An army of men in blue with glistening badges and an impermeable mass of bikes and vans behind them line the edge of the crowd, creating the border for a nation made up of vibrant protestors. These protestors bear cardboard assertions of their grievances as well as the crusty look of living out of a box – literally. These DIY boards have painted messages including “stop the lies” and “life over profit.” They wield defaced American flags, instigating banners and renamed traffic signs. Marching, breakdancing, drumming, shouting and singing are heard within the officers’ limits. Trampled declarations, revolution literature and copies of the U.S. Constitution blanket the cement.
This Occupy Philly scene, reminiscent of rallies from revolutionary decades, may illustrate that this generation of young people are frustrated enough by the current state of the nation to fight against it. It may highlight a more active generation who are educated about their society, and research has supported this.
The Cooperative Institutional Research Program at UCLA’s Higher Education Research Institute found that college ideologies are increasingly liberal. Yet, in a hotbed of universities like Philadelphia, with more than 100,000 college students, only hundreds of individuals turned out for the Occupy movement. What is the catalyst for the discrepancy between ideology and action?
It appears that contemporary college students practice a passive form of activism. Dwight Ozard and Fred Clark have described this lazy form of protest as “slacktivism.”
Political science professor and supporter of the Occupy movement, Daniel Chomsky agrees.
“Most of the time, students are quiescent,” he said.
For those students that actually are unsatisfied with current social conditions, there is a need for instant gratification or action. Because of this, shortcuts are sometimes taken. We “like” stop hunger pages on Facebook rather than working in a soup kitchen. We simply “re-post” the color of our bras to support breast cancer. We tweet Gov. Tom Corbett about the budget rather than deciding to rally in Harrisburg.
According to the most recent findings of UCLA’s “American Freshman” poll, only 10 percent of freshmen surveyed said that they had worked on a local, state-wide, or national campaign during the past year. During the past four decades, this figure was at 15 percent.
Why are college campuses no longer alive with protest, bustling with the energy of revolution? Is it us? Chomsky hypothesizes that students have become too introverted.
“Activism comes with real costs for participants, and students usually focus on their own lives, their studies and their futures,” Chomsky said.
Advances in technology, which have the ability to bind larger communities, often separate people from the world even more.
Rather than focusing on themselves, sometimes people find a scapegoat in the media. There could be veracity in this. Students’ apathy could be a result of watered down media. There may not be major campus protests because we aren’t given the same explicit news coverage or photographs that students of past decades were shown. However, in order to challenge this form of media, we must first pay attention to it.
The Occupy Philly movement has been described as unorganized, with unclear goals. However, it did one thing successfully. It made college students pause and think about issues larger than themselves. It may show that young people can once again institute change.
Yet, in order to do so, they must find time to stay informed, and actively, not passively, fight for what they want and deserve. It will be a long journey until this is achieved, but at least the first steps have been taken.
Emily DiCicco can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.