Kids these days just don't care. Last time America was entrenched in a seemingly endless war against a nebulous and poorly defined enemy, college campuses were a boiling pot of protests, sit-ins and petitions. Student activism was the norm, even at that complacent haven of privilege known as the Ivy League.
Where are today's young activists? America instigates an ugly war, ignores genocide in Darfur and has yet to do much about global warming.
Why aren't we hopping up and down, screaming in unison, holding sit-ins on College Green and forming human blockades outside Huntsman?
Maybe because we know better. No weekend of demonstrations will end a war.
Like our Founding Father, Penn students are too practical for a pointless protest and just aren't that interested in taking a philosophical stand.
There's nothing wrong with philosophical stands in and of themselves. I'm against racism, heterosexism, socio-economic elitism and the New York Yankees, all as matters of ethical principle. They are bad and if you support any of them, you're bad too.
But besides pissing off some New Yorkers, I have accomplished absolutely jack squat with that last statement. I have not lowered the barriers between economic classes, I have not erased racism from the minds of any reader and I have not opened the homophobe's eyes to see the beauty in all love.
All I did was appease my sense of righteousness and maybe score some brownie points with a handful of progressive girls. I could have said all those things in a huge crowd of like-minded students, waving banners and shouting cheers, and it'd have the same effect.
The most popular and frequent protest in Philadelphia this year is in front of some of Philly's finest restaurants. Sick of outrageously priced entrees? Not quite. It's the foie gras that invokes the moral outrage of middle-class citizenry.
If this is what activism has become, thank God students today aren't active.
Despite the latest anti-war protest in Washington last week, America's still stuck in Iraq. The goal of this "No War, No Warming" demonstration, according to Students for a Democratic Society member Jeff Rousset, was to shut down Capitol Hill for a day in order to force Congress to address both the Iraq War and global warming.
"We wanted to tell the decision makers that they will not be able to continue with business as usual."
Rousset believes that direct action is a necessary condition for Congress to change. "Eventually if there is enough disruption, then they must address people's needs," Rousset said. "That's what the civil-rights movement was."
But 300 protestors in Washington isn't a march on Selma; it's a minor traffic jam. And whereas Jim Crow was a clear and indefensible moral evil with a simple solution - granting full rights to all citizens - neither global warming nor the Iraq war are as clear cut.
Meanwhile, there's a war much closer to Penn to be fought. As students, we can't change America's foreign or economic policy, but we can actually improve life in Philly.
After a Penn student was shot two years ago, less than a block from the shooting this Saturday, Penn spent $5 million on increased security measures around campus.
We treated the symptom, but not the disease. We didn't care about stopping violence, just violence that might hurt Penn. As a result, crime continues just beyond our closely monitored borders.
The Penn administration can spend another $5 million on neon vests and cameras in the wake of the latest shooting near campus and Penn students can continue half-assed protests against the war and duck livers. Or we could do something effective.
Join a group like Big Brothers Big Sisters. Studies by Public/Private Ventures demonstrate that mentoring for just five months shows immediate improvement in a child's behavior and performance.
Mentored children are half as likely to try drugs and far less likely to start fights, and the benefits increase the longer the child is mentored. School-based mentoring, like PennPals, has also been shown to have powerful, positive effects.
You probably haven't participated in any protests this year - not the war, not global warming, not foie gras.
But you probably haven't participated in a mentoring or tutoring program, either.
You can join the outraged ranks of your fellow students - another shooting?! Here?! This has to stop! - and accomplish nothing. Or you can take the hard step toward making a real difference.
It's time to put up or shut up, Penn. What's it gonna be?
Jim Saksa is a College senior from Toms River, NJ. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org. You, Sir, are an Idiot appears on alternating Wednesdays.Comments powered by Disqus
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