Monday, January 02, 2012

Millenials Rising: The Arab Spring, Russia, Occupy... and Rick Perry

After a couple weeks of celebrating Molly and I's engagement while also recovering from a tough semester at seminary, I sat down today and read through Time's 2011 Person of the Year article with great interest.  Unlike some of the listed runners up like Kate Middleton and Paul Ryan, "The Protestor" seemed like a pretty appropriate choice, and I thought the piece as a whole was pretty well done.  The article aptly characterized 2011 as the greatest year of global protest since at least 1968, and on this go around it wasn't just part of "counter-cultural pageant."  Sure, I still saw plenty of the typical lefties (which I'm probably one of) at Occupy Philly, but there were a lot of other folks involved as well.  Not only at Occupy but throughout the world, young, educated and solidly middle-class folks flooded the streets throughout 2011, protesting against economic injustice and in some places, political oppression.  Most of those protestors were getting politically active for the first time.  Credit also must be given to folks from all generations and backgrounds who fought and continue to fight for democracy and economic fairness.  While it was therefore appropriate for Time to declare "The Protestor" as Person of the Year, 2011 wasn't just a year of protest... 2011 was the year millennials woke up.

Millennials, a group which could perhaps most simply be defined as those born from 1985 to 2000, have already been defined in countless ways, both good and bad.  While many of us millennials have overly relied on Mom and Dad, and some of us might care a little too much about our iPhones, we've also come of age in a world that strikes us as profoundly disappointing and 2011 was the first year we really got some skin in the game trying to change it.  Sure, a majority of us voted for Barack Obama in the last election, and will probably do so again, but it was only in 2011 when many of us slept on cold concrete for months, faced government snipers or were humble enough to learn how to protest from our sisters and brothers around the world.  Unlike in some other seasons of protest, we as a whole were either humble (or perhaps reliant) enough to want to learn from previous generations... we're largely close with our parents and haven't experienced a generation gap.  Perhaps most importantly, we've learned how to make the most of all those camera phones and laptops we tote around... the Arab Spring, Occupy and the now escalating protests in Russia would not have sparked without such technology.  Not only have we learned from our sisters and brothers around the world online, we've also been able to stand in solidarity with them.  One reason for this sense of solidarity is largely because we don't get our news from talking heads on TV, but rather from each other.  Just look at some of the power images we've experienced in the last year:

Remember this video from the Egyptian protests last February?  In English it's titled "The Sound of Freedom," and it's by Moustafa Fahmy, Mohamed Khalifa, and Mohamed Shaker.  Here's a translation of some of the lyrics:

I went down and I said I am not coming back, and I wrote on every street wall that I am not coming back.
All barriers have been broken down, our weapon was our dream, and the future is crystal clear to us, we have been waiting for a long time, we are still searching for our place, we keep searching for a place we belong too, in every corner in our country.

That's some pretty powerful stuff for sure.  Here's some similarly inspiring footage from the ongoing protests in Russia:

It's so interesting (and I think very millennial) that young protestors are exclaiming things like "We just wanted truth, we just wanted the law to work" and as reported they're calling for political evolution, not revolution.  It's been my experience that millennials are idealist, but not overly so... Tempered by difficult experiences over the last decade, most seem to know that complete anarchy probably wouldn't result in anything good.  Rather, in Egypt, Russia, the US and many other countries most folks seem willing to peacefully evolve rather than completely throw out traditional systems.  Even in Egypt, protestors were initially willing to work with army officials.  The only instances where this hasn't been the case is when protestors have experienced very violent retribution, such as in Libya and Syria.  There's been a great deal of criticism leveled at those who took to the streets in 2011, mostly arguing that the protestors only know what they're against instead of what they're actually for.  I think that observation is partially true, but that's also a good thing.  As I experienced at Occupy, it wasn't just a protest, but more importantly a diverse community in conversation about how to make a better world.  Supported by cellphones and the internet, millennials brought in countless others who couldn't be physically present to join in the conversation.

This idea that millennials aren't only about protest but more importantly about conversation is why I included Rick Perry in the title of this post.  Check out this example of how two millennials contributed to a conversation about Perry's hateful campaign ad a few weeks back:

After Perry's "Strong" ad came out, Millennials made many powerful videos like this one, and the ad itself became one of the most disliked videos on YouTube within hours.  Without a doubt, 2011 was the year the millennial generation woke up, and I'm greatly looking forward to seeing where the conversation brings us in 2012.

God's peace,

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