Sean Young

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Personal Opinion
Cory Doctorow: The Little Brother
The 1960s through Doctorow's Eyes
Doctorow: Here and Now!
Another Side to Doctorow


Protesting is the movement of people being able to stand up for what they believe in. To fight for justice, freedom, equality, etc. Many experts agree that protesting against authority will lead to a plethora of risks, but the real question is, do younger people today risk more for standing up in what they believe in, than the younger people of older generations? Cory Doctorow, author of the novel “Little Brother”, seems to believe that the newer generation does indeed have much more at stake than generations of the past. He believes though, that the risks are due more to the law changing, becoming more strict and abusive to people who stand up before authority. I believe that the new generation does indeed risk more than the old generation, but in a different sense. I disagree with Doctorow that the risks are due to the law enforcement being stricter. I say that the risks have increased due to society’s standards of what young adults should/must do in today’s generation. The values that society sees as respectable have been altered and changed since the times of, as an example, the 1960s; the decade where young adults first began showing their power to stand up against authorities for what they believed in. Though Doctorow’s and my opinions are completely different, many experts have their own opinions on the matter, which range from agreeing with either Doctorow or me, or arguing a completely different view point.

Here are experts King, Bentele, and Soule, whom all seem to disagree with Doctorow’s analysis. According to those experts, the laws of old and their punishments haven’t been changed in many, many decades. Congress didn’t legitimately include rights policies in their jurisdiction of government influences until the 1960s. During the 60s was when the young students, for the first true time in history, protested against a myriad of things, including the famous movement of the Free Speech Movement. Many of these social movements were successful, and thus changed the government to add rights policies to their jurisdiction. Since the 1960s was the decade where students protested and stood up against the government for the beliefs for the first time, many of the protesters had no idea what would happen to them. However, the consequences they had risked were more or less what they expected. The law arrested many or broke up the protesters who were disturbing the peace. This was expected from any illegal act. And the thing about laws is that for the most part, they go unchanged for decades. Thus even now, the laws are more or less the same. Rebellious students, who stand up for what they believe in today, may be arrested depending on what they’re doing, if it’s violent or peaceful, or how much they are disturbing others. They may even be physically hurt if they refuse to cooperate. And according to these experts, these laws haven’t changed from the 60s, thus the students risk the same things even today, regarding consequences from the law.

Experts McCammon, Campbell, Granberg and Mowrey all say and agree upon nearly the same ideals. Protesting, standing up for what one believes in, or going against authority, if it breaks the law, then you will be punished. Those experts agree that the laws and its punishments for breaking said laws haven’t changed since the relatively close past. Thus, the risks in terms of consequences of breaking the law to stand up for what one believes in, is the same for both new and old generations. To add to this, expert Giugni believes that the degree of punishment and thus risk for anyone in any generation all depends on the actions committed. More violent and disturbing protests will lead to greater risk and consequences than protests that are peaceful.

Though these experts (King, Bentele, and Soule, Granberg, Campbell, etc.) would’ve disagreed with Doctorow, his viewpoint is one that cannot be overlooked. Those experts were merely predicting an outcome, and Doctorow’s idea is just an opposite outcome. To Doctorow, the 1960s was a pivotal time for the younger people of that generation to create social movements and/or protests. In his book, “Little Brother”, he gives several references to social movements from the 60s, such as the Free Speech Movement, or the anarchist leader Emma Goldman, who worked with many movements (Free Speech, Military, and Homosexuality). These references are made known to Doctorow’s main character, Marcus, for a reason. My analysis is that Doctorow wants readers to relate with Marcus, thus relate with what Marcus goes through. In the book, Marcus looks up to the students who stood against authority for their freedom of speech, and Emma Goldman for her rebellious fight for equality. Marcus views how tough the times of the 60s were and what the people sacrificed for their freedom. Marcus also then notices that now, in the present, many young students like himself would rather run away than fight back like the students in the 60s and risk being caught and imprisoned by the government. Because of this, Doctorow is on the same terms of the scholars Oliver, Cadena-Roa, and Strawn, who will be mentioned in more detail soon. Young people in any generation throughout time will always find a new authoritarian figure that restricts their beliefs to fight against. However, Doctorow implies that young people of this newer generation are more afraid of consequences than the young people of years past. His implications are that newer generations have more to risk due to the government having harsher and more inhumane punishments than they used to. He uses Marcus to show his point of what could happen. When Marcus is captured by the Department of Homeland Security, he goes through extreme harsh imprisonment and torture, something that the government would never do to its own citizens back in the 60s. And although the scholars take that the law wouldn’t change this drastically is more reasonable, there’s still a chance Doctorow’s vision might become a reality.

Scholars Oliver, Cadena-Roa, and Strawn all argue another point; that each newer generation will have problems or some idea that young people will stand against. They say that time doesn’t matter in what young people risk, nor the social changes. They think that each new generation will have a different thing to stand up against. Back in the 1960s, young students rebelled and fought for the Freedom of Speech. People stood up for the American African Americans to have equal rights. Now, in the 2000s, people will fight and stand up for a new ideal. There will always be something worth fighting for. Protesting is the tool for democracy; creating equality. These experts believe that young society will always want to stand up against some new authoritarian power. Thus, the beliefs of young people may change, but the risks they take won’t increase or decrease drastically.

Thus, since protesting will assumedly continue as time goes on, expert Piven thinks that protesters who really want to be heard have to do drastic actions to stand out from the rest. So people will have to commit greater and bigger protesting strategies as time goes forward. Many young and naïve people may resort to violence or even terrorism to get their messages across. Thus, Piven’s analysis is that our future will be a scarier and a potentially more dangerous one. To him, the risks aren’t more in what the protesters themselves risk, but what society as a whole has to risk for younger people of newer generations standing up for their beliefs.

Therefore, the fact that the government may have to take more extreme measures in the near future to counter attack extreme actions by activists isn’t that implausible. In fact, if young people of newer generations were to commit greater, bigger, and more potentially violent acts of protest, the government may have no choice but to ultimately “silence” them for the “greater good” of the country. Doctorow’s character, Marcus, is nearly killed, and many other innocent young people were kept secretly hostage because the government thought these young kids were trying to create a social movements through the means of terrorism. This could actually happen in today’s reality, or at least in the near future. Assumptions made by scholars such as Oliver combined with Piven’s analysis actually help solidify Doctorow’s contribution and idea.

Although Doctorow’s original main contribution is that the government plays the crucial role in risk changes for young people of different generations, he does seem to have another smaller and slightly unrelated explanation for why the risks for young people have increased with every new generation. And that explanation is the different social classes in society. Scholars Andrews, Ganz, Baggetta, Hans, and Lim would agree with Doctorow on this point. Evidence of this analysis can be seen in Doctorow’s novel, “Little Brother”. One of the characters, Jolu, a Mexican boy, is scared to help the main character Marcus stand up for the freedom of the people. Jolu even explains to Marcus that his reasoning for leaving the protest is because the risks of a non-white minority citizen, like himself, being caught by the police for treason against the state would be far too great. Jolu tells Marcus that the government in America, though supposedly equal, gives unfair trials to those who are not white citizens. Since older generations had less young people from minority races living in America than the generation of today has, the topic of, “do young people risk more to stand up for their beliefs in today’s generation or the generations of the past?”, is actually still relevant. Thus another side of the topic is that Doctorow tries to say that perhaps the risks of standing up for what one believes in is more positively correlated with the social class of a person.

Of course, Doctorow’s other smaller contribution is another topic researched on by experts themselves. There are the experts Andrews, Ganz, Baggetta, Hans, and Lim who say that the risks of standing up for something one believes in depends on what social class that person belongs to.  A person who has great wealth or more connections to powerful people won’t have much risk in creating protests. A person that high up in the social class can easily escape the justice system by paying bail or hiring very powerful lawyers. Most of the population in the middle class has fair risks in protesting. They may be arrested for a couple of days or have to pay the price in some other form, but they will be given more of an equal trial compared to those in the low social classes. According to these experts, those people in the low social classes have the greatest risk when standing up for their beliefs. Their socioeconomic class makes them, especially if they are non-white, more susceptible to judges being biased and unequal during trial if they are arrested. They also have little money and probably no powerful connections to help them if they are kept captive by the government. But what makes a person a “high class” or “low class”? It depends on society and what the majority say. Because this topic relates directly to the people themselves, it shows how society and its standards have greatly changed throughout the years.

Society changes constantly. According to the experts Andrews, Ganz, Baggetta, Hans, and Lim, as times change, certain things become more acceptable, or expected of certain people and races. This is America’s society changing its standards. And it changes quite frequently. The standards society held for young adults in the 1960s are vastly different now in 2011. Back in the 60s, almost all college students were more loose and free. The majority dabbled quite a lot with drug use. And back then, they could get away with it with fewer punishments. Now however, if a student is caught with drugs, he/she will most likely get expelled immediately. Thus, college students today are in many ways, a little more serious about their education. Expert Piven believes it’s the same concept when a student stands up for what he/she believes in. Students in the 60s could stand up to authority and be okay with the risk of being expelled. Back then, the mentality of students was that it was easy to get back into school, or that college wasn’t even necessary to make a good living. Younger people of the older generation were not as career oriented. Expulsion from school was not such a huge thing as it is now. Thus, according to Piven, today, many students would be very afraid to be expelled from college due to the implicated consequences. Today’s standards expect young adults to not only pass college, but pass with a high GPA. Many students think that it’s a necessity to be able to get a good job and live a comfortable life. They are much more career oriented and thus, a good education is needed to obtain their goal of an outstanding career. Therefore, the risk of losing education seems much higher to students now than it did before. Because of this, it becomes harder to gather a large group of young people to protest; even if the cause is something they believe in.

To add to that, according to the experts Bhavani and Ross, the costs do not outweigh the risks. Therefore, young students would rather stay in school or keep on doing with what they’re doing, even if they don’t enjoy some aspect; maybe there’s some inequality or lack of freedom at the school or workplace.  That’s because the risk of joining a cause and standing up against authority is far too great now. They might lose their education or job, and with that on their record, they have the fear that they will never be able to get back on track. People now think that a single action might haunt them for the rest of their lives, a permanent record. People in the 60s were more happy-go-lucky, and did things as they pleased with little thought on the consequences for their future. Because of these aspects of society changing, the risks for young adults to stand up for what they believe in are far greater now than in previous generations.

Finally, there is my own analysis and personal opinion; I will disagree with Doctorow in one aspect. He is true to think that the newer generation of younger people risk more to protest their beliefs than the younger people of older generations. However, Doctorow believes the increase in risk is due to the government and its laws. To me, he has missed the whole point. The real question isn’t how the government has changed, but it’s how we, the people, have changed. I believe that the risks have increased due to society and its change in values, expectations, and standards. I know that I personally would never risk much for my beliefs. I would rather go through some forms of unfairness in life, yet achieve the end goal of having a good job/house/family, than risk it all just to stand up for something. My opinion seems to heavily agree upon and borrow ideas from many experts, such as: Andrews, Ganz, Baggetta, Hans, Lim, Piven, Bhavani, and Ross.

From all of their analyses, I have come to my own conclusion that social factors such as a much more career and educational oriented state of mind found in nearly all younger people of today, is the cause of increase risk. There seems to be an expectation of young students to be able to get a grand education and have a rewarding job. And this all leads to a lifestyle that all us young students aspire to. The lifestyle we see in countless media today. A big house, with many luxuries and variety of food is something many take for granted. This wasn’t so much the case in the 1960s. The goal was smaller back then; younger students then usually focused more on the present than their future. Students of today are much more worried about how their life will end up. And the risk of losing this all, everything they’ve worked for and dreamed off, just to stand up for themselves against authority? That risk is much too great.

I hypothesis that the majority of young people today would rather push through life in today’s standards and expectations, even if the road is difficult, than risk everything to try to make their beliefs realized. The risk of expulsion or being fired, or having being arrested on a permanent record, they are all too great for most young students today. Perhaps only a select few would stand up amidst the crowd, and they will be the ones to shape the future. However, my viewpoint isn’t necessarily correct. Instead, it’s far from it. With so many different opinions and analysis from all sorts of scholars and people in general, the true answer may not exist. Perhaps the risks of standing up for a belief all just depend on whoever the person is.


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