Are there any thoughts on how this should be framed? A direct response to Friedman's article? A separate Op-Ed piece? Let's consider the pros and cons of each...

Also, should we be thinking about sending in other articles to other news mediums? Maybe we could do some work looking for other articles like this one--about our generation, and send out some responses. Please post those sorts of articles if you find them.

Jack said

at 2:53 pm on Jun 9, 2008

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I like the idea you have to send to other mediums for sure. We definitely shouldn't write this right back to Freidman because the fact it's taken this time to respond will probably give him some kind of high to believe we really are apathetic. It's very possible we are a Generation Q, but i think with things like the conferences we have it shows true empowerment and give you hope in that whole 'one person changes the world' realm when you know you're not the only one...it may be beneficial to mention that.

Zach Shaheen said

at 2:57 pm on Jun 9, 2008

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Thanks for the invite to this forum. Great comments Kelly and Jack, I definitely agree with you.

Before I take sides, I feel like I should try and highlight what I felt Friedman's intentions were in this article. He clearly drew a distinction between community and volunteer engagement and the political engagement that youth need to do. He actually says that our generation has been particularly active with our service (citing the Teach for America, study abroad service trips, etc.). His argument doesn't center on the service and volunteer learning experiences, but instead politically: "I am baffled because they are so much less radical and POLITICALLY engaged than they need to be."

Zach Shaheen said

at 2:57 pm on Jun 9, 2008

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Now, my personal opinion: I definitely disagree, as Jack points out, how small of a sample size Friedman uses. As a science major I like tangible and concrete data, not subjective statements and interpretations. I also agree with Kelly in that I was really ticked off at first to hear Friedman's comments, since I have worked so hard both politically and socially. 

However, I actually do agree with Friedman's analysis of our generation's political activism. I do not mean to imply that Bonner students, or the very active students at my college, are not politically active enough (because we definitely are! I am inspired by my peers back home and by all the Bonner students and their great political and social work). I just agree with Friedman that there are not enough of these students in the U.S. yet (I realize I am also being subjective in saying that). Using data that CIRCLE has generated shows less political activism amongst young citizens. This data also shows that activism has been increasing the last couple years, but I believe that our country is encountering so many important and critical issues right now that we need a vast majority of our generation to be passionate and willing to engage politically. 

In retrospect, I think that Friedman was intentionally trying to 'fan the flames' for us. He wanted students to read his article, have them get ticked off, and have them respond through their own civic activism. I don't think the article was directed at us necessarly, since we already work so hard politically, but I think it is specifically directed towards the youth that have intentionally stayed away from politics. 

I'm going to cut my response off there since I just realized how much I typed! Hope this makes sense to you.

Adetokunbo said

at 4:56 pm on Jun 9, 2008

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Well said Zach I am in agreement. It appears as though Freidman´s piece was not so much of a frontal attack as he critiques his own generation while making positive references to our generation´s invovlment in programs such as teach for America and Peace Core. 

After having read this article I am not as bothered as I was before when I heard it out of context. For me, I take his words as a challenge. A challenge for this generation to become more invovled Politically. It would be very useful for me to have some sort of data to see if students are not as politically invovled or not (send me a link if you know of any). As for myself, having been a person not invovled Politically or that excited about it in the past but while also being at a campus where people are very invovled I have a difficult time trying to get a pulse for Political engament in the US. My general feeling in the past, about service and things in general is that there was an aire of apathy - I of course, can be wrong.

So here is a question, what if he is right?

A response to Friedman, recognizing his challenge to us may prove helpful. I envision a response in which it is let known that there are students who are -listening- (ie from our response to his comment) about what is occuring, those who are acting, and even while we may not all be protesting (Protesting has its own proper time and place) we are working for change even if it is in a "quiet" way such as lobbying, letter writing, organizing, etc. 

I have a few questions or points that I would make in such a writing, or just things we could consider, and discuss. I'll write these in a second comment.

Adetokunbo said

at 5:12 pm on Jun 9, 2008

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***** On second thought, I'm having difficulty composing my thoughts without simply writing what my response will be ... so, I'll write out these questions that come to my mind right now and await your comments (though I may write something in order to get my words out the way I like). 

-Generation Q we have been termed, as for quiet. But what s wrong with some level of quiet if we are efficiently working for change? There is a time and place for protest and loud voices, so is that time now? Or are we simply not getting the word out about issues as much as we need to? Or, perhaps even better, who are we getting the word out to? 

-

Are we finding efficient ways to broadcast the issues to the members of our society who are perhaps being most affected by many of the political issues occuring right now? For example, are we efficiently bringing issues such as education to the single mother, with two children, working hard everyday, and who is not even registered to vote because their focus is on survival? How does one even do that?

Freidman stated that we should be "mad" about these issues. My question would be, who says we are not? Could it be that people simply do not know what to do to cause the change they want to see? Could it be possible that people feel powerless, especially in this government system? 

Here's another point. Perhaps there are few people Politically active. But do not most events and movements start small before reaching a critical mass that accomplishes something? -- Ha, can't we get a little time as we're just (or some of us) getting our hands into these things? 

 

Adetokunbo said

at 5:13 pm on Jun 9, 2008

Delete this comment

He also states that "tweentysomethings" are there to light the fire, to get a jolt of energy going. While I may not completely disagree, does he not realize that we all do not have the privelege of time and energy to be politically active? My strong belief is that the people who are most being affected by particular policies often times do not have the time or energy or know how to become politically enegage, or even see the connection per se (I've been a part and have worked with many people from low economic backgrounds, therefore I speak from that experience, as I feel is my responsibility).

Ok, that's all I'm going to say/write for now ... I'm up to hearing what everyone thanks.

Zach Shaheen said

at 6:26 pm on Jun 9, 2008

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Adetokunbo, I really like your posts. I completely agree. To briefly expand on how to respond to Friedman, maybe our response should not be drafted to counter Friedman's logic, but to tell the rest of our country what opportunities for political engagement are available, and how we are impacting our communities directly through political engagement. Positive political rhetoric is finally in vogue again (thank you, Obama!) so we could use this medium to encourage others to get involved in politics and change their attitudes about political inactivity.

Adetokunbo said

at 4:24 pm on Jun 10, 2008

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So use it as a spring board? I like the sound of that. If we were to do such, I would ask: What -concrete- examples of political engagment opportunities can we use? Are there any sites that have research data? 

-Who else do we personally know would be interested in adding there 12 cents? - Yes, I said 12 cents. ;)

-As well, to keep the current momentum, what date do we want to set as a deadline?

It would be nice to obtain a few more voices before writing anything. Yet, hesitation can turn into paralysis and that is not good if we want to continue with the flow of energy.

So, what are people thinking?

~Travel with love.

Adetokunbo said

at 4:58 pm on Jun 10, 2008

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BTW, you all may find this website to be very useful. It gives dollar values to service hours. From speaking with my director and coordinator it appears that this site is legit. You'll be suprise at the values, or, perhaps not. I'm going to look over it a bit myself. :) 

http://www.independentsector.org/programs/research/volunteer_time.html

 

Kelly Behrend said

at 10:08 am on Jun 11, 2008

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Thanks for all of these comments. I think we all have very similar feelings, and I agree with Adetokunbo in that we should seek out other passionate and articulate Bonners to join in on this conversation. Here's a real question: Should this response effort be limited only to Bonners?

Kelly Behrend said

at 10:19 am on Jun 11, 2008

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Also, I posted some of these "big questions" on the "Response" link. Check out the recent activity links in the right hand column.

Kelly Behrend said

at 10:20 am on Jun 11, 2008

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So add your responses or post your own questions! Edit directly onto that page rather than commenting.

 

Zach Shaheen said

at 12:08 pm on Jun 11, 2008

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Kelly, in response to your question: "Should this response effort be limited only to Bonners?"

I would reply, never. 

From my brief immersion in the Bonner Network, I have come to admire the structure of the organization and focus and passion its members have. Drawing in new peoples and groups should be a primary objective, especially in the context of countering Friedman's argument. Getting people involved in Bonner-lead initiatives will hopefully inspire them to become more politically active and more engaged in volunteer efforts. It will also help fight against the "generation Q" argument that Friedman has. We know how involved we all are. It is just a matter of drawing in as many of our peers as possible, and energizing them to engage politically. 

If this is done, which groups would be ideal to target outside the Bonner network (besides our personal contacts/friends, of course)? 

And Adetokunbo, I am a little afraid of checking out your provided link, I don't want to know how much monetary value I am volunteering away each 12 hour day I'm pulling this summer. haha. Ignorance is bliss! but curiousity will probably win, and I'll be poking around that link soon.

Zach Shaheen said

at 12:10 pm on Jun 11, 2008

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wow. that dollar value of a volunteer hour is way higher than I would have guessed. Guess that means we are doing a darned good job when we volunteer! (every pat on own back).

Kelly Behrend said

at 12:43 pm on Jun 11, 2008

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I'm loving that idea, Zach. I just sent a Facebook message to members of the National Bonner Love Group to see if anyone else is interested. Let's send that message around to others who may be interested!

Stevi Brown said

at 2:50 pm on Jun 11, 2008

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When I read this article, all I could think of was WHY it is a problem that twenty-somethings seem to be more involved in volunteering opportunities than political engagement. In my opinion, being involved in these volunteering opportunities makes so much more of a difference in today's country and I think our generation knows that. Rather than spend time lobbying against a system that we didn't ask for, and playing the game of the politicians that we don't even agree with whole-heartedly, we have taken matters into our own hands and have began rebuilding this country at it's very roots.

Now, I'm not saying that political engagement and action are not need, but I feel as if the generation before us has really disheartened our want and desire to be politically engaged because of the mess that they have left us in. Lobbying and holding protests in order to make change in policy seems like it is taking too much time. I feel that I want to make change quickly and under my terms, not by wheeling and dealing with Washington. 

So why is direct service not good enough? This is what I would ask Friedman.

Zach Shaheen said

at 9:01 pm on Jun 11, 2008

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Tevi, I have to counter your argument. I do know where you are coming from though, because for our generation, I will definitely agree that politics has been surrounded with a negative aura. 

I think political engagement, long-term, is the MOST important tool for substantive change. Volunteering is an essential part of our system, but I draw the analogy that it can often be a treatment of a disease, rather than a cure or preventative measure. 

For example, volunteering at food-shelfs, soup-counters, and international food agencies like Feed-My-Starving-Children are amazing committments that help lessen the burden of world hunger. But for all the work we do, if we could enact national legislative policies to provide federal funding for massive aids programs, wouldn't that potentially reach more people? and enacting trade requirements, and repealing NAFTA, would allow for a potentially global-mimimum wage (or at least a better fair-trade wage for the impovershed). The list goes on, in this but one example. 

And in my experience, there have been many honest and philanthropic politicians who I have agreed with whole-heartedly. That is why I am working 12 hour days, at least 5 days a week for this whole summer for a Congressional candidate. I don't think that entering Washington automatically strips us of our soul, and I do think that if we get the proper people in office, we can make a HUGE contribution to all areas of our communities, both locally and globally. My faith in the political route may be tested this election, but I see the national progressive movement to be an indication that proves Friedman wrong. YES, we will engage politically, and YES, we can make substantive change politically. We saw an 800% increase in caucus participation this year as compared to 2006. Now that, in my opinion, sticks it to Friedman.

Zach Shaheen said

at 9:01 pm on Jun 11, 2008

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I think that Friedman would agree with you Tevi, that direct service is definitely good enough. But it is merely one side of a coin. It is symbolic and necessitated in its own right, but it cannot become whole (thank you, Gestalt) without its counterpart: politics.

Zach Shaheen said

at 9:06 pm on Jun 11, 2008

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sorry, before i get jumped for my World Hunger example, I forgot to insert this (hopefully it clears up my statement better).

Volunteering for those hunger initiatives save starving people's lives during times of needs. But they often cannot support a real change in socioeconomic status. Political initiatives, conversely, can be the catalyst for long-term economic growth, and allow groups of peoples to permenantly leave poverty so that when droughts, etc. hits, they may not have that immediate food/hunger crisis.

I know this is generalizing, so don't take my example as me assuming it to be 100% accurate, I just mean to create an example to try and illustrate my view. 

Hope that helps, and thanks for a great conversation!

Marc said

at 10:39 pm on Jun 11, 2008

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Stevi, in all fairness to both sides, while service work is wonderful and a great way to see our work's accomplishment firsthand and immediately, it is only temporary and, if it is a more permanent fix (such as building a Habitat for Humanity house), it doesn't solve the overall problems we are trying to solve. The only real and lasting way to solve the root problems of the vast majority of our causes, especially poverty, human rights, etc, is through political means. Lobbying for political solutions to the problems we encounter in our service is as worthy and legitimate as volunteering. While it will take much more effort and time, it will last.

Basically, as was said in this years Student Leadership Institute, "service is politics, politics is service."

Marc said

at 10:41 pm on Jun 11, 2008

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Sorry, Zach, I didn't see your posts, but amen!

Mike Austerlitz said

at 8:58 am on Jun 12, 2008

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I just want to say that I read this article this past year and wasn't offended at all. Friedman has some good points and not only is he not knocking our generation but he is subtly praising it. What are we doing to ensure that we are not left with the debts of our current government? We are very active, I agree, but I think he is just saying that because we volunteer in the numbers that we do, we are "quietly" making change as opposed to doing it in the way the movers and shakers of the 60s and 70s did. We should not retaliate against Friedman, but write a response that says he is right that we are not as loud, but we are getting things done the way we feel they should get done. 

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