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The New Activism

By Tom Watson on January 26, 2008No Comment

Last night, over at the barn, our pick-up band trotted out some old Neil Young licks and we bashed away on our guitars on some classic Boomer rock. In the midst of the audio carnage, one of the guys picked out the lead lines from Ohio, that brilliant protest song recorded by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young way back in 1970 (when the record will clearly show that I was eight years old). It’s vicious little riff as guitar songs go, but the whole song is evocative of that era’s mass protest, student marches, and the edge of violence in civil disobedience.

None of this resonates particularly with the CauseWired generation, dominated by millennials who were born after 1980 and see 9/11 as their defining national moment. As I explore the intersection of activism and politics and social causes in this book, I’ll be looking (hopefully with a clear eye) and both sides of Facebook activists – the massive numbers and widespread involvement, but also the kind of passive “friending” of social change. It’s a bit “tastes great, less filling,” to quote the vintage light beer ads.

Two weeks ago in the Times, Streeter Seidell, the editor of, took a sardonic look at his generation’s attitude towards the protesting Boomers. He’s playing it for yucks, no doubt, but there’s some truth there as well – and it cuts both ways:

I know, I know, you threw rocks at National Guardsmen at Kent State and got arrested at the 1968 Democratic National Convention. You were there when the young people rose up and for the first time told the establishment, “We are here and we will be heard!” And we’re going to do that, too, as soon as we get done watching this thing on YouTube. It’s hysterical. It’s this German kid screaming at his computer or something, I don’t even know. You gotta see it.

And don’t for a second think that we’re not informed when it comes to the candidates. I may not be out marching but you better believe I’m going to post about my support on Obama’s Facebook wall. Once I post it there it’s going to show up in my friends’ News Feeds and that’s just as effective as passing out flyers, right? Right.

“Studies” by “scientists” are claiming that we’re the “look at me” generation — that we’re all a bunch of self-absorbed, egotistic narcissists hell-bent on being the center of attention at all times. We’re flattered you’re talking about us but I believe that honor belongs to our mentors: the generation responsible for the boob job, the tummy tuck and jogging. The most self-absorbed thing we’ve invented is a secret language that cannot be understood by anyone over thirty and l00k5 5om3th1n6 l1k3 th1s.

We’re not bad kids; we have ideals, too. We know we’re in an unethical war signed, sealed and delivered by a shady group of men working at the behest of the military industrial complex. And we promise we’re going to tear down this regime as soon as the new season of “Lost” is over and we finally find out what’s up with Jacob. That dude creeps me out, for real.

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