I can’t help but wonder if we live in a world that is so saturated with virtual action that we crave true, real-life action above all else. There are so many chances to become passive activists that we cease to take social issues seriously anymore or, even if we do, just wish we could go march in the streets instead of signing online petitions.
I got thinking about this while listening to the radio. Musician/composer David Amram was being interviewed on CBC and said that he thinks this generation of young people – my generation – is unfairly labeled as “the YouTube generation” and that it has a unique privilege and ability to be able to access high-quality culture via the internet. The computer can then be turned off and the enlightened individual is still able to have personal interactions with others.
It’s a fine thought, and no doubt YouTube does make us far more aware of what’s going on, but the key to using and disseminating that knowledge is the last part: turning off the computer. If young people fail to turn off the screen and then turn around to interact with those around them, we remain disconnected, unable to communicate using voice and tone and nuance, a stunted member that fails to reach its potential as part of the bigger body of humanity.
As a result, I think that young people are starved for purpose in their lives and the feeling of actively contributing to something in their world. I’m thinking of the ongoing student protests in Montreal right now. They’re now on their 101st day of protesting and, though I have not been there, I’ve heard it’s having a major impact on the entire city. Yesterday’s protest drew a record-breaking two hundred thousand people.
While I support the cause wholeheartedly – no more tuition hikes by the Quebec government – and to take nothing away from it, I also think many of these young people simply want to protest. They want to feel the adrenaline that goes along with marching in the streets, challenging governmental authority, committing acts of civil disobedience. They are – I should say “we are,” for I belong to that same generation of early-20s and recently belonged to the student cohort – starved for true action with true results.
I think of the recent Occupy protests that took over North American cities in the fall. The protestors’ grievances included lack of jobs, accelerating inequality, government bailouts for the rich, the collusion between government and powerful corporations, legislation that allows mega-banks to play with the debts of poor and middle-class homeowners, environmental devastation, abusive farming practices, lack of adequate health care, the rise in CEO and executive pay, military and police abuses of power, and the aforementioned tuition hikes (Josiah Neufeld, Geez magazine, Spring 2012).
Those protests went on and on for months. Protesters were forcibly evicted from premises by police, the disturbances they caused squashed by their governments. Of course, not all of those grievances could be resolved – the spectrum is far too broad and the issues themselves so complex – but the fact that young people, mostly, were so tenacious in their desire to protest is another example of their hunger to feel useful, purposeful, driven with a goal, part of a bigger movement toward change.
While hanging out on YouTube for hours each day can fill one’s mind with interesting facts and make you laugh till your belly aches, it reduces one to frustrating passivity. We are not meant to be neutral, un-opinionated beings. Young people (and I include myself in that group) would benefit from remembering the following quote: “Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim.” (Elie Wiesel, Nobel laurate)