Political generations stake their legacies on the language, concepts and values they leave to those that follow. Likewise, succeeding generations are charged with changing, retaining or scrapping inherited ideas and values, thereby bringing them to currency.
Generational transformations in the United States have sent shocks through popular consciousness from decade to decade. In the 1950s, oppositionalists embraced civil rights and liberties; in the late 1960s, anti-war; in the 1970s, environmentalism and so forth.
Politically liberal and left-tilting individuals and groups in the 1990s fought against violations of human rights, growing economic disparities, social injustice, environmental degradation and other trends in domestic and international affairs. In many senses, the ideas and hopes represented by these groups were drawn from previous decades and generations. Such efforts were valuable, if less than effective.
With the advent of a new millennium, century and decade, and in the post-9-11 world, there must be a reformulation among liberal and left-leaning (which I shall hereafter call populist) hearts and minds. Let me make a few suggestions.
First, populists must reformulate themselves in the positive tense. They must become anti-anti. Examples: they must be for reform in corporate practices rather than against the corporation, for reasonable economic regulations and controls rather than against globalization, for restraint and caution in our affairs in Afghanistan rather than against the war effort.
The assumption of the “anti-clause” by groups in pursuit social justice has been among the most unfortunate political developments of the late 20th century. There are few examples of an anti-pro dichotomy working toward the ends of justice and good. By assuming the characterization of “anti,” groups and individuals cast themselves as an unhappy and disagreeable addendum to a greater whole, a futile counter pressure of mainly qualitative worth. The anti-war in Afghanistan faction, for example, is a terrific minority. It has painted itself as enraged and radical, vocalizing protest for the news presses of history, and little more.
Second, protestation and open opposition are corollaries and axiomatic to a democratic vision. Therefore, they should be celebrated and respected. All too often, however, protests are vainly confrontational, alienating, pointless and act to the ultimate discredit of their instigators. If each of those protestors on the Park Blocks last week were to write a candid and sincere letter to their representatives, their time would be much better spent and their concerns given more serious consideration.
Public protest is effective at attracting media attention, but often inspires little more than ambivalence and frustration among other citizens.
Our generation (and I mean this in a very broad sense), one deeply committed to democracy, justice, protection of rights, equality, freedom and liberty, must pull ourselves from the throes of “oppositionalism,” “antiism,” apathy, disillusionment, disenchantment and hostility. We should place ourselves squarely among the politics that will lead to decisions in coming decades. We are the generation that is going to reenter politics and reclaim the government that was established for each of us. We are the generation that is going to pursue social justice and a better world for humanity. And we are going to do it by reinvolving ourselves in the political process, rather than operating at eternal odds with the powers that be.
Liberals, left-leaning moderates, and others are unified in their concern for the well-being of the people who carry and operate this country, such as the Aramark employees, custodians, grounds crews, faculty and administrators who make the everyday operation of Portland State University possible. It is they who have been the force for change in American politics since the beginning, it is they who should be on the minds of every populist, and it is they who are alienated by anti-movements and antagonistic politics.
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