Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Thoughts on Being a Radical . . . or Not

Today in my history class we are talking about student protest movements.  As I was re-reading the articles for today there was one that really made me think about the current protest movements both in the U.S. and abroad -- "The free speech movement and the heroic moment" by James A. Hijiya.  The article is not just about the FSM in Berkeley, but at its core it is about a moment of consciousness for young men and women in the midst of a revolution.

What makes the FSM particularly interesting is that it wasn't about a particular political agenda.  It was about the right of expression no matter what the political agenda.  The movement was made up of liberals, of course, but there were also conservatives involved.  And this is an important fact, one I think is often overlooked.  The agenda of the FSM was to give voice to all.  Certainly it was spurred on by the ongoing Civil Rights Movement and the protests against the HUAC committees, but for the members of the FSM it was even more close to home.

In the past I have written about my frustration with all things Baby Boomer and this article sort of brought that home for me in a way I am better able to articulate.  Jack Weinberg, one of the FSM leaders described the idealism this way; "They start as liberals, talking about society, criticizing it, going to lectures, donating money.  But every year more and more students find that they cannot stop there . . . They become activists, and a new generation, a generation of radicals, emerges."  It is that difference, the difference between liberals and radicals, that has often frustrated me.  The fact that this generation became radicals and made a difference and then went back to being liberals, or in some cases conservatives.

It is not the political ideology that I find frustrating.  It is the inaction.  Now, this causes me to look into the mirror.  Because how often have I taken action?  How have I gotten involved in a particular cause?  And perhaps I shouldn't feel frustrated with baby boomers, maybe my frustration is with my own inaction.  The simple fact that the previous generation mobilized and made changes and my own generation simply did not act.  Weinberg also stated, "Liberalism is a trap.  It's the impotence of having principles that makes you opposed to something and other principles that make you opposed to doing anything about it."  Wow...Weinberg could not have been more than 25 years old when he made that statement.

Perhaps radicalism is a function of age.  Eric Levine stated that is why Berkeley faculty did not get involved early in the movement.  It was not feasible for faculty to do so because their concerns had shifted to their own economic and social security. So perhaps I shouldn't be so hard on the generation that gave us the Civil Rights and Free Speech Movements.  It would be difficult to sustain that level of activism for so long.   Any time I have thought how I would like to be involved in a protest I think about my own responsibilities (job, family, etc.).  Yes, I remain liberal, but I am not radical.  I wonder, could I ever be a radical?  But part of me longs to be.  Maybe when little j goes to college I'll have my moment!

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