Taking it to the Streets

Marches, mass demonstrations, and popular mobilization are common phenomena around the world today. Why?

Growing up, I remember reading about and seeing footage of the protests of the 60s and 70s and wondering how such things could ever happen. The Soviet Union disintegrated when I was too young to remember; ditto the LA riots. I recall protests as generally local and specific: at G7 meetings, for example, or maybe about a particular environmental outrage.

Today, though, people are on the move again. And although economic and political frustration are certainly part of the story (as always), I wonder if a big part of the motivation is the return of a sense of truly existential dread.

In addition to Vietnam and Nixon’s lies, the Boomers who protested in the late 60s were the first generation to grow up under the nuclear shadow. By contrast, Generation X and the Millennials were shaped by the unipolar moment: we never had to crawl under our desks to hide from the bomb, and globalization generally looked pretty good.

Generation Z, however, was born straight into the return of history — with several important changes. First, they’re connected like never before, so they’re both more aware and more able to organize. Second, the climate emergency has brought back a sense of existential threat to life on earth, yet one perpetrated every day by all of us instead of one that might be triggered some day by one or two of us.

When those are perceived to be the stakes, why wouldn’t you take to the streets?