When Did Protesting Become So Cool?

Occupy Wall Street will already be written in history books as a movement that changed the language of American politics. We now have phrases like the "99 percent" that sparked similar movements and camps to spring up across the country, and my generation will remember the stories coming out of them (such as what has taken place in Oakland) for years to come. 

Some have argued that it was only a matter of time for these protests to emerge given the state of the economy and extreme dissatisfaction with both major parties in charge of the government. At the same time, however, it has also been a surprise that these protests have occurred because protesting was previously not the "cool" thing to do. The people sleeping in tents and getting pepper sprayed are clinging to the "fight the man" mentality that most people stay away from.  

Growing up in New York City, I went to one of the best public schools in the city. My teachers often brought politics into the classroom, either by expressing their hatred for George W. Bush, teaching us the reasons why America engages in wars, or discussing how standardized tests were not helping to improve the education system. But even within this atmosphere, the majority of my classmates were not politically active. 

There was a small group of students that made signs and participated in demonstrations, no matter what the cause. But, these were not the "cool kids." They had their own little group that was usually pretty loud, and most people tended to describe them as scatterbrained. The majority of students never would have participated in rallies or protests to try to change the world.

Many people are still wondering what these protests are all about. Some have discredited the protesters for being privileged. But, it is important to remember why these protests sprung up. Our generation is screwed. We will not earn as much as our parents, we are in more debt than any other generation, and this will not change any time soon. The people pitching tents are not necessarily protesting because they want a job, but rather because they believe in something. They want to protest against something, even if they do not know what it is.

Whether we want to admit it or not, we need people like this to help hold our elected officials accountable. But those in the camps are still in their own little group and have not been able to reach a wider audience. That is why recent polls have shown the groups popularity decreasing.

This is similar to the 1960s, when protesters were some of the smartest Americans who shared a similar desire to change things and marched for many causes. My sense is that the people at occupy protests are the same kids from high school that people previously did not want to associate with. But we should not forget to thank these protestors for getting politicians talking about issues that matter to the majority of Americans.  

Photo Credit: Clay@SU