Last night, I watched Milk, that lovely Gus Van Sant biopic featuring gay-rights activists who take their fight "out of the closet and into the street." Today, I participated in our country's raging healthcare debate by lighting a "virtual candle" at MoveOn.org. I then attempted to save farm animals from abuse by affixing my name to an internet petition. And I signed a second virtual petition to "Tell the President: Save Our Arctic Habitat!" At some point during all this, I realized there was a reason those '70s activists were so svelte. Harvey Milk's crew was really out there, marching in the street, working those calves, screaming their dissent. Today's political activism is increasingly taking the form of point-and-click.
Passing initiatives sure doesn't burn as many calories as it used to. It's hardly a secret that the same people who raised hell in the '60s are often the only people raising hell today. Recent Huffington Post and Washington Post articles lament the lack of young people involved in the healthcare debate, and they're right: you don't see any hot Emile Hirsch look-alikes out there with a bullhorn. At a time when the hordes of this country's uninsured college grads ought to be rioting en masse, you're more likely to find them mucking about on Facebook. It's not that they don't care; it's just that they'd rather save the world comfortably and in a hassle-free manner in between bouts of Jewel Quest and "Which Spiderman Character Are You?" memes.
Facing the worst economic climate since the Dust Bowl, often working harder for far less than their parents made, it's understandable that today's crop of working stiffs would rather crawl home to Hulu after work than haul ass to the nearest protest. And my own efforts to get physically involved in the defining political battle of our time have been considerably hampered by the fact that no one is staging any significant counter-revolution to the Red Scare Teabag morons who continue to grab headlines across the country. When Harvey Milk ran for supervisor, his campaign was a miracle of community organizing—and leadership. When was the last time anyone saw a political official out on the front lines, bullhorn in hand?
"Progressive," is about to become every bit as tainted a moniker as "liberal" or "feminist," but this time it will be our own fault. Progressive is a dynamic word, implying motion, vitality—progress! Whoever is in charge of the current "movement" (hey, who the hell is in charge?) seems rather adverse to breaking a sweat. Outpaced by Jehovah's Witnesses, not one canvasser has shown up on my doorstep to ask me to sign something. Not one of them has jumped up on a box outside of Safeway and harangued me into community service. And not one has had the balls to stand up in the middle of a Town Hall tirade and scream, "Hey, dickhead! Medicare is a government-run program!"
Of course, it's no good trying to guilt-trip anyone. Maybe, rather than incited, the revolution ought to be repackaged as our last best hope of shedding patriotic pounds. If we could just find a leader—a political Richard Simmons, if you will—to get us off of our asses and into the streets. If we could just participate in those group exercises our country so desperately needs. Teabaggers may be unsightly, but they're looking a hell of a lot better than Barney Frank who, verbal calisthenics aside, is rapidly becoming the all-too fleshy face of a political movement undermined by Facebook-age passivism.
Hannah Strom-Martin received her MFA in creative writing from the University of Southern Maine. A California native, she hopes to make her living by writing about elves, social justice and other imaginary creatures.
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