Editor's Note: This is the first column this semester in a series of weekly responses to Jeremi Suri's columns.
Our nation is one of meticulous structure and evolving interests. This delicate arrangement has weathered three centuries as disenfranchised groups have fought and continue fighting for Constitutional protections. Today we find ourselves in a unique position. Our “political moment,” as coined by Jeremi Suri in a column last week on the importance of optimism at the beginning of the semester, is of historic proportion. We are the heirs of globalization, interconnected and socialized with an unparalleled diversity of peers and perspectives. Our networks and technologies have expanded beyond conceivable proportions only within the last decade. This position is often scorned by past generations who cannot read it in 140-character tweets or newsfeeds. We are accused of being the “entitled generation” because our access has outpaced our accomplishments. But today, we are equipped to effect change and we have the potential to do more than any generation before us.
The brilliant minds who fashioned our democracy held slaves and restricted equality to men, practices which are unforgivable today. Less than 100 years ago, women were taxed without representation. Less than 70 years ago, black and white children were still considered “separate but equal” in public schools. So how is our reality today so vastly different?
Of all 27 constitutional amendments, including the Bill of Rights, about 40 percent were ratified in the 20th century alone. That means that of all the changes made to the fundamental structure of our government since its founding, nearly half were done in the past 100 years. The law began recognizing women, African-Americans and immigrants as human and autonomous. People began sharing memories and experiences with their first cameras, computers and gaming systems. Just a decade ago we met Google and then Facebook. No generation before us had instant access to a network of 1 billion people worldwide and trillions of web pages from a pocket-sized, six-inch screen. Google eliminated our language barriers and Facebook transformed our social boundaries.
At the core of these changes were people. Entrepreneurs, activists and citizens created these institutions and movements. Today's new Congress, our new governor and our legislature were chosen by voters. We must never forget that this big institution, the “government,” is made up of people. The big technologies, like Facebook and Google, are made by people. The private sector has swelled because of this rapid technological advancement, and the public-private dialogue will react accordingly. The first step of activism is expression -— it’s voting. Only 16.1 percent of young people, of ages 18-29, voted in the Texas midterms in 2010. This means that despite our tweets and posts, 83.9 percent of us do not use our voice where it matters. The prospect to effect change is sustained in our ambitions. We can escape the stunted imagination, low expectations and self-defeating tactics of recent years that Suri describes, but we have to seek change. Through our activism and engagement, we will determine our progress for the next 100 years.
Shah is a business and government sophomore from Temple.