No More Deer in Headlights: Americans Shake Off the Ennui

Whitney Bashaw, Editor-in-Chief

A lot of people like to wax apocalyptic about our future. I understand. It’s human nature to worry and from our place in the present we view everything that’s coming as if through a magnifying glass: it all looks very big—dauntingly so. We look behind with rueful dewy doe eyes and we look ahead like deer in headlights with an 18-wheeler gunning towards us transporting—oh, I don’t know, fracking chemicals. Imminent destruction. It gets worse when we think of more tangible worries: our generation faces mounting student debt that equates to indentured servitude and grim job prospects.
All these years we were pushed and prepared for college, all the while with the mantra of the middle class in our heads “With an education, you can go anywhere! You can do anything!” and we find ourselves victims of the Dorothy dream: “You were there, and you…” and everything’s back to black and white and Toto’s still going to be taken away. The world we had built up is crumbling—maybe we should have invested in infrastructure after all.
No doubt this makes us scared. We feel powerless and in many ways we are. The increase in income and wealth disparity is devastating to our optimism. By 2008, Americans had lost more than a quarter of their net worth and a 2011 senate investigation (the Levin-Coburn Report) cited a failure to regulate Wall Street’s excesses as one of the main causes of the Global Financial Crisis. More abstractly, students overwork themselves with academics and extracurricular activities to achieve on-paper value in the world that doesn’t seem to have a place for them anymore.
While budget cuts and tuition increases are a reality in every state, it is a systemic problem; the priorities of our country are not in line with the reality of the situation. This problem reaches far beyond the education system and it is not just a problem for the youth in this country. The swelling numbers of people taking to the streets is evidence.
So, the people are pushing back. And I would say it’s about time.
Last Wednesday October 5 there was a statewide SUNY walkout. You, reader, may have seen the group of your peers crowding in the Quad. On that same day, Occupy Wall Street marched with three unions; at least 10,000 people were in attendance. Also on that day over 100 colleges nationwide rose in solidarity with the OWS, as well as the countless cities across the country where encampments of frustrated people, young and old, have sprung up to echo the chants in Zuccotti Park.
Detractors of the movement were not slow to assemble (Of course, only after the media stopped the two-week blackout of coverage—it took 700 people being arrested on the Brooklyn Bridge to get the cameras rolling.) Many republicans—Fox News got on the bandwagon, too—have depicted them in equal measure as dangerous mobs of socialists and whiney, lazy youths. G.O.P. presidential candidate Herman Cain stated that these protesters are “anti-American.”
The so-called “liberal” media has warmed up to the movement, but certainly isn’t cozy because let’s face it: liberal or not, media is a business and they’re cushioned by the very companies this movement is opposing. (That’s why social media has been so important, leaving many people to draw parallels to the Arab Spring, dubbing this the “American Autumn.”) The major aversion that has cropped up in the media is the complaint that this is not a cohesive movement because there is not a cohesive message being brought to the table.
But these are not separate, anarchic battles being waged, though the demands are many and variable. The wave of protesters crescendos into one resounding voice that is asking one important question: how do we as a people, as a country, and as a government want to move into the future, and who should decide?
I would say it’s a good question to ask.

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