Youth imagination awakening globally

Egyptian journalist Mona Eltahawy dubbed the wave of revolt sweeping North Africa and the Middle East an “awakening of the Arab imagination.” I am inclined to agree.

Americans’ imaginations are awakening too.

Sustained by pizza donations from all 50 states and numerous countries including Korea, Egypt, China, England, Turkey, according to Politico, demonstrators in Madison, WI are fighting efforts to weaken the collective bargaining rights of public workers.

Now the challenge to an oligarchic Wisconsin governor in a democratic United States, and the toppling of a dictator in repressed Egypt and Tunisia are not the same.

Americans have so many tools to challenge skyrocketing inequality, attacks on labor, and lack of opportunity in the richest country in the world.

Egyptians risked their lives simply for the chance of access to tools for social change; civil society, strong unions, the right to organize politically. By contrast Americans have no excuse; we must harness the tools available to us.

The status quo is simply unacceptable.

Many commentators have traditionally described Arabs as passive and not ready for democracy, and the chaos in Iraq, the election of Hamas in the Gaza Strip, and Hezbollah in Lebanon furthered this stereotype.

We students should draw inspiration from the “Arab Spring,” where youthful populations are increasingly unwilling to submit to their status quo—an uncertain future, abject poverty, political repression, and a deeply hypocritical government.

While those in the Middle East paid with their lives for the chance of freedom and the promise of a better future, we don’t have to.

At far less cost, we can and must follow their example, and defend our freedom and chance for opportunity.

The demonstrators in Wisconsin are not motivated, despite suggestions on the right to the contrary, by radicalism or by transformation of the American democratic system, but anger at attacks on our basic freedoms.

If those we empower to work for better institutions don’t, we can always follow the Egyptians’ lead and toss the bums out. After all, we already fought for our basic right to government of, by and for the people, and we should cherish and exploit that right.

It’s time for students to put away their personal political agendas, fight for common values, and hold administrators accountable.

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