“Your generation is too politically apathetic.” Of course, I rejected this allegation at the time, thinking that everyone believes their generation to be superior to the ones that follow. However, I have since realised that the apathetic Gen Y stereotype is true (on average, of course).
Maybe you’re reacting to my disillusionment with that same disbelief. Maybe you’re thinking “we’re just as active and passionate as previous generations, we simply focus our activism online instead of through traditional methods”. Whilst we do “like” certain causes, and sign some change.org petitions, I am embarrassed to think that the height of activism for most of our generation is the use of caps lock.
Wednesday of Week 4 was the “National Day of Action”, a protest about defending our education against rising fees and staff cuts. On the day of the protest, I texted a friend of mine to find out if she was coming along. Her response was “I came, I saw, then decided it was lunch time”. I struggle to comprehend how someone could walk away from a protest for a cause they support, when they have nowhere else they have to be.
Throughout the protest, there were many students watching passively from a distance. Dozens stayed and watched for an extended period of time, which meant they had no other pressing commitments preventing them from participating. I explained to some what we were fighting for, however the response from all of them was the same (and it wasn’t one of disagreement). All I saw was blank faces, behind which I can only assume sat blank minds.
Some spectators were far from passive, shouting at us to “get off the road” (we had been blocking traffic for about 20 minutes). I suspect that our disruptive nature may have pushed such people onto the opposing side of the fence. However, this isn’t really a terrible thing, because it means that they are no longer indifferent. Pissing off people is the most effective way of eliminating apathy. I would rather a campus full of students who aggressively disagree with me than one full of students who are passively indifferent.
For those of you who still don’t believe that our generation is politically careless, simply flick through this Tharunka and observe its emptiness (I can only guess that this edition, like the last few, will have ads encouraging more contributions to this once overflowing publication).
One can speculate as to why young people have so few fucks to give. My guess is that politics has become too political. Now I’m sure you just reread that previous sentence, trying to figure out if that tautology was deliberate. Let me explain what I mean.
These days, when people talk about politics, the discussion all too often focusses on individuals and inconsequential news (thanks Sydney Morning Herald, I really needed a whole article about Gillard’s new glasses). When asked “who will you vote for?”, most people respond with “Abbott” or “Gillard”. This should not be the case. They are mere figureheads, and the response should be “Liberals” or “Labor” or “Greens” or whatever else (Who am I kidding? The response should never be “Liberals”). I believe that the main cause of our generation’s apathy is that it is hard to engage with politics when most political news is about trivialities and personal mud-slinging.
Moreover, because of such journalistic distraction, a large part our generation is missing out on the kind of knowledge which would get our blood boiling. Most young people don’t know that private schools in NSW are legally allowed to expel students and sack staff simply for being gay. They don’t know that our constitution does not even acknowledge the existence of Aboriginals and Torres Strait Islanders, and that it explicitly permits restricting the right to vote based on race. Most don’t know that the majority of tertiary students live below the Australian poverty line, and are unaware that the people who are deciding to increase our university fees got their degrees for free.
So, what’s the solution? What is going to make our generation start to care? I don’t know the answer, but a simple step is talking to your peers about the issues that matter to you. Too often people shy away from political discussions out of fear that the other person may disagree (myself included). “That person is religious, so I better not mention marriage equality, because I don’t want to get into one of those debates”. So what? We need to start telling people if we think they’re wrong. You won’t lose friends over it if you do it tastefully. If you don’t convince others of your way of thinking, don’t worry. You have still made them think about the issue deeply, which is a step away from apathy and a step towards progress.