I have been thinking about the words of Tom Friedman when he wrote about what he calls Generation Q.
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. . .
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. . .
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.
I am among those who feels right at home in the world of the internet whether I am pursuing my political interests, searching for some bit of information or trying to decide about my next major purchase. I see lots of political dialog on the internet, but I also realize that all the blog posts in the world don’t have the same power as a meeting with candidates or elected officials to discuss an issue. I know that talking about liking one candidate or position will never have the same reach of influence that speaking with my wallet has.
The main stream media is spending more and more time talking about the power of internet based politics and the parties and candidates are getting better at engaging within this new medium of communication. Perhaps it is easy for us “digital natives” to mistake this as evidence that this has become the primary mode for political action. We put ourselves and our views in danger unless we take time to remember that the primary means of achieving political influence is and always will be the same as it was when our country was founded. Writing posts may have replaced writing tracts or pamphlets, but the real power to make things happen comes in gathering together to share ideas so that people will be energized to go out and vote at the ballot box and also lend their resources (time, energy, and money) to bring about the goals that they had previously only talked about.