No doubt the skinny young moptop was trying to be friendly when, as I left the supermarket, he congratulated me for “rockin’ the reusable”—meaning my non-disposable grocery bag. He was flagging down passersby on behalf of some green group, asking them “Do you have a moment for the environment?” But I was nevertheless... rankled. At this time of year, after college has let out, this particular block near my home becomes a stalking-ground for undergraduates doing advocacy work and soliciting signatures for petitions. I find it a nettlesome business, daily dodging nice kids asking me if I have time for the environment, gay rights, affordable housing, and so on—the implication being that if I don’t stop to yak with them, I don’t have time for these issues.
Yet I feel for these callow twerps, for I was once one of them, only worse. In the summer of 1985, I worked as a canvasser for the New Jersey branch of PIRG (Public Interest Research Group), a consumer and environmental lobby founded by Ralph Nader. Not only did I actively knock on doors in the suburbs rather than just pester urban pedestrians; I asked people for money. And what’s stranger still is, a fair number of them wrote out checks to NJ-PIRG on the spot.
I still can’t believe I did this. It’s not only against my inherent nature even to leave the house (let alone appear on the doorstep of a stranger’s); I also have doubts about the very effectiveness of this sort of street-level twerp deployment, even if I believe in the causes themselves.
Yet when I look at what’s happening in Iran, where two thirds of the population is under the age of 35, I’m reminded that youthful activism can be a powerful, wondrous thing. (As opposed to, say, this.) With lives on the line and freedom at stake, young Iran has no time to indulge in twerpitude.