17 January 2013

Creating the Next Generation of Social Activists

Do you remember the 70's?   That's when I was a teen.  Kent State, the end of the VietNam War, great music, and all those protests and rallies and marches.  I grew up during a time when it was the accepted norm to take part in social protest.  We protested with Greenpeace wearing "No Nukes" buttons and holding signs at Diablo Canyon.  We Saved the Whales and stopped the clubbing of baby seals.  We protested the war.  I don't know if it was like that where you were growing up, but as part of the young generation, that's what was expected of us, and we wouldn't want it any other way. 
We grew up with social conscience.

I don't recall a lot of that in the 80's and 90's, but maybe it was just a different time in my life.  But what I do know is that I have heard, over the course of the past decade about Generation X, and the "me" generation, and about the general apathy of our youth.  But I'm not buying it.  I think it's more about opportunity.

Our monthly homeless outreach took place this Monday evening.   We had with us three twenty-somethings who put their heart and soul into our outreach - collecting clothing all month, baking treats for the homeless, and offering a helping hand and an open heart to our friends on the street.  I was really impressed with this group who so willingly offered their caring and compassion to our outreach.  After church this past Sunday, I spoke to a 13 year old young man who wanted to know how to run a homeless outreach.  He was from the Santa Cruz area and interested in helping.  His mother offered that though he was too young to go out on the street, he was looking into helping at the shelter where he could serve and eat at the same table with the homeless of their community.  These are just a couple examples that touched me in my life, but I know there are many other examples if we open our eyes and hearts to them.

I was discussing all of  this with my daughter Ani.  I asked her opinion about organized protests, wondering if they were happening,  and it was me that wasn't aware of them.  She brought up a very good point.  Back then in the 70's, there was no internet.  My friends and I banded together for a common cause - for peace, for the environment, whatever the cause - solidarity was the social media of  OUR day.  Back then,  if you wanted to write the President a letter, you would have to sit down, get out a pen and paper and write that letter, put the letter in an envelope.  Hopefully you had a stamp to put on it, then you'd drop it in the mail box and mail it off...and then wait for a response a month or so down the road.  Today, everything is instantaneous.  It's not that the protest is not there...it is, and LOT of good is done through it.  But it's done individually, with your computer or your smart phone and all your  Facebook friends united on the same "cause" page.  Today at the touch of a screen, you can address the President and receive a confirmation that your letter reached the White House all within the same minute.

Back then, the news would give time to stories about non-violent protest and world issues.  Today, our news media would much rather cover the fact that Kim Kardashian is pregnant than show in-depth coverage of the violence going on in Syria or Darfur. If there is coverage, it's just for a quick minute, while we then sit through lengthy sports reports.  We're desensitized to the human suffering that is going on around the world and in our own communities until something terribly tragic happens like the shootings in Newtown, and then suddenly we are focused on it for a quick week or two until the media decides how next to grab our attention.  In the meantime, there are wars going on, rights being violated, children dying of hunger, and record numbers of homeless on the streets.

Time is also a factor.  Who has an entire morning or afternoon to stand on a corner holding up a sign for peace?  We tend to overbook our lives with things to get ourselves/our children ahead, but are we giving up getting ahead as a society in exchange?  I think there is something very powerful in getting together as a group - with people that share common views/beliefs to get to a specific goal.  It's the feeling of unity.  Of hope.  Of working together for the greater good.  Isn't this also true of our Sunday worship?  We are united in Christ, together as a family, working together to be the hands and arms of Christ toward others.

We can promote social activism for our children by creating opportunities for it.  My daughter never really had a choice.  We were going to fast for hunger because that's what we were doing.  As parents, I think we sometimes offer too many choices to our children.  Scouts or church?  Visiting grandma and grandpa or hanging out at the mall with your friends?  It has to do with priorities. And also a belief that our actions - however small they may be - can bring about great change.  But it begins at home with compassion and caring.  Our children have to see from us that we all belong to a community, and that when one suffers; all suffer.  When we can embrace the fact that we all belong to one another, and we can act on this with loving  hearts, there will always be hope for the future.


Carolyn said...

Another thought provoking, well written blog. I agree with your ideas, it seems as if as a society we've become more self centered. But there are those gemes among us who see beyond their computers and smart phones and know that there are people out there who suffer, who need something as seemingly simple as a warm blanket or cup of coffee and are so grateful for the little things. I wish more parents would widen their children's views of the world like you have with Ani.

Anonymous said...

You're right Anush. Compassion and awareness begin at home. You and Ani are great examples of that. I also think that it's up to the youth that are informed to try to spread the word through the social networks that have made information so immediate. -NB

Suzie said...

Great post! I also agree that compassion and caring begin at home. My desire to volunteer and seek out opportunities for reaching out is a direct result of watching my mother always take care of those who were less fortunate than us. She always gave of everything that she had. So I grew up with the notion that we can't sit idly, we all have a responsibility to act. Therefore, in order to have a caring nation, we need to build caring families.