Future Majority has cited Thomas Friedman’s attack on the Millennials, which he labeled “Generation Q,” many a time. Young people today are too quiet, Friedman wrote, arguing that our timidity is a sign that we’re apathetic and not concerned with the world around us going to hell in a handbasket.

But Generation Q may be too quiet, too online, for its own good, and for the country’s own good. When I think of the huge budget deficit, Social Security deficit and ecological deficit that our generation is leaving this generation, if they are not spitting mad, well, then they’re just not paying attention. And we’ll just keep piling it on them.


America needs a jolt of the idealism, activism and outrage (it must be in there) of Generation Q. That’s what twentysomethings are for — to light a fire under the country. But they can’t e-mail it in, and an online petition or a mouse click for carbon neutrality won’t cut it. They have to get organized in a way that will force politicians to pay attention rather than just patronize them.

Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy didn’t change the world by asking people to join their Facebook crusades or to download their platforms. Activism can only be uploaded, the old-fashioned way — by young voters speaking truth to power, face to face, in big numbers, on campuses or the Washington Mall. Virtual politics is just that — virtual.

Then, on December 7, 2008, Friedman again pricks young people, labeling our generational philosophy as “quietism” in the context of arguing for responsible spending in the stimulus bill.

Our kids should be so much more radical than they are today. I understand why they aren’t. They’re so worried about just getting a job or paying next semester’s tuition. But we must not take their quietism as license to do whatever we want with this bailout cash. They are going to have to pay this money back. And therefore, we have an incredibly weighty obligation to make sure that we not only spend every stimulus dollar wisely but also with an eye to creating new technologies.

So today, Friedman’s piece is written about an experience he had in India with young American women while attending the Energy and Resources Institute Climate Conference. While there, two young Americans and one of their mothers asked Friedman to take a ride with them in a plug-in electric- and solar-powered car. Friedman, impressed, says yes, and away they go.

Friedman learns about the friends’ partnership with the Indian Youth Climate Network, which now connects climate leaders from across the country, and he’s amazed. The women tell him of their “climate caravan,” which they organized to spread the message of energy conservation. Environmentally-friendly solar-powered and electric cars were donated by an Indian electric car company (one of the women knew the CEO), and the women then hopped inside them, traveling 2,100 miles across India, organizing entertainment at each stop to attract interest. The women trained local youth to begin their own initiatives.

Friedman sounds verklempt as he wraps up his column.

I met Howe and Ringwald after a tiring day, but I have to admit that as soon as they started telling me their story it really made me smile. After a year of watching adults engage in devastating recklessness in the financial markets and depressing fecklessness in the global climate talks, it’s refreshing to know that the world keeps minting idealistic young people who are not waiting for governments to act, but are starting their own projects and driving innovation.

A couple possibilities here.

1.) Friedman has seen the light, realizing that Millennials aren’t “quiet,” but have a different way of going about things than Friedman’s generation.

2.) Millennial activism in America doesn’t count for anything in Friedman’s eyes, but in India — it’s worth a few hundred words in the New York Times.

I’m hoping it’s numero uno, and that Friedman never uses the word “quiet” again.

And let’s get something else straight — the reason I write about Friedman is not a demonstration of the vanity that sometimes is ascribed to Millennials. I really don’t care what Friedman himself thinks about young people. But I do care about others being fooled into thinking young people aren’t doing anything simply because Friedman can’t handle the philosophical discrepancy between the way his generation did things and the way ours does. Hopefully Friedman took care of that with his trip to India and his car ride.

Friedman aside, kudos to those young women — Caroline Howe and Alexis Ringwald — for doing their part by piecing together a great program that is truly making a difference.