We all like to connect the dots, to tie together the threads of events into a tapestry of narrative to better understand them. Of course not everything fits so neatly and cleanly and too many try to make up what they want to believe. But it doesn’t stop us from trying. And after all, by not connecting those dots, we got 9/11.
The old song goes “Something’s happening here, but what it is ain’t exactly clear.” In the Middle East, rebellions break out all over, toppling authoritarian dictators once thought to be destined to die in office and pass power to their sons like hereditary monarchs. At a political conference in Washington D.C., two of the most powerful persons in the nation’s history are booed and heckled in a ceremony held in their honor. And in my home state of Wisconsin, at little Ithaca High School out in the rural southwest part of the state not far from my family’s ancestral homestead, students held a sit-in during the middle of the school day.
So what is the common thread? What connects point A to B? It’s all so very young.
Generational politics has always underlain electoral strategies, at least from the point of view if a political scientist studying the vote totals. But not since the 1960s and early 70s have we seen a politics where the young are making a direct impact, organizing the downfall of a leader or making up a critical part of politician’s electoral coalition. Where would Ron Paul be without young people carrying him away to straw poll victories like the one at CPAC recently? Barack Obama may never have become President without young voters helping him to the Democratic nomination. Certainly there’s a lot of youthful energy in the protests in Madison against the proposed state budget coming from students themselves, not just from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, but high schoolers all across Wisconsin. Yes, social media makes a big difference compared to years gone by, but Twitter and Facebook are merely tools. Apathetic youth would do something else on the internet if there wasn’t some motivation for their activism
The common motivation beyond immediate issues or causes “ain’t exactly clear.” It’s been a long time since we’ve had a “Youth Quake,” the baby boomers coming into their own during the 1960s. But don’t forget that there was a mini-baby boom of sorts during the 1980s and early 1990s, so the Millenial Generation is now in its mid 20s and younger. The stability leaders like Hosni Mubarak gave nations like Egypt, or Ali Saleh in Yemen, only served to eventually undermine their regimes. Stability led to population growth, which combined with economic stagnation and decline fueled the unemployment and underemployment that brought down the Mubarak regime. Perhaps this is the answer, a generation’s search for the good life taken away by the prolifigacy and decedance of those older than them–and leading to unrest.
But just as we see generational upheaval, we also see generational conflict as this post from a Ron Paul supporter at Ron Paul Forums who attended CPAC shows, including its notorious Cheney/Rumsfeld heckle-boo and walk-out:
Every single person stood up. Half cheered happily! Half booed angrily. I have never seen a more divided room in my life. Things were being shouted, there was a fist-fight in front of my chair. Old woman yelling at young kids. It felt like the fight scene in Anchorman. IT WAS INSANE! Security threw some people out. The line is getting longer for the door. People start chanting USA USA USA. Things eventually calm down, Cheney begins, and some kid yells, top of his lungs, “WAR CRIMINAL” and it exploded. Everybody stood up again! The kid was being berated by everyone. People were yelling at him, following him, as he walked out. Some lady was yelling at this guy in front of me and I thought he was going to hit her. I was personally scared for what was happening. More security people came out of the woodwork. So much in fighting going on at that point. I felt disgusting. It was a mockery of whats supposed to be a day of good feelings and good conversation and it turned into chaos. I couldn’t stay in this room with all this pro-Bush Administration partying going on while our people were being heralded as speech ruiners. So we left. Walking through the crowds outside the ballroom everybody was talking about the insanity that just occurred. All day there was no wait to get into the ballroom, and now the line was about 300 feet long and not moving. It was INSANE.
Could the divide between young and old be just polarized in 2012 as it was in 1968? Is another Chicago confrontation brewing since the Middle East has had its Paris ’68? Current events offer an indication that the answer could be yes.