Current generation must reclaim their power

Opinion_Cartoon Colby Patterson
Nick Ketterer

Nick Ketterer

It’s impossible to ignore the pictures of the current uprising in Kiev, Ukraine — blazing barricades constructed of tires and stone-faced youth roaming the city square with Molotov cocktails. As a result of President Viktor Yanukovych’s decision to ignore growing relations with the European Union in favor of neighboring Russia, thousands of protestors have erected camps within the city. They remain there today, refusing to move until changes are made.

According to Radio Free Europe, the vast majority of these enraged citizens are students, skipping classes to participate in demonstrations. In one western city, more than 30,000 students took to the streets, clamoring for their leader to honor the E.U. pact. These protests shed light on Ukraine’s sobering political instability, but the instance of so many young citizens taking a stand for their beliefs isn’t something we’ll see on U.S. soil any time soon.

While many of us don’t live in a tumultuous environment as those in Ukraine do, we’re not strangers to problems on the home front. We hear them frequently in the news: global warming, income disparity and a lack of funding for education, among others. But how many American youth are speaking out about it? How many Facebook posts and tweets involve these issues? More often than not, one finds endless rambling on sports, Starbucks and the most foolproof method to achieving the ever-elusive thigh gap.

We’ve become privy to a plaguing distraction by entertainment and social culture. The Kaiser Family Foundation found that Americans eight to 18 years old spend 53 hours per week on entertainment media, compared to spending only 30 hours per week in school. We forget our role in the way the world works. We aren’t powerless, though it often feels that way, and the first step to wielding that power to create change is fostering a lasting awareness of the fact. The 2012 U.S. Census shows that only 42 percent of registered voters aged 18 to 24 actually voted, while citizens 55-years-old and above ranked between 70-80 percent.

It’s also vital that we as a demographic become more politically conscious. When asked whether or not the government was headed in the right direction 72 percent of young Americans answered in the negative but a mere one-fourth called themselves politically active, according to a Harvard Institute survey. It’s obvious we’re aware of the issues many Americans deal with, but we lack the resolve to take action.

History has taught us that this isn’t impossible. Our nation in the 1960s was characterized by radical youth empowerment as thousands of young Americans revolted against their conservative elders and found political power as a group. It was the feelings of the American public communicated through anti-war demonstrations that led to the end of the U.S. involvement in Vietnam, and repeated boycotts and protests that helped bring about the long awaited legal establishment of racial equality.

These instances should provide inspiration, for us and for others. Our descendants heard the call to action and answered it without hesitation, and we have the same duty today.