When I was 17, I was a volunteer for the Green Party in Houston. I was also the worst. I know this because I wrote an op-ed for the city’s largest paper to save my fellow Americans from voting for George Bush or Al Gore, a piece of writing that is impossible to read without feeling deep shame and embarrassment.
I did nothing the night of my high school homecoming in 2000 that should have made me feel abundantly prideful the next morning, but I still woke up beaming: the Houston Chronicle had published, with art, a full half-page Op-Ed above the fold on the front page of the Viewpoints section imploring people to vote for Ralph Nader.
The Chron had a tendency to publish opinion pieces written by kids for their “Youth Voices” section, so I pitched this cold hoping they’d print it.
My feeling upon reading this 16 years later is not one of joy. I actually felt physically bad when perusing it again more than a decade later. It manages to be both wrong in the moment and troublingly naive in retrospect. This is what I imagine it’ll feel like being Hamilton Nolan in about ten years.
The op-ed also doesn’t exist on the web other than behind a password-protected archive on the Houston Chronicle’s website, but I believe sunshine is the best disinfectant, and I need to lysol the shit out of my soul so I can get through the rest of the day.
This is the only part I’m fairly sure I didn’t write. Credit goes to the headline writer for accurately capturing the spirit of my piece.
ATTENTION, youth of America, put down thePlaystation controller, back away from Total Request Live 85 (You know ‘N Sync is going to win) and give up that Big Mac and think.
If you just replace every paragraph with “Wake up sheeple!” it basically reads the same.
I know these are difficult requests, but I ask only for a moment of your time. I’m going to make a few assumptions. If you are reading this article, you are probably literate and more than likely have at least the faintest interest in your world.
Or, I brought a copy of it to school and made everyone read it.
Congratulations, you have something that puts you above most our age. Our generation - growing up in a time of unseen prosperity - has been lulled into believing that we no longer have to believe strongly in anything.
Wait for it...
Our generation, which hasn’t had a serious war or depression, has been convinced that the world is a fairly simple place.
Yes, because George Bush and Al Gore are the same person, and electing one of them certainly won’t lead to either of these things happening.
Our generation, which hasn’t had to deal with any great social struggles, probably wouldn’t have heard of the First Amendment had it not been for Napster.
What does Napster have to do with the First Amendment, exactly? Also, the ‘no social struggles’ thing is a remarkably dumb thing for a white kid who goes to a nice school in an affluent suburb to say. What would I have done with Twitter? Perish the thought.
Perhaps I paint too bleak a picture. Our generation does have a number of things to look forward to.
Our generation will be the first to vacation on the balmy, tropical islands hidden under the polar ice caps. Our generation will be the first to see a Pepsi advertisement on the moon. Our generation will be the first to see every library replaced with a Starbucks Internet Hub. And, our generation will be the first to relocate to China, Mexico and Indonesia for industrial jobs.
Not all of that is entirely wrong, which is the best I can say for it.
If you have read this far and have some notion that I was being sarcastic, congratulations again; you are truly an advanced human being.
Congratulations! That isn’t condescending at all.
Our generation is portrayed as rebellious and rugged individualists. We are freaky. We are strikingly different from our parents as well as smarter and more advanced.
If only I’d have called myself a “Millennial,” I’d be a billionaire.
Our generation is the first generation to accept the world that our elders have presented to us without violent opposition. They fought segregation and ill-conceived foreign policy, pollution and political corruption. They had ideals and a message. And, they made a lot of mistakes.
To our generation, a nose ring is a more common accessory than political knowledge. We can’t name our senators (well, maybe the ones who have been involved in scandals), our governors (OK, maybe the ones with problems), our U.S. Supreme Court justices (maybe the one who was accused of sexual harassment). However, we can name all of the competitors on Survivor.
There is no way that, in 2000, I could name any of the competitors on Survivor. I am now capable of naming at least some members of The Real Housewives, though.
Hundreds of students at my school wear the same Gap sweater, not caring or knowing that these were made in sweatshops on the other side of the world. Hundreds of students wear the same $130 Nike shoes made in Indonesia.
Hundreds of students at my school drive sport utility vehicles that burn fuel at an obscene rate. Hundreds of students at my school drive Hondas, Toyotas and Nissans. Hey, there is one victory. I admit, our world is simpler.
I realize life is easy for a lot of people. But I also know that I don’t want to be pacified into apathy now and find a world I would despise when I got older.
Would young me hate old me? I now have an SUV and shop at the Gap sometimes. It’s nice. I don’t despise most of modern life.
So, I call upon you - my fellow youth - to not accept things as they are. I ask you not to waste this prosperity watching MTV and downing Mocha Frappaccinos. I plead with you to put down the Cosmo, put down the Road and Track (Trust me, I know how hard that is) and pick up a newspaper.
I’m not asking you to make a dramatic change in lifestyle; I’m not asking you to burn all your khaki pants and go handcuff yourself to an Explorer. All I’m asking is that you not give up your rights and responsibilities as a citizen simply because it is easier not to care.
See, I was reasonable! You don’t have to burn your khakis.
I’m asking you to look at George W. Bush and Al Gore and realize that these are two individuals who you would never hang out with. To realize how incredibly false these two guys are.
I have met Ralph Nader (that I can’t remember whether it was shortly before or after writing the piece might signify something). What part of hanging out with him seemed appealing to me?
I’m asking you to look past all the artificialities and all the corporate-sponsored rhetoric and do something that many of our elders can’t do. I’m asking you to look at Ralph Nader.
Apparently, just enough elders did.
Nader is the only candidate who doesn’t take thousands and thousands of dollars from big corporations. Nader is the only candidate you don’t have to pay $25,000 to eat dinner with. Nader is the only presidential candidate who is supported by Pearl Jam and Rage Against the Machine.
RAGE AGAINST THE MACHINE!
And, Nader is the only one of the three who doesn’t suck.
That’s not true, they all suck, just in different ways and clearly Al Gore would have sucked in a way that could have saved us at least some trouble you dumb asshole.
We have three choices this year:
- We do what they want and don’t vote so they don’t have to listen to us.
- We can vote for Bush or Gore and watch them pretend to listen to us while laughing at our ignorance.
- We can vote for Nader and hold a big sign up to the establishment that reads: “We really are smarter than you.”
In the words of Nader: “If you aren’t turned on to politics, politics will turn on you.”
Thank God I didn’t live in Florida.
I wasn’t sure I wanted to share this. I’m still not sure it was a great plan. But I hope my shame will stand as a reminder to the youth of America feeling the Bern or the Johnson or whatever that, while it’s important to second-guess authority, it never hurts to also second-guess yourself.