As I sit here preparing for my final college exams, I can't help but think back on the ups and downs of the past two years. Ups: the defeat of the Republican Party in 2008, my own graduation from college, and the formation of progressive student and veteran movements; and downs: suffering through a war and hospitalization due to post-traumatic stress, watching my friends die in foreign countries, and now, the betrayal of my generation by a President who we put our utmost faith in.
From Apathy to Activism
On election night in 2008, thousands of students in Bellingham, Washington reacted to the news of Obama's victory by noisily and merrily marching through the cold streets to drums and bullhorns. For the first time in my life since returning from the Iraq War, I proudly carried an American flag right-side-up, broke through police barricades with hundreds of youthful, jubilant demonstrators, and partied in the middle of a street till early in the morning. The elation of the crowd of young people was matched only by the distasteful negativity of the dozen-or-so old Republicans gathered at their headquarters around a TV playing FOXnews.
Billed as the opening victory of "Generation O," the momentum of the progressive campus movement felt unstoppable. Socialist, anti-war and counter-culture groups suddenly proliferated across the area. Pro-Obama graffiti appeared on buildings and walls everywhere; articles in student publications praised progressive values. The City of Bellingham seriously considered granting sanctuary to war-resisting AWOL soldiers-- a student-led initiative.
Within weeks, the conservative reaction was underway. Letters appeared in the local paper calling for the closing of Western Washington University and the drafting of all students into GOP wars. The chairwomen of the local republicans, Luanne Van Werven, appeared on FOXnews bashing college students and demeaning the higher education in general. Conservative groups sent salaried workers to organize a young-republican group at the college, unsuccessfully. Supporters of the Sanctuary idea were shouted down at a town-hall meeting by angry republicans with signs reading "Shoot the Traitors." All in all, it seemed that with every passing week, more youth were demanding their political empowerment and more old conservatives were angrily impotent. Led by a progressive president, it seemed like the generation of Hope had reached its peak.
That was in 2008. Fast-forward one year.
The Failure of "Dumb War Theory" and Capitalism
Last week, hundreds of students again gathered to march noisily. Unlike November of 2008, however, their signs now are angry and there is no dancing. Speakers railed against the latest Bush-like troop surge, and the crowd noisily and angrily rallied against the Obama administration's failure to capitalize on any political victory. Tired of waiting for the promised change, the young, it appears, are turning to that last-resort, dirty-word: Socialism.
And why not Socialism? Young people today cannot even remember a time without war, crushing student-loans, environmental catastrophe, torture and terror. All of these, according to Marxism, are necessarily end results of unbridled Capitalism at work. It seems obvious to any kid having grown up under the Bush regime-siblings in Iraq, parents in debt, education in ruins-that the two percent of "haves" are destroying the lives of the ninety-eight percent of the "have-nots." Socialism makes sense to us, if only because Capitalism does not.
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Most disappointing of all to the youth, though, is Obama's betrayal of their values. Particularly, his extensions of Bush policies and war-mongering. Obama's "dumb war" theory (i.e. that some wars are just and some are just "dumb") is, to us, a complete abomination of the concept of peace. By evoking the Reverend Doctor King in his Nobel acceptance speech while in the same breath dismissing non-violence, Obama has bastardized the concept of peace and alienated us, anti-war youth, permanently from his politics.
For myself, I have come in my time in college to an understanding of the beauty of MLK's philosophy of world peace. That violent force cannot ever be justified --that two wrongs don't make a right-- seems like second nature now. Obama's twisted pseudo-intellectual rationalization of war-mongering stands in strict opposition to the teachings of Jesus Christ (love thy neighbor, turn the other cheek, blessed are the peacemakers, thou shalt not kill, et cetera) and make this veteran sick. I would not feign to argue with the leader of the free world, but then again I have seen war from the ground up, and he has not. I know that I speak for the young anti-war movement when I say that Obama has betrayed us. I also speak for the anti-war youth when I say that we won't forget it.
Last week at an anti-war rally I met two marines preparing to go to Afghanistan. Though they were skeptical of the "hippie" protestors, they listened closely to me as an experienced veteran. I explained to them that real courage doesn't need to hide behind an M-4 and body-armor. They asked me about pacifism, and were surprised when I told them that non-violence and pacifism are two separate things. These two young marines, both misinterpreted the teachings of non-violence (the same way Obama did in his Nobel lecture), gave me the familiar "we should kill them before they kill us" argument, but they had no response to my question: why not change their minds instead of killing them? I almost expect to hear misinterpretations of non-violence from a pair of 20-year-old marines at a peace protest, but I did not expect to hear it from Commander-in-Chief Obama a week later in almost the same words.
That Obama and his generals think the cultural and ideological problems of Asia can be solved with drones and surges is a testament only to their failure of imagination. That Obama could stand up at the Nobel podium and defend his mass murders (less-dumb wars?) is a complete abomination. I know I am expressing the collective concern of my fellow students when I wonder why doesn't Obama get it? The reason Islamic extremists hate American culture is the same reason we voted for change: the world is tired of war, globalization, exploitation, and the other trappings of the for-profit American culture. There is a common denominator in our politics that Obama would rather not let himself see: the failure of our way of life. The youth of today see this from the bottom of the heap looking up, whether they are soldiers interrogating Afghani villagers, or students working the night shift to get through college. Why can't Obama see it?
The Future of Politics
As I prepare to take my first college degree and enter into the world of the Great Recession, I look back on a time of great turmoil. Not only have we students roundly rejected the Neo-Con worldview, but we have been betrayed by the leader we helped to elect. I also look forward to a time of re-generation. Though our generation is the most democratic and least republican one since the civil war, don't be surprised if we turn away from the Democratic party soon. Fool us once, DNC, shame on you. But beware: it may not happen again.
My generation can't afford not to have health care. We can't afford to live on minimum wage. We can't afford to allow CEOs to rape our natural resources. Unlike some older folks, my generation understands the differences between communism and socialism. My generation understands that war is not the answer, and we are beginning to understand who President Obama really is. We will tirelessly dedicate ourselves to fixing the planet and realizing the ideals which our parents have rejected, but we will not forget which party promised us hope and which party failed us.
We the youth will bear the yoke of tomorrow, and we the youth are quickly learning that the best way to bear that yoke is to cast it off. Real change can't be far away, with or without Obama.