Recently, there has been an extraordinary amount of sneering, dismissive media attacks on America’s young people and the utility of the internet in politics. This website, Future Majority, dedicated to beat reporting on millennial politics has tried to correct the condescending, disdainful narratives time and time and time and time and time again but yet the haters persist.
One fine example, The New York Times‘ columnist Thomas Friedman recently put on an album of Captain Beefheart, got sentimental, then in turn, regretful; and so he lashed out at whippersnappers, his infernal computer, and those geeks who like infernal computers.
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.
Bobby Kennedy didn’t travel between farms or factories by horse-drawn carriage – and there was no teaching of songs! Would journalists who also covered the AFL’s growth in the 1890s or of California’s Wobblies in the 1930’s have rolled their eyes at RFK’s silly methods? Martin Luther King always made sure to have newfangled mechanized-photo-graphic picture-illustrators present at his heavily stage-managed lunch-counter sit-ins. No planned riots and not a single engraver was invited!
Absurdly, Thomas Friedman’s beef with the do-gooding college children of the millennial generation is that they’re just all too Facebookey. “But Generation Q may be too quiet, too online, for its own good, and for the country’s own good.” Really? Online equals… quiet What then would Rip Van Friedman think about this:
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan – Ahsan Pirzada and his high-school buddies spread the word via Facebook, e-mail and cell phone text messages: Let’s meet at McDonald’s after school on Monday.But not to hang out.
About 100 students pulled out banners, taped their mouths shut in symbolic protest and marched silently toward the office of President Pervez Musharraf. Before they had gone 1,000 yards, truckloads of police, including an anti-terrorist squad, swooped in and dispersed the threat, hauling about 50 teens to a police station.
Using facebook, twitter and cell phones they did a flashmob protest. (That alone is enough politics 2.0 to literally blow Friedman’s head off his shoulders.)
“We know that many people cannot afford to join us,” said Samad Khurram, a Harvard University student who stayed home this semester to work in the pro-democracy movement. “At least 30 percent of Pakistanis are surviving day to day on their wages. They can’t afford to take off a day to protest” or to risk indefinite arrest.
Thomas and the rest of The Village, please note, an undergrad organized a political cause using the internet’s free tools, such as online petitions, emails, webby gizmo for cell phones “twitter” and the dread facebook… the result of this online organizing: offline action for thousands.
“This is how people are really networking, expressing themselves,” said Adnan Rehmat, who heads Internews Pakistan, a Washington-based media watchdog group. “People are sending messages of solidarity, relaying information about protest sites, that sort of thing.”
I’ve marched in protests that large and felt neutered. I find political organizing online more effective and more economical and so does Ahsan Pirzada. Around the world, the old ways of organizing and then effecting political change (marching in the streets, chaining oneself to bulldozers) are no longer effective. Nor do these methods fit the moment. Nicholas Handler suggested much the same thing in his New York Times essay:
Many of us have protested, but we — by and large — felt like we were imitating an earlier generation, playing dress-up in our parents’ old hippie clothes. I marched against the war and my president called it a focus group. The worst part was that I did feel inert while doing it. In the 21st century, a bunch of people marching down the street, complimenting one another on their original slogans and pretty protest signs, feels like self-flagellation, not real and true social change.
Today’s form of activism organizing looks completely different from what the past 40 years has taught us political action should look like. Sorry, Friedman.
Today’s commentariat is looking increasingly like the cantankerous, curmudgeon Andy Rooney’s 60 Minutes segments of unedited free-associative complaining about how hard it is to open a bag of potato chips these days, or how confused and angry he is at his coffee machine.
I suspect it might have changed everything, and helped these ignorant writers and news celebrities if the political discussion at the cocktail parties where their thinking is done for them included quips about the Presidential candidates’ innovative use of the internet.
Tragically though, the one guy who could have been a field guide for these folks to the new century’s new style of political organizing, Sen. Obama, is instead running a decidedly last-century campaign. The reason he’s running such a television-heavy campaign and not leading innovation in online politics is simple: his chief strategist and campaign manager also happens to be a partner with the media firm serving Obama’s TV ads. So when Obama spends 163% of what Hillary Clinton spends, it’s not only because he has a traditional mindset – it’s also because someone is lining his pockets.
So it’s not just corporate media, print and TV pundits who have it wrong. Many political TV media consultants don’t believe the internet is worth anything more than a source of free money that magically comes in somehow from emails. Their prejudices will be worn away, gradually. I had hoped it would be this cycle, but it’ll probably be the next.