Strength of Western political freedom needs more recognition
Published: Monday, October 8, 2012
Updated: Monday, October 8, 2012 02:10
I look at my friend Casey with a wry smile. In subtle response, he shakes his head to confirm our mutual disdain.
We are traveling aboard the late night tram, a vehicle where the limits of human comfort and personal space are bent to their absolute breaking point. However, on this night, our frustration is not derived from the colossal masses, but rather one obnoxious individual.
He is American, of course, and a student, no doubt. At this point though, I would daresay his BAC exceeds his GPA. In slurred vernacular, he bequeaths his opinion of American politics onto every disgruntled passenger aboard, each an unwilling subject to his drunken tirade.
He decries Obama and dismisses Mitt. It seems as though, in his drunken state, he has attained some supreme knowledge, a knowledge that allows him to decipher the complex code of western democracy with unprecedented clarity.
In his climax, he expresses his resolute dissatisfaction with both presidential candidates, suggesting that as an American he now suffers the unacceptable circumstance of having to choose between two unviable candidates. It is in this moment that my friend Casey takes action and with admirable conviction turns on the jackass and says, “At least you have a choice.”
The election of a United States President commands attention on a global scale. So even here, on the opposite side of the Atlantic, I find myself being constantly reminded of the pending election that will imminently determine the future of the “free world.”
With that said, I would like to take this opportunity to chime in on the political discourse that has recently circulated in this respective newspaper. More specifically, I would like to call attention to the role that young people, the majority of my readership, play in the arena of global politics.
According to census.gov, the 18-29 year-old voter demographic has been the most underrepresented demographic in each of the last major election years, 2008 and 2010. Only 51.1 percent of Americans in this demographic participated in the 2008 elections; that percentage dropped to just 23.9 percent in 2010. Not surprisingly, the 18-29 year-old demographic also has the highest percentage of individuals not registered to vote at 22.1 percent.
The fact that young people comprise the least politically engaged demographic in our nation is likely not a surprise. Still, this is statistical information that undermines the true influence young people bear in the political sphere.
In fact, I attest that in both a historical and contemporary context young people have proven repeatedly to be the most dominant force in the political realm.
Where then, if not in the voting booth, do the youth choose to exercise their political might?
It is not by ballot or in a booth, but rather in the open air that young people have bread some of the greatest revolutions in history and proven indubitably their ability to affect global politics. A review of history shows that, despite weak showings at the voting booth, young people, more specifically students, are the leading facilitators of change in the realm of politics.
Consider the student-led protests in Tunisia that sparked the Arab Spring, a massive wave of revolution that is now sweeping across the Middle East.
In America, student led protests were a major asset of the 1960s civil rights movement, and in 1970, the death of four innocent students at a small university in Ohio mobilized over 4 million students nationwide in anti-war protests.
This year, in the Canadian province of Quebec, an estimated 500,000 students took to the streets in protest of rising tuition. The protests continued through the spring, eventually resulting in widespread student strikes, until the government agreed to freeze tuition on September 5.
In 1989, student-led hunger strikes perpetuated China’s Tiananmen Square Protests, marking a period of civil unrest that was preceded by student protests dating as far back as 1986. These events are all clear indicators of the capability young people have to influence global affairs.
However, a visit to Wenceslas Square in the heart of Prague exposed to me perhaps the most staggering example of personal dissent ever achieved by a young individual.
It was at the south end of Wenceslas Square, in the shadow of the National Museum, that I recently encountered an obscure cross emerging from a patch of swollen cobblestone. It was the Jan Palach Memorial, a monument to the 21-year-old Czech student, who in 1969 committed suicide by self-immolation in protest of the Soviet occupation. Palach was immortalized by his courageous act of defiance, and in 1989 the Czech people conducted a week of protests in his memory. This week of protest came to be known as “Palach Week,” and although they were violently suppressed by Soviet officers, they are considered a significant predecessor to the Velvet Revolution that occurred in the fall of that year. Of course, it was again student-led protests that ignited the Velvet Revolution, a period of nonviolent demonstration that ended communist rule in Czechoslovakia.
In a democratic republic, such as the United States, power is derived from the people, resulting in a government that is for the people by the people. Therefore, not politicians or bureaucrats, or even corporate fat cats, can be blamed for the now dismal state of American politics but only the people. If people, especially young people, recognized the power they have over political affairs, I believe that we could finally relinquish the wide spread apathy that has poisoned this nation and regain the power to control our fate. The problem is that too often we express our political opinions in a fashion similar to the jackass on the tram, or we just do not express them at all.