Generation coup: How to overcome apathy and save our future

    Photo by Today is a good day on Flickr, licensed under Creative Commons.

    Dear Thomas L. Friedman:

    Let’s stage a coup.

    I propose that my generation — those in their teens and twenties — overthrow your generation and take control of the future of our country.

    You seem to understand that your generation is screwing ours. Your generation keeps starting wars, spending money and inventing problems that my generation must one day confront. America’s burgeoning public debt is straining America’s influence and increasing its dependence on foreign economies. Our social welfare system is entirely unprepared to handle the financial pressure that your generation’s retirement will impose.

    The planet is facing ecological and humanitarian crises that will become only more precarious the longer we wait, and both of our generations are waiting. Neither a vote nor a letter to Congress will solve these problems. We need a coup.

    But why you? After all, you are a fifty-something journalist and charter member of the generation that has stacked global problems like blocks in a Jenga tower. However, you have the sense and the credibility to ally our two generations in a movement to preserve our nation’s strengths for posterity.

    Last year, you labeled my peers and me Generation Q: the Quiet Generation. “I am impressed because they are so much more optimistic and idealistic than they should be,” you wrote. “I am baffled because they are so much less radical and politically engaged than they need to be.” A coup is both radical and engaging, decisive and necessary.

    Soon after your article was published, my generation became swept up in a romance with Barack Obama. He generated interest in politics among formerly apathetic young voters and mobilized an unprecedented number of young volunteers. Journalists called him the youth candidate, claiming that he had dragged our generation out from the depths of disengagement and apathy. But what are his plans to confront the chief issues that this country will face in two to three decades?

    We have become so hopeful about “President Change” that we have ignored his refusal to stand up for the interests of our generation. Where his platform addresses the future of Social Security, it’s labeled “Seniors and Social Security.” He does not outline how his spending proposals will affect the next generation, nor does he seek to equip our economy and society for long-term ecological challenges. Though his environmental plan is more aggressive than that of any national figure not named Gore, it presents distinctly short-term solutions. It does not seriously confront generational concerns for sustainability like re-urbanization and public transit.

    On education, too, the incoming administration is cognizant of the difficulties facing college students but unwilling to humbly confront the issue of college affordability. The trend of increasing costs of higher education requires the federal government to undertake a fundamentally new approach to higher education that increases the depth and breadth of opportunity for the next three waves of college students.

    But I do not blame Obama for our collective refusal to address the issues that will weigh heavily on my generation’s minds and wallets. It is not his fault that he charmed the pants off of us. It is not his fault that we didn’t ask tougher questions, that we didn’t force the presidential candidates to address the pressing concerns of the next generation.

    But it’s not too late — Obama can be the president that prioritizes preparation as well as response. Here’s the plan.

    First, we will release our platform and begin to launch a policy offensive. We will organize an action-tank (the lovechild of a PAC and a think-tank) in order to lobby local governments and Congress. It will organize Qs (members of Generation Q) to run for public office on a farsighted platform. It will also enlist students in lobbying activities on behalf of the issues that will directly affect them once they come of age. If we hope to wrestle with these precarious issues before they become insurmountable, we will need to engage in politics and policy-making.

    We will need to devise concrete, innovative policy ideas for the chief issues of our time, and we will need to sell these ideas to the people. Our conversations must begin to focus on the lasting effects of policy. We have been politically prude for too long. It is time for us to lead.

    Second, you need to organize level-headed members of your generation to support us in our quest. If we start running for public office with Platform Q on our own, we might only mobilize five to 10 percent of the population. You are the Baby Boomers’ conscience. You recognize the importance of preparing this country for the next generation. Your message reaches beyond ideology and party, beyond the issues of the moment. Your generation trusts you, and we need their faith in order to launch this offensive.

    We are going to stage a preservative coup. We are not looking to displace a generation of leaders. We are looking to join with them in confronting the long-term problems that we, all generations, cannot afford to ignore. Let the planning begin.

    Very truly yours,

    Ben Armstrong


    blog comments powered by Disqus
    Please read our Comment Policy.