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Friedman on the Purple Bubble

Thomas Friedman has a new opinion piece out today regarding the lack of activism on college campuses, and specifically mentions Williams.

America needs a jolt of the idealism, activism and outrage (it must be in there) of Generation Q. That’s what twentysomethings are for — to light a fire under the country. But they can’t e-mail it in, and an online petition or a mouse click for carbon neutrality won’t cut it. They have to get organized in a way that will force politicians to pay attention rather than just patronize them.

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#1 Comment By Jeff Z. On October 10, 2007 @ 4:55 pm

Interesting article. (Remainder removed by request – Will S.)

#2 Comment By Whitney Wilson ’90 On October 10, 2007 @ 5:29 pm

How many members of each Williams class end up with Teach for America? Less than 5? More than 20? Does anyone know?

#3 Comment By Anonymous On October 10, 2007 @ 6:14 pm

And then there is our amazing fellow blogger Morgan, who not only tries to take it a step higher/further but is trying to figure out how to lead, how to be effective, and how to bring others along in what he and they strive to make into a pool of competent, efficient, effective activists.

I marvel at his commitment, patience, and thoughtfulness. In days of old there was theater, noise, and lots of emotion, but often a lack of strategy, commitment to the facts, or attempts to go beyond the short, small goal or the one-off. Maybe people like Morgan are harder for we older folks to recognize as “young activists” since they don’t fit our stereotypes.

#4 Comment By 07eph On October 10, 2007 @ 6:33 pm

I know of at least 8 kids in the class of ’07 that ended up in Teach for America (or similar, smaller alternative-route programs, like NYC teaching fellows, Mississippi Teacher Corps or Teach Chicago) and around 15 people in the class of ’06.. My best guess would be in the neighborhood of 10-20 per year.

#5 Comment By Anonymous On October 10, 2007 @ 6:34 pm

My god am I tired of Thomas Friedman. He’s been visiting and complaining about colleges since I was at Williams. And I remember his look of complete incomprehension when I asked him if he didn’t consider that any effort to force democracy would fail. For him to criticize today’s students for failing is a desperate attempt to continue to bamboozle us all into not outing him for the flawed centrist (and unbelievably repetititve) hack he is (and a perfectly nice man, but my god do I dislike his politics).

When, exactly, was the last time politicians listened to radicals? Was it in 1972 with McGovern? Was it the response to Black Power? The push for the ERA? How’d those efforts go? How many votes did Nader get, again (and I voted for the man!)?

Wash yourself of that guilt, Mr. Friedman, but don’t take a cheap shot at college students to do it.

#6 Comment By rory On October 10, 2007 @ 6:46 pm

above is mine.

#7 Comment By current eph On October 10, 2007 @ 8:25 pm

I think there are 14 of us (’07s) in TFA this year, although I might be off by a couple. I could be wrong, but my impression going through TFA training was that Williams was one of the “hot” spots recruited by TFA (and that 14 per Williams’ size is a proportionally higher than average number when compared to Williams’ peer schools). Then again, that’s mostly rumor based so feel free to correct me on that.

Regarding Friedman’s article, I’m with rory…obviously I’m biased, but I think my generation differs from the kids of the 60s and 70s primarily in that we’ve learned from their mistakes–we understand that the sort of radical protest of our parents’ generation is not particularly affective. Instead, we are a generation that is better personified by Morgan–we are a generation of energetic campaigners who work primarily from within the system to affect change. No, I do not think the average person from my generation is as energized about the issues as the average student from the 60s or 70s, but I think Friedman’s article unfairly minimilizes (sp?) the contribution of all of the Morgans of our generation (and while he is more visible than average at Williams, he is one of many such campaigners at Williams–at least last year I wouldn’t say he was necessarily the most influential environmental leader on campus…there’s at least one more who was equally influential who immediately comes to mind).

#8 Comment By Anonymous On October 10, 2007 @ 8:31 pm

How does one protest considering the politically challenging environment academic institutions find themselves in? If you disagree with the perspective of the revolutionary spirit found in agitators, then they hound you for this or that “ism”.

Indifference is the answer to these agitators. We express our position through indifference.

In other words, rejection is the appropriate response when we do not accept their propositions, and we smile when we graciously excuse ourselves.

Why be used for their singular purposes?

I would rather row my boat than theirs.

Williams students do not lack spirit. In point of fact, we are rather intelligent. We choose to be indifferent to the message we hear.

Outraged activists should take their message to another student body. Certainly there would be more able-bodied followers to fool with.

#9 Comment By Henry Bass ’57 On October 10, 2007 @ 10:14 pm

Nothing ever changes. When I was on the Lecture Committee in the 50’s we had James Reston of the New York Times come to lecture. He was the Thomas Friedman of his time.

Reston had a theory that college had become so difficult, that no one had the time to read his newspaper and so we had all lost interest in politics. He said that his own son, who was UNC at Chapel Hill, told him that he just didn’t have time to read the NYT. We tried to explain to Reston that this was no problem for most of us.

If you invite a fellow from the Times always expect him/her to speak down. As the Times has done throughout its history. They have such a low opinion of their readers. And an even lower opinion of students.

#10 Comment By Aidan On October 10, 2007 @ 11:10 pm

I can’t believe I’m going to be the first person to mention “Friedman Units.”

The only sadness that I had upon the death of Times Select was that the (largely) undistinguished op/ed page was back for all the world to see.

I really had enjoyed being protected from these people.

No more, I guess.

#11 Comment By Alexander Woo On October 11, 2007 @ 1:56 am

I think to a larger extent than before, the radical youth of today have given up on traditional American institutions, and that includes the institutions of protest. More are doing the modern equivalent of the early Christians did as they saw Rome crumbling around them, which was go out into the desert and try to save the best of the old civilization and build foundations for a new one.

If you look at how protests (WTO or start of Iraq war protests, for example) are organized today as opposed to in the 60s you’ll see a big difference. The protests in the 60s were organized democratically. Large, representative organizations elected, by majority vote, charismatic leaders who ran things. Protests these days are organized anarchistically. Decisions are made by consensus, and any larger organization needed for a specific event is created on an ad hoc basis. Large groups split back up into small groups of friends after specific protests. Many of the most active and devoted of these small groups have consciously put themselves communally at the margins of society, for example as Catholic Worker houses and their secular equivalents. Some of these are the successors of 60s communes.

#12 Comment By rory On October 11, 2007 @ 8:50 am

Aidan–college students have six months to right their ship. This next semester is critical to college’s future!

#13 Comment By Henry Bass ’57 On October 11, 2007 @ 5:30 pm

Dear Alexander Woo,

I was deeply involved in the protests of the 60’s. And in the coalition politics that ran the movement. The major antiwar group was the Natioinal Mobiliation to End the War in Vietnam. It was based on one organization one vote. The huge Women’s Strike for Peace (democratically run) had one vote as did tiny Trotskyist groups. It was a constant struggle to keep the crazy fringe groups from taking over.

Fortunately, some of the far left groups realized that they would ruin the coalition if they went too far and restrained themselves. And the moderates/pacifists/libertarians knew how to play the game of setting up new small groups as well.

#14 Comment By Ken Thomas ’93 On October 11, 2007 @ 6:19 pm


Thanks for the description.

For much of yesterday evening, I failed to gather my (quite divergent) thoughts in response to this post. Some fragments:

Less than 20% of US Americans read a paper daily now; a generation ago it was about half (sons of NYT journalists excluded from the polling). Far more receive “news” online, through blogs etc. The traditional media have not responded other than to “bemoan.” Behind this, there’s an authority question–

The sheer enormity of 1.2 million people gathering to protest election fraud (etc) in Mexico City, for more than a month, continues to amaze me as much as the reality of standing amid nearly a million people in the Zocalo. “Ineffective” it was not, though no one foresaw its consequences, and we lack the kind of media that can keep up with such issues. (In this context, I refrain to comment on the NYT’s coverage or lack thereof. [Yes they have editors! and they generally do not touch editorial columnists’ prose]).

I do wonder what would happen in the United States, if someone in Gore’s position called for similar action as in Mexico. (We may still find out, though Gore lacks a similar base coalition).

I was highly amused to see an infrequent commenter here on ephBlog state, on his personal blog, that Belmont University was “the kind of right-wing evangelical Christian institution” that makes the left cringe. The default Belmont student identity is more of a revival of the free-love, experimental drug culture of the 60s, with the assertion that “Christ would have been a hippie” tacked on (my version of several students’ expressions). Williams is (alas) no bell of the weather, and the political left’s distance from the actuality of Christian and campus sentiment …

We do live in very different times than the 60s. Last week I got to hear one ——– operative’s description of the events surrounding the sudden closure of a safe house in a Latin American country when “Al Quaeda” (his words) moved in on the local druglords’ operations: the gory first-hand details frightened me as much as hearing (weeks earlier) an El Universal reporter claim that his team were told “not to try” to investigate leftist “revolutionaries” who are fairly clearly using Al Quaeda handbook techniques (and training?) to assault facilities in Mexico. [So, on other grounds, I’m not so sure of David’s assertion re: El Salvador; but traditional leftism does not clearly apply].

[From another post: looking at tuition&RB indexed in constant dollars via CPI, the cost of Williams has actually fallen via sticker price, except for decreases in the “discount rate” for the mid-to-affluent; while there’s a strange disconnect in TF’s 60s-era-ish metaphors and images, I doubt a sector-by-sector analysis of US-American life, trying to measure real wealth in access to ‘goods,’ would paint that rosy a picture…]

A group of soldiers I know from the 101st deploy to Iraq tomorrow (now today): I can’t do justice in describing their team leader, (a Colombia grad, 27), or to his sense of duty and his questions, his description of what it is to walk up to a mother’s door, “on behalf of a grateful nation,” and try to find meaning in the handbook procedures for explaining and dealing with her loss and grief; much less to his personal struggle to find meaning in where he will be some hours from now…

[End: voiceover of Al Gore declaring that there will be no more snow on Kilimanjaro within a decade.]