It's in the air once again.
That cocktail of youth and intellect heady enough to intoxicate thousands to take to the streets of a capital to challenge abusive state authorities. That time when lofty ideals come crashing to the ground and a "What If?" grows into a "What Now?"
A few years ago, I stood in the heart of Beijing's Tiananmen Square, on a hazy afternoon, looking wistfully across its vast concrete plain. Pensively, I turned to our delightful Chinese guide and asked rhetorically, "So this is where the massacre took place huh?"
"Masaka?" she replied abruptly, "...ah no. No masaka hya."
Suspecting she may have misheard and was wondering why this uppity tourist was now looking for Mousaka just yards from the world's finest Peking duck restaurants, I took another swing at it, siphoning away all rhetorical intonation just so we were clear. And to my horror, there it was again, "Masaka?" she replied, "...ah no. No masaka hya."
Our guide, not yet fully aware of the extent to which I am impervious to the effects of the Jedi mind-trick (popular tool in communist and stalinist states), listened politely as I attempted to demonstrate my skeletal knowledge of Chinese political history. As I unimpressively picked out random dates and mispronounced names from across China's rich and ancient heritage, our guide smiled and nodded patronisingly (whenever a Brit tries to put a 'z' in this word for export, Grammar Immigration is alerted and our library privileges are immediately revoked). She patiently listened as I delivered my scant repertoire until I reached June 3rd 1989. Only then did her smile finally drain away from her warm face.
I was wildly misinformed. She was deeply concerned that my facts were inaccurate. I was told that I had been taken in by Western propaganda. "Oh no," I replied, deflated by the news, "not again." There was indeed apparently an incident here where soldiers of the People's Liberation Army were viciously attacked and murdered by heavily-armed, extremist students. Fortunately, troubles had ceased within hours and bystanders had dispersed peacefully. Over the guide's shoulder I suddenly clocked Chairman Mao himself staring down from the giant portrait that famously hangs from the gateway to the Forbidden City. Feeling like a chicken who had just caught Colonel Sanders winking at him, I changed the subject. So with card well and truly marked, I packed my crazy ideas neatly alongside my fake Lacoste polo shirt and returned home.
But whether it is Tiananmen Square in China or Revolutionary Square in Tehran, one thing is clear: students and intellectuals rarely mobilise themselves. But when they do, they can merge into a monumental force for political change. Not always successful but almost always braver than they should be, they are the real rock 'n' roll: sitting there smoking a cigarette on the steps outside the checks and balances endowed by the separation of powers. And as Iran now takes itself to the guillotine, the world watches and waits to see if this will be recorded in the annals under "Regime change" or "Masaka? No masaka hya."
So-called intellectuals aside, the youth vote is famous for being absent in the day-to-day of modern political debate: taxes, health and education. An elusive demographic, it can often only be engaged passively in an open exchange of ideas or stimulated in radical times. Some would have us believe that if students were keener voters, cannabis could almost certainly be legalised, Bono would likely be Secretary of State somewhere and Obama would be President of the... see what I mean?
Young voters don't want to speak to or through politicians. They do something far more devastating: they talk to each other. They communicate amongst themselves and in an ever greater number of ways: digging, tweeting, texting and blogging. Perpetually and digitally tittering from computers, Blackberry's, iPhones and mobiles. Rallying themselves to round on the establishment, while reporting every nuance to each other and the world at large, they're seriously phoning it in. In the last six months alone, we have begun to see the rise of the electronic electorate and with it a real prospect for the growth of Referendum politics, where everything could be voted upon from the palm of your hand. No more campaign contributions, lobbying or baby-kissing.
So if this generation could change all that, who are we? You know us. We ask you if you'd like fries with that, mow your lawns and eat everything in your fridge. But don't worry, like all good generations, there will be another along shortly.
In this rave new world the card-carrying lefty or pompous righto is stopped at the door. Our own access to the executive is through a revolving door and it swings both ways. And we don't read the same newspaper title two days running. We might be left-wing in some areas (education and health) and can be more conservative in others (economy and foreign affairs). We want a say in everything and we don't want our opinions penned-in by party lines or garbled by career politicos. Don't be silly, this isn't Centrism. Not even close.
Besides, it's like way too cool to like give it a name, yeah.
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