Protest imbues meaning to slacker youth

Public protests and demonstrations are an integral part of any real college experience. A solid community of young people, immersed in a current of intellect and political awareness, carries a dynamic energy that can explode under the catalyst of organization.

However, very few of the protests I’ve attended so far on this campus have embodied such energy. They usually amount to maybe 25 bashful activists, standing awkwardly in a loose cluster, waiting for some brave soul to try and start another lame chant. I’ve left weak demonstrations and poorly attended meetings with a deep sensation of frustrated hopelessness plaguing my conscience.

However, the other day I attended a large-scale public demonstration that gave me some hope. On May 4, 110 cities throughout the world celebrated Liberation Day (a global festival calling for the reform of marijuana laws) before participating in the Million Marijuana March.

Minneapolis’ chapter of this festival took place in Loring Park. Nearly 200 people showed up for a relaxing afternoon of good political vibes. Tents lined the crowd, housing representatives from NORML, the Green Party, local hemp shops and glass-blowing artists.

Two local bands, the 420 All Stars and the Kung Fu Hippies, blended their style of hip-hop and rocking new-grass, and their sets came between speeches from political candidates, activists and a comedian. I watched a sea of hippies, punk rock kids and members of the square community pick up spray-painted placards and march into the streets of Minneapolis.

Bongos and portable stereo speakers gave us a rhythm for the march, and the faint smell of pot smoke wafted through the throng. Car horns honked their approval as we made our way to the DFL party’s convention at the Convention Center downtown. We congregated in the building’s lobby, chanting “We toke, we vote!” before entering into a crowd of surprised politicians. The demonstrators set up shop on the smooth tiles of the Convention Center’s floor to begin a rowdy bongo circle and to pass around joints.

The demonstration was a massive success, and I felt the city become slightly more enthused about decriminalizing marijuana.

However, I still left the march with a minute feeling of disillusionment. Of the 200 or so people in Loring Park that day, about 8 of them show up regularly to the campus NORML meetings, and even fewer than that make it to the state meetings at Arise! Bookstore in Uptown.

Of those activists that do make these meetings, none of them have dreadlocks, none of them wear patchwork pants or overalls and none of them play the bongos. Only some of the participants at Loring Park are very politically active. But this is not because these people are lazy, or that they’re posers or any other pious reasoning like that. We simply live in generation that is not politically sophisticated.

Serious issues often slip through the cracks, but not because my generation is lazy and apathetic. We simply have no personal memory of any authentic subculture. Growing up in decades of excessive corporate greed and commercialization, we lack a separate, untouched youth culture that kids of the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s enjoyed. The instinct to cohesively organize is lost as marketing expands.

Since childhood, we have lived in a society where subcultures have been annexed into petty trends, and we’ve seen corporate America expand into every part of our nation’s uniqueness. Even nonconformity is a marketable style.

This environment has left my generation with an infinite insecurity where no one can draw the line separating “coolness” from trivial fashion. Young people are hesitant to embrace political activism because they fear the flaky stigmas that might get attached to them. They might privately support political issues but do not publicly act on them so as not to threaten their genuine characters. To go to a meeting or attend a protest might seem like trying too hard to be different.

But involvement in politics is not a trend. Voicing minority views is a healthy activity for one’s personality, and as
movements like the decriminalization of marijuana gain momentum, young people can invent a community untouched by corporate marketing.


Gregory J. Scott is a freshman in the College of Liberal Arts. Send comments to [email protected]