Do not underestimate the power of young people. They are not simply machines that can spit out votes for political candidates. They are the future of the political system and they have the ability to start reforming the system right now. Given the student activism taking place around the world today, the prospects for a student movement in the U.S. to gain hold are significant.
In 2007, Venezuelan students took to the streets to protest the closing of the last independent television station in the country. Their efforts led to Chavez’s first political defeat when he lost a referendum to eliminate term limits thanks to the organizing and campaigning of students. It took a second referendum, scheduled immediately after Chavez supporters lost key political races in the 2008 Venezuelan elections, for Chavez to get his way on the issue. A few weeks ago, Venezuelan students rose up again in response to authoritarian legislation that gave the government power to oversee what is taught in private universities to ensure that “socialist ideology” was being properly ingrained in youth.
Right now, demonstrations are being held against the Egyptian regime by the country’s youth. The ideological alignment of these demonstrations, and the results they will produce are uncertain. What is most telling about them, though, is that the driving force of today’s opposition is not coming from established political parties or figureheads, but from the youth who have the most to gain and lose by determining the direction of their country. Dr. ElBaradei, one of the leaders of the pre-existing opposition movement in Egypt, encapsulated the power of students in one quote: “Young people are impatient… Frankly, I didn’t think the people were ready.” What Dr. ElBaradei describes as “impatient” can more accurately be described as “proactive.” Instead of accepting protracted complacency, students have the time and intellectual energy to re-imagine what the world around them could be like. They understand the power of ideas and the importance of translating those ideas into action.
What does this have to do with the U.S.? As much as people talk about the political apathy of youth, there are signs of a groundswell forming amongst them for the cause of liberty. The number of pro-liberty student groups on college campuses has erupted over the past 3 years. The disenchantment with both Bush and Obama is leading students to question the bipartisan divide they have grown up with. I am not saying that the kinds of mass movements that have recently taken place in Egypt and Venezuela will be replicated in the U.S. I am saying that they should not be ignored. If students in the U.S. realize the impact of their international peers, they might be willing to stand up and have their voice heard.