I'm in a group of 6 that meets twice a month -- all aging activists from the 70s and all, except me, MDs or therapists. Mostly we talk about what's going on -- the war -- and our personal responses to it and its archetypically apocalyptic nature. Last time we struggled with the fact that, while the press prints our letters to the editor as a perfunctory nod to including dissenting opinion, in truth, they are committed to furthering the party line. We know nothing about how many people really have died in Afghanistan because, unlike the Vietnam War, we have none of our troops own coming back in body bag and after body bag. We speculated on why there are not the kinds of protests that there were during Vietnan -- think perhaps because those protesters (now in their 40s and 50s and 60s) either have been co-opted by the system, or are struggling to raise families and just survive, or are just worn out from standing up for civil liberties all of these years. And maybe the younger folks have other priorities as well or don't care. And maybe it's more because we have no body bags of our own to really bring the horror of it home on a national scale. (Although there actually have been protests, but the press doesn't cover those. Amy Goodman was here speaking at RPI in Troy recently, and there were more than a thousand people there; but the artsy Metroland was the only paper that even mentioned that.)
We also talked about the courses in "civics" that we (older folks) had as school kids. We learned about the ideals of democracy, we learned how a democratic government IS SUPPOSED to work. Whatever patriotism we felt was based on the ideals that we believed we could achieve as American. We speculated that maybe that helped fuel the protesters back in the 70s. They saw those ideals being totally disregarded. Kids today are not taught "civics," not given an opportunity to really explore -- philosophically and practically -- the kind of democratic system to which Americans used to aspire and strive toward. Now the driving force behind government is not the higher ideals of democracy but rather the base pleasures of consumerism.
We feel helpless and hopeless and totally disempowered -- unlike the way we felt thirty something years ago, when we thought that our voices would be heard, that we could change the world. It often seems that the younger people of today are willing to work very hard for "better lives" for themselves but are totally oblivious to -- or rather not be bothered with -- working hard to change the world for the better. Someone referred to an recent article in some national magazine about the "best and brightest students" in the top universities having that attitude. And these are the people who will be our government and business leaders in the next generation.
We wished in a way that there could be a revolution in this country, but we don't think it will happen. Some of us think that this is really the beginning of the end of the hopes and dreams of democracy. We all send emails and sign petitions etc. etc. etc. But it doesn't matter. We have no power.