Where are the Gen Y activists?

October 17, 2007, 12:37 AM UTC

And we’re back. After two weeks out of the office — at the Most Powerful Women Summit, on a quick birthday vacation to Playa del Carmen, and at my fifth reunion at Stanford — I’m probably more tired than when I left, but glad to be back. Reunion spurred some unexpected reflection (i.e., beyond the standard reminiscing), much of it surprisingly closely related to the conversations we’ve been having on The Gig. But I may need another day or two to process that and turn it into some vaguely coherent copy.

In the meantime, though, I wanted to make sure that you’d all read Thomas Friedman’s New York Times column last week, about us, the group he calls Generation Q (or the Quiet Americans). It’s a laudatory label, meant at least in part to underscore our commitment to service and the greater good at home and abroad, but it’s not without criticism.

“America needs a jolt of the idealism, activism and outrage (it must be in there) of Generation Q,” Friedman writes. “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.”

When I read this, I couldn’t help but nod in agreement, having signed a few less than effective online petitions in my day. But when, a few days later, I saw Friedman speak on a panel at Reunion, titled “Courting Disaster: The Fight for Oil, Water and a Healthy Planet,” that also included General John Abizaid and U.S. Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer, I understood better.

Whatever one thinks of his views, Friedman’s passion is inspiring. And not just because that’s what he does for a living; he’s representative of a whole group of people whose passion we ought to have inherited.

Have we? I’m not sure. In small ways, maybe. Or perhaps it’s that we have got that passion and simply haven’t figured out how to express it in big ways. Regardless, I think he’s right — there are some big things that need doing, and they aren’t going to happen with a Facebook invite. (And I’m as guilty as the next person. It’s telling, don’t you think, that in five months of doing this blog, today was the first day I tagged a post “activism”?) Thoughts?