My generation

Armand served in Korea, but later became a peace activist. He smuggled draft dodgers to Canada and marched on Washington. In the Deep South, he watched his Civil Rights activist friends get beaten up as ‘nigger-lovers’. He lost academic tenure for his political activities.

Tony is English, middle fifties:
   ‘We were Marxists, a lot of us in the academic community. Sixty-eight and all of that. Vietnam was a big turning point. But my son, who’s very like me in almost every other way, has no politics. He’s very committed to his life of hedonism, but I don’t see any political engagement. Even though his degree was in politics! He’s going into Burma now, he wants to travel around to see it for himself. But he doesn’t seem to have a perspective on it, or to want to write about it in any journalistic way. ‘

They are not sure what to make of my generation and our seeming apathy, but we came of age at a very different time. When I turned eighteen, in 1990, the Berlin Wall had just fallen. Ceaucescu was overthrown. Mandela was freed; apartheid was ended. Vietnam started to open up. In Ireland, out of nowhere, a left-leaning forty-something woman was elected President. She was a Catholic married to a Protestant, and she had already drafted ground-breaking legislation that led directly to the legalization of divorce. The air felt new.

At eighteen, and part of Ireland’s largest baby boom, these events seemed like natural and fitting salutes to a new generation. Political events were happy and momentous, not cause for protest. Closer to home, we campaigned for the right to abortion information and condom vending machines. This was consistent with the scale on which my cohort conducted its political activism. My best friend Caitriona studied conflict resolution and went to document forensic evidence from the mass graves at Srebrenica. Sue, whom I met here in Thailand, went from being an anti-Apartheid activist in 1980s Johannesburg to campaigning against landmine use today. Becky works with Laotian women, teaching them basic healthcare and contraception.

Not for us grand, utopian philosophies to impose from above. We are practical in our politics: our real romance was with the potential of connecting technologies. What happens, say, when Iranian women start underground weblogs? And what happens when you combine Internet access with explosive demographics—in Iran’s case, a population where more than 50% is under 25?

We came of age in a fat, sleek decade of good news. The new, bleaker order may engage us politically beyond the woolly cause of anti-globalization, or it may skip us altogether and take its activists from the Baby On Board generation coming up behind us. But don’t think we didn’t bring change.