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Mad. Just… Mad.

July 16, 2008

At our staff meeting last Monday folks were understandably upset about some of the shenanigans Congress has gotten into lately. Some of the elder staffers were waxing nostalgic for protest movements set to folk tunes, and I could see visions of Bob Dylan and marches on Washington dancing in their heads.

I didn’t want to seem flip about the need to oppose current disastrous policies promoted by Congress and the President, but I also wanted to say (in the most respectful way possible) – snap out of it!

How can we get the message to Congress that what they’re doing isn’t right? By using the methods of the past? Perhaps. But it’s going to be awfully hard to find people who are willing to do it.

Who has the time to protest? Not professionals who are the responsible heads of organizations and companies. They can’t be spared for enough time to trek to Washington, or devote hours and hours to protesting outside the district offices of their members of Congress. They simply don’t have the time. It is instead the youth that must protest, must take the time to park themselves in front of offices and government buildings, and then follow up that demonstration of opinions by actually voting.

But for the large part, my generation doesn’t seem to have the will to take time out of their lives and protest. Why? The country is in an even worse mess than we were in 1968, mired in a war and a slumping economy at the same time. And yet we sit at our desks, or go to class, not taking advantage of our right to assemble and protest this awfulness.

Is it that we don’t have opinions on these issues?

No, but we have been taught over the past eight years (when most of us were learning about government and first exercising our right to vote) that what we think doesn’t matter. That when we want something to change, it won’t. That even when we protest, nothing will change. I was on one of the 6 buses that traveled down to Washington from Bryn Mawr in the spring of 2004 to join the March for Women’s Lives. That march seemed full of hope and promise, and I felt that we were going to be listened to, to make a difference. And yet, in the years that followed, almost everything we were protesting against that day happened. It gets a girl a bit discouraged.

I remember that after the 2004 election one of the college freshwomen I was advising reported to me that she reacted to the results of the elections in this manner:

“Caroline, first I cried, then I threw up, and then I cried some more.”

This is not the reaction of someone who is apathetic toward the issues. What it is is the reaction of someone who feels helpless, who feels that all she can do is cry and get sick, because her vote and her actions won’t make any difference.

As we moved out of college and into the real world, the economy tanked. I think this pushed us even more firmly into offices and safe jobs and away from mass marches. If we turned our backs on employment and steady income to protest or organize we would fall behind, not find another job, be consumed by the tidal waves of the failing economy. The closest I ever came to organizing was canvassing for New Jersey PIRG and the Sierra Club, a job which I took and threw all my energy into for the paycheck as much as for the satisfaction of protecting the environment. We also know that we’re pretty much on our own for retirement. We can’t count on Social Security or a pension to protect us there.

We also feel deeply angry that the generation who caused global warming is not doing anything to stop it (We mean you President Bush, the House of Representative, and the Senate), leaving us with a problem that threatens our and our children’s future.

Ultimately, we’re mad as hell, but afraid to do anything about it. When the environment is failing, the military gets more money than education or healthcare and is still over extended, and there’s little hope for the economy, the first instinct is to protect ourselves. And that’s what we’re doing.

Clearly I’m not presenting any solutions here, and my parents’ might think that I’m whining about my situation. But darn it. How do you expect young people to work up the will to protest when we are mired in a malaise that seemingly has no end? Also, we can’t afford the gas to come to Washington and the national train system is too slow and expensive to do the job.

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