I was a teenage activist
➢ I started with a badly phrased petition on nuclear disarmament in the local fish ‘n ship shop. Since I worked there I soon learnt, as Pauline Hanson must also have observed, that most people care more about getting their dinner on time.
➢ Undeterred, I persisted and pestered with petitions. I screened films on the Franklin at school, and sold No Damns stickers (which did very well because they covered the school crest on our bags). I was more than passionate, like all good children raised on ABC current affairs, I could select from a raft of apocalyptic issues - I was incensed. I marched at all the boomer marches. I blockaded the Vice Chancellors office with the No Fees students, formed a Rape Action Collective on Campus, volunteered at WIRE, founded a campaign on the portrayal of sexual violence, and organised the native title armbands and ribbons.
➢ But I would have done one fifth of many of my contemporaries, presently being decried as apathetic and politically disinterested youth. I know anarchists involved in free presses, women involved in collectives to Reclaim the Night, for reproductive rights, against domestic violence, for working women, migrant women, lesbian visibility, outworkers. There are lobby groups for single mothers, feminist lawyers, prostitutes, and so on. Friends go to forest and uranium mine blockades, work on community art projects, and god knows, churn through hours of stamp sticking, envelope licking grind. Not surprisingly, few of these people self-consciously think of themselves as ‘young’- they feel too weary. It strikes me that if you don’t know where ‘young’ activists are its because you’re not involved yourself. So shut up and turn up.
None of my involvement gave me any consciousness of being young – as the boomers seem to imagine about their own refractory behaviour. Instead it meant I was a feminist and a Green. Youth only defines one in retrospect, when you wish you still had it. Boomers seem to think that youth is the propellant of participation, its precondition a naive faith in change, as though it was the desires and ideals of their youth that involved them in causes quite unrelated, like worker’s rights.
➢ This noble quest for ‘The Voice of Youth’, this tiresome lament that young people are politically detached seems to originate in some boomer fantasy that ‘we changed the world when we were young, why can’t they?’.
It’s assumed that the invisibility of young people is something of their own making. That their visibility would be constituted by iconic spokespeople like Germaine Greer, perhaps rather than diffuse networks of web sites. In truth, any campaign strategy routinely makes visibility, in the form of media exposure, its priority. Media stunts and symbolic actions, not mass moratoriums, are the stuff of present day activism. Its seems diabolical to me that the very press that so ardently wants to hear from young people is unaware that the single preoccupation of any campaign is how to get media attention? Its assumed that if young people did seek visibility for issues – necessarily defined by their age – they would not want to speak as gays, Muslims, aborigines, students, disabled, green, republican, post-colonial, etc - but as youth. What we’re encountering is more a resistance to speak as youth, which in itself may have had its historical moment with the boomers and passed on.
My feeling is that ‘young people’ involved in social change only think in terms of generation when they remark on the fact that the boomers have eaten the world, and we have to clear up the mess if we want another meal, let alone share the scraps around equitably.
It seems the baby boomers lament for lost youth, because what they are experiencing as loss is their own youth. It’s a romance that leaves them imagining that social change movements erupt out the firey bellies of free living youth. Nonsense. There were always older people involved in the causes I went along to though sometimes they separated over tactics – like in the recent reconciliation/native title campaigns. But even in the examples of kids blockading Jabiluka, while more seasoned activists set up the Sea of Hands – there were lots of exceptions. Perhaps the Boomers would feel better if they congratulated themselves on how many from their ranks are still active rather than how many young people aren’t. Perhaps the ‘boomers’ are feeling just as entrapped and misrepresented by market driven categories as the Xers are.
To all those entreating ‘youth’ to spring out of the ground like Messiahs to save the world and its haemorrhaging future aspirations – all of you with assured columns and radio spaces, attend one FOE meeting. Ask any of the young men and women there, ‘are you willing to speak as/for youth?’ Ask them what other campaigns they’ve been involved in. But most importantly ask how many press conferences they’ve organised and how often the press have turned up? And then, I dare you, give over one of your weekly columns, or one of your radio spots to some not-previously-famous kid who is talented and has something to say. You could start looking in the student newspapers – those that are still running.
➢ Anyway, enough said. Silenced by the clamourings of youth I must stick the booby in my baby’s mouth.