The Young Are Politically Active Again

by James Wallace Harris, Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Last night I watched the two most recent episodes of The Weekly, a new TV show from The New York Times that premieres on FX Sunday nights and then go to streaming the following day on Hulu. There’s a fascinating contrast between episode 8 “Hard Left” which shows mostly young women activists on the left campaigning hard for The Green New Deal, and episode 9 “Down the Rabbit Hole” with mostly male activists on the extreme right making political change in Brazil. Young people are getting elected in Brazil because of their YouTube skills. Young liberals are making swift progress coopting the 2020 Democrats using political theater that would have made Abbie Hoffman proud.

Despite their polar philosophies, both sides use social media to a savvy degree. This is why I highly recommend reading LikeWar, a new book about the political weaponization of social media. It’s also why I recommend The Great Hack currently streaming on Netflix. The 2016 election results caught most people by surprise. If you want to stay ahead of the game for 2020 you need to understand how political tactics evolved on the web. If you only watch the nightly news you’re going to be clueless again.

I don’t think the young have been as politically active since the 1960s. The episode “Hard Left” is about how the Sunrise movement is forcing the Democrats to move far to the left and splitting the party. “Down the Rabbit Hole” is about how YouTube’s algorithms help the extremists on the right around the world.

What’s interesting is how the young are aligning themselves with older political extremists. I remember the passions of the activists of the 1960s, and I think that’s happening again. There seems to be a new generation gap, with young extremists on the far left and right, with most of the older Baby Boomers in the middle seeking compromise. The young aren’t in a compromising mood. Things will probably get much nastier.

But watch both episodes, it’s also about gender, starkly revealed in these two documentaries. Once again, the males don’t come off well.

I have a feeling that most folks my age will be horrified by these new radicals. I’m glad to see them. Our time is almost over, the future belongs to the young. Whether they are right or wrong, left or right, they need to take responsibility. I admire the Sunrise movement, they realize inheriting a liveable planet is up to them because our generation ain’t going to do shit.

But isn’t it odd that all this coincides with the 50th anniversary of Woodstock? Civil rights, second-wave feminism, and the ecology movement all peaked back then too. I saw a lot of the 1960s in the two episodes of The Weekly. But watching The Great Hack is something different. It’s like watching science fiction.

The above photos are of Rhiana Gunn-Wright and Kim Kataguiri.

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JWH