Today’s youth have been nicknamed Generation Q– the Quiet Generation. While this may seem ironic to those who have dedicated themselves to the anti-genocide movement– or any of the other critical movements of our time– the reality is that too often today’s youth are associated with ipods, video-games, MTV addictions, and perhaps most tragically, apathy.
Why should we, as anti-genocide activists, care about such stereotypes when we are perhaps already doing “our part” to enact global change? I would argue that as much as I like to scoff at such stereotypes we should care because on some level they are true. Youth voter registration, up until this election, has been at a low. Youth involvement in politics, advocacy, and community service has declined in many parts of the US. And perhaps youth are not to blame for this– it’s hard to envision yourself as an empowered individual when represented by a government you don’t respect, foreign policy you don’t believe in, and a consumer culture that places you as an object of consumption instead of agency. If you are reading this, chances are that you are an engaged citizen (at least sufficiently engaged to read the STAND blog), but unfortunately you may be in the minority.
Moving beyond our role as students in the anti-genocide movement, it is critical that we also re-position ourselves as agents of social change. Not only do we stand to gain legitimacy for our movement by allying ourselves with our predecessors, but we stand to learn that even in moments of frustration and doubt, youth have always been at the forefront of calls for social justice. As youth, we have the unique possibility to enter this world and challenge that which is so often taken for granted– to imagine change in the way that we fundamentally conceptualize human rights, healthcare, education, the environment, and a host of other issues.
We have a high standard to live up to when we consider those who have gone before us in the times of the Civil Rights movement, Vietnam, apartheid in South Africa, and women’s rights (just to name a few). My mother, who grew up in small town North Carolina, still remembers when the Ku Klux Klan marched in the downtown Easter parade as well as the first day that she was joined by African Americans in school. She still remembers the importance of college not just as a means of education, but as a means of avoiding the draft, and the automatic assumption that she, as a young girl, would never earn as much as her male counterparts. These days were not as long ago as they may seem. But the norms my mother recounts are ones that were fought– and changed– by youth movements such as SNCC, the anti-war protests, international condemnation of South Africa, and the insistence that women deserved equal treatment under the law.
Today these changes remain incomplete when we look around at continued racial inequality in the US, a controversial war in the Middle East, and the remaining gender disparities in opportunity. But when we look at how far we have come, the change is an enormous one– one includes a fundamental alteration in the way that people view and accept the state of our society. As STAND activists and as youth activists it is critical that we look upon these movements as reminders that change can and does happen, and that as youth we have the potential to serve as agents of that change.
Our challenge– mine and yours– is to redefine ourselves, moving from the quiet generation to a generation of ideas and actions like those before us. This is what the past generation did for us and this is what the past generation proved can be done.
And because one day, I want my daughter to ask me about the days when genocide occurred in the same way that I ask my mother about the days where the KKK marched through her neighborhood. I want to hear the mix of sadness and wonder and disgust in her voice as she imagines a past world so antiquated as to allow the slaughter of innocent civilians, the way I imagine a backwards world where white supremacy was paraded about. And finally, I want to be able to know that in the back of her mind brews another vision of the world– one more just than the one I helped create for her– and I want to know that she is thinking of the many ways that she can change that world for her own children.
-Anna Ninan, Northeast College Regional Outreach Coordinator