We live in a deeply and profoundly troubled world. Living in America, a nation with unique wealth and power, insulated by both distance and prosperity, it has become far too easy to embrace the status quo. In the recent midterm elections, voters were asked to express their approval or disapproval for the course of the country. Anyone following the news saw a foundering economy, rampant corporate corruption, environmental protections being removed on an unprecedented scale, policies justified in the name of a largely theoretical war against the amorphous concept of "terror," preparations for war against Iraq, and the continuing alienation of every ally the United States has. The American people, apparently, have no problem with this state of affairs.
But the economy still provides most Americans a decent job and living wage, and both the defeat of the Taliban and the promise to crush Saddam make people feel safer. Why worry when we have elected officials to take care of all the problems? Obviously, millions of Americans feel confident in the abilities of the Bush administration to do exactly that. Millions of Americans don't feel especially happy with the policies of the U.S. government, but see no point in choosing between two mediocre (or worse) candidates supported by the major parties. However, there are also millions of intelligent, principled, and informed Americans who want to see the problems created by the political and economic power structure dealt with in a meaningful waywho would change the world, and could, given the chance.
Currently, too many of those who call themselves activists and who, no doubt, feel genuinely dedicated to helping improve the world fall victim to simply perpetuating established systems of protest. Demonstrations, flyers, rallies, marches, and "awareness-raising" are the common tools of the liberal activist, and have been since the '60s. What the disparate movements and organizations that compose the left must recognize is that placards and slogans have never succeeded in accomplishing anything significant. The millions of marchers who flocked to the cause of civil rights in the '60s achieved nothing until Lyndon Johnson pushed the Civil Rights Act through a hostile Congress. Hundreds of marches against the Vietnam War removed not a single U.S. soldier from combat. Richard Nixon accomplished what the concerted efforts of campuses across the country could not.
More recently, liberal activists have turned their sights towards "globalization" and the organizations perceived to be behind this nefarious scheme to destroy traditional cultures and developing economies. Protesting Third World sweatshops while wearing Nike shoes and Gap jeans, the anti-globalization movement has smashed windows in Seattle, set fires in Genoa, and most recently disrupted traffic in Chicago. The heartfelt convictions of the hundreds (occasionally thousands) of protestors being barricaded in by riot police, blocks away from the WTO or IMF conference supposedly being shouted at have yet to significantly improve the lives of anyone in the impoverished Third World.
Good intentions and protest marches are insufficient. They are nothing more then the trappings of change and dissent. Our generation cannot sit idly by while poverty, terrorism, environmental devastation, and a dozen other crises overwhelm our nation and our planet. We need to learn from the lessons of the twentieth century and make the twenty-first our own, seizing the reigns of the government and society.
We have the talent and potential to reshape the world, using technology and wealth no society has ever possessed. We can and we must push ourselves to overcome the inertia of the status quo and the shortsighted self-interest of maintaining it. John F. Kennedy spoke about the mission of his generation, coming of age after WWII, to take America's ideals to heart and bear any burden to bring the fruits of those ideals to the world.
Our generation, the first to come of age in the new century, must go even further. We need to change the very shape of American politics, reforming the government by committing ourselves to public service in high office. The results of the recent election must not be a validation of the policies of the Bush administration, but a call to action for those of us who see the folly in those policies, and the beginnings of something truly new. The ascension of the Republican party is cause for neither indifference nor despair. It's a call to change the world.