by Emily McGlynn —
Don’t get me wrong. I love the internet. I send e-mails to my political representatives just like the next 21st-century concerned citizen. However, I can’t help but feel that the internet is covertly turning the U.S. public into the basest form of political creature. Prefabricated online petitions, letters and advertisements are turning progressive peoples into mere numbers, reducing us down to a single vote or a name on a list. We may be choosing to live our personal lives responsibly, but I worry we are no longer reaching out in the same ways, no longer searching for a human face behind the big decisions we are trying to influence.
And so I wonder: Is activism a dying art? Are we forgetting how to have a real open dialogue, outside of a chat room or social networking site? Today’s American activists, instead of rallying in the streets, gather virtually in discussion boards and progressive websites, send e-mails to decision-makers instead of meeting in their offices, sign online petitions instead of having a discussion with someone face to face. The student especially is oddly estranged from her counterparts, feeling ineffective and removed from any possibility for real change. And yet, the youth of today are more savvy and well-connected than ever before, equally or more comfortable with technology and politics than their parents’ generation, having been raised in the age of computers and immediately accessible news. Instead of allowing the information age to keep them at home, young people can take the knowledge they have been so lucky to obtain in this period of history and use it to build and enact a greater vision for the future. We all (at least I can imagine those who are reading this directory) know what needs to be done to attain a sustainable, peaceful culture. It is now required of us to fight for it.
Current college students will be in leadership positions within a matter of years. We must create and hold onto a unified guided vision’, ensuring that the world we are about to manage will not suffer through the same mistakes propagated by our parents (namely war, prejudice, and apathy). A guided vision, according to the late Rocky Mountain Institute researcher Donnella Meadows, is “imagining, at first generally and then with increasing specificity, what you really want. That is, what you really want, not what someone has taught you to want, and not what you have learned to be willing to settle for. Visioning means taking off the constraints of feasibility’, of disbelief and past disappointments, and letting your mind dwell upon its most noble, uplifting, treasured dreams”. If I and all the progressive citizens around me allow this guided vision to determine the entire body of our actions and decisions, we can move forward, not only beyond these last eight difficult years, but towards complete sustainability.
This is going to take more than just an online petition. Have a conversation with someone who may disagree with you! Cook a vegan meal for your meat-eating friends! Draft some legislation with a lawyer buddy and send it to your congressman! Boycott your social networking website and take to the streets!
Emily is a senior at Bryn Mawr College [class of 2008], where she is majoring in Biology and Economics.
(Originally published in the Alliance’s 2008 Directory of Organizations That Promote Sustainable Communities.)