Diary of a Fresher: 'Sorry, but we don't care as much as your generation did'
Thursday 05 February 2009
Recently, university students across the country have been getting all political over Gaza. It's very nice to think that this is proof that proper student activism didn't die at about the same time Old Labour did, but, sadly, I'm not convinced. As far as I can tell, the general atmosphere here is one of apathy. Yes, we have a thriving student union, societies for each of the main political parties, not to mention the rather brave bunch of people who decided to occupy a certain faculty over the recent Israeli activity in Gaza. But rather than being something fundamental to our lives and identities as students, politics has the feel of just another extra-curricular activity, like wine-tasting or rowing or live-action role-playing. It's all very niche.
I know what it was like before. I studied the Vietnam War and civil rights movement for history GCSE and heard stories from my mum and grandma, both of whom were once active protesters. It was a time of deep-seated anger, a time where the student community rose up as one, a time of iconic photography. Right? True, some of the student protesters have been getting their demands met, and it's hard to make any direct comparison on account of not having been alive back then, but I'm just not getting the same vibe as I'd imagined. It's somehow not very Les Mis.
At the societies' fair at the start of the year, the only political stand that was enjoying any real popularity were the Tories, and I suspect that was mostly because of the free sherry they were offering. Having said that, on those rare occasions I've discussed politics with my friends, the Tories have been more popular than I'd have guessed. Some vague form of old-school socialism is still the default, but there are plenty of young, clever people willing to vote for David Cameron in preference to the status quo. The times, maybe, are a-changin'.
Barack Obama's election was a moderately big deal, but even then most of my friends decided that the promise of "free money" being distributed in balloons at a local nightclub took precedence. By the inauguration, no one really cared. I watched it in the common room with about a dozen others, mostly people older than me who I didn't know.
So why all the apathy? Why the cynicism? Perhaps, ultimately, it's because a lot of the big battles have already been won. We know that women are equal to men, that gays should be allowed to marry, that racism is abhorrent. Without any of that stuff to get angry about, the student world isn't in the frame of mind to start a mass protest about a war that seems to be winding down anyway. Bush gave us something to care about – I was never brave or ideological enough to skip school to protest against the Iraq war, but one of my favourite memories of school, oddly, is the day he got re-elected. As a school, our misery brought us together. Now that the neo-cons are on the retreat and Brown is as inspiring as Al Gore was eight years ago, there's not much to get excited about.
I'm not here to offer an opinion on the Israel-Gaza debate or on those who have chosen to protest; I'm here to bring those of you of an appropriate age my sincerest apologies on behalf of my generation. We just don't care as much as you did. Either that or we've genuinely got less to complain about.
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