The year is 1968. The date, April 17. The scene is Berkeley, Calif. Thousands of University of California students riot in response to the ongoing Vietnam War. The riot is covered by national media and broadcasted around the globe, sparking riots from Berlin to Paris.
Two years later and four Kent State students — as made legend by Neil Young in “Ohio” — are gunned down while protesting the American invasion of Cambodia. These four students’ deaths spark outrage throughout America, culminating in a 100,000-person march on the nation’s capital.
Now it’s March of 1969, in our very own Red Square, and nearly 10,000 students are protesting the UW’s Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) campus presence and their support for the Vietnam War — a war the protesters deem wildly unjust.
Fast-forward forty-odd years to the present day. Walk through Red Square. Walk through the Quad. On an “active” day you might run into a Mormon or two, or you might see a few posts lamely poking out of the Quad grass informing the world of Sodexo’s latest injustice. If you’re especially lucky you might see a two-person booth working to ensure Palestinian equality.
I am not ridiculing or mocking these just contemporary efforts. If anything I commend those who continue to struggle when it seems everyone else has receded into a comfortable apathy.
The content disconnect of the majority bothers me. We as a generation need to become more aware and engaged. We must realize that the happenings in the political world outside of our collegiate bubble matter. And we must also understand that we can, and should, have a large say in the direction this country takes.
James Taylor, a custodian who has been working at the UW since 1976, has noticed this decline in political noise around our generation.
“Even 10, 15 years ago,” he said, “you heard everything around here. Everybody had something to say about something. Now you don’t hear anything; it’s quiet.”
This silence, this apathetic inactivity, bothers me. And it bothers Taylor as well.
“There’s been a lot of stuff to be loud about: These days rival the ‘60s [in that regard],” he said. “And nobody’s saying nothing.”
Maybe I am flexing unreasonable political nostalgia; the ’60s and ’70s were a time of unprecedented sociopolitical change in this country and for the college students of those generations to be involved should be no surprise. Likewise, current inactivity should be no more of a surprise.
And maybe it’s a demographic issue with which I’m concerned. The total cost to attend this prestigious institution for a single year is anywhere from just under $20,000 to near $50,000. Of course there are financial aid, loans, and payment programs, so there are exceptions. But the focal demographic of this school — and most universities in this country — is more affluent. We are inherently amid a more financially comfortable portion of the country. We are surrounded by people who are less personally motivated to affect change.
But I talk to my peers, my friends, and ask whether they care about or pay attention to national politics and the shifts of the country. Some say they know they should, they just don’t. Others say there’s no reason to: The system is broken and nothing they can do can change it. Yes, some do pay attention and genuinely care but, in my experience, they represent the minority.
The world is not a perfect place and neither is our country. It needs tweaks — major ones. I’m not going to sit here and list everything wrong with this society — that is a task I have neither the full knowledge nor the pretense to address — though issues that stand out in my mind vary from marriage equality to the gasping-for-air middle class. Finding causes isn’t too hard, it’s following up on them — fixing them — that is the true test.
The means of this change will surely differ from our predecessors — we probably won’t be placing any flowers in any rifles belonging to the National Guard — but the responsibility is still there. And it is up to us, the young generation that is itching to have its presence felt, to assume that responsibility.
Reach opinion writer Holden Taylor at email@example.com.
Please read our Comment policy.