Our History

For Young Activists, Sept. 11 Was Starting Point

Friday, September 10, 2010

In this excerpt from the introduction to her new book "Do It Anyway," Courtney Martin meditates on the political consciousness of a young activist generation for whom Sept. 11 has been a defining event.

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DoItAnywayIn other words, we know that--simply by virtue of being born at this time, in this place--we are privileged and furthermore, responsible for sharing that privilege.

But we also know that making good on either promise--saving the world or saving our families--is not nearly as simple as our kindergarten teachers or our aspirational parents made it sound.

We know that soup ladling isn't enough, that Western values are sometimes imposed on other cultures in the guise of good works, that charity often serves to disempower a person in the long run, that too many nonprofits are joyless and ineffective places, that we have so much to give and yet so little.

We've watched our own parents--many of them immigrants with big American Dreams in bright lights--be disrespected by the supposed promised land. We've taken human rights and women's studies classes where first-world arrogance was put in sharp relief to third-world ingenuity. We've experienced the painful irony of walking our donation check, earmarked for Indonesian hurricane relief, to the mailbox in our own poor Oakland neighborhood, which we were gentrifying by our mere existence.

The Impact of Sept. 11

Perhaps most significantly, we experienced Sept. 11 right as we were developing a political consciousness.

I was a senior in college, poised to enter the real world with a sort of indestructible bravado on Sept. 10. On Sept. 11, everything I'd understood about my own safety, about the implications of America's reputation throughout the world, about violence and poverty and extremism, was transformed.

I became simultaneously more humble and also more committed to really examining the beauty and ugliness of the country I'd been so blessed to be born in. But that examination has not lead to any clear answers.

It's been worthwhile, but it's also been paralyzing. The war on terror may be an ill-conceived, inaccurate battle plan, but what do we do in the face of such hatred? Reinstating the draft would be a disaster, but how can we stand by as military recruiters prey on the most needy of young Americans? What is our individual responsibility to end war?

It's as if we each possess that glass jar, buried within and it's growing heavier all the time--and we have no idea what the hell we're supposed to do with it.

Excerpted from "Do It Anyway: The New Generation of Activists," by Courtney E. Martin, Copyright copyright 2010. Excerpted with permission by Beacon Press.


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Courtney Martin is a writer, speaker and activist in Brooklyn, N.Y.

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