Courtney Martin

Courtney E. Martin is a Prospect senior correspondent. She is the author of Do It Anyway: The New Generation of Activists (Beacon Press). You can read more about her work at

Recent Articles

The Problem With Youth Activism

The institutionalization of activism on college campuses is a key culprit in the absence of visible youth movements in this country.

"Do you think this is the right color ribbon?" asked a petite brunette, her hair pulled back in a haphazard ponytail, her college sweatshirt engulfing her tiny frame. "And do you think these are the right length of sections I'm cutting? I don't want it to be all funky when we pin them on." "Mmm ... I'm not sure," said the guy next to her, sucking on a lollipop, his football-player physique totally evident in his tight band T-shirt. "Looks good to me," his roommate said without even glancing over at the ribbon or the girl. Meet the college anti-war movement. I just got back from a two-week campus speaking tour during which I had the privilege of hanging out in a women's center at a Catholic college, eating bad Mexican food with Mennonite feminists, and chatting with aspiring writers and activists at a college in which half the students are the first in their families to experience higher education. I heard the stories of transgender youth in Kansas City, jocks with food addictions in...

The American Idea, as If You Asked

We strive to be truer or freer or smarter or richer or perhaps just happier than our own parents were. The American Idea is about generations in reaction and reinvention.

The Atlantic celebrated its 150th anniversary this month by asking intellectuals and artists to write 300 words or create an image on "the future of the idea of America." The print edition featured, to my count, 47 such short essays and images, with just eight of them written by women. Most contributors, too boot, are hovering around AARP membership age. Ah, America, land of equality and equal representation. Though I wasn't asked, and James Bennett probably doesn't give a you-know-what about my thoughts, I've decided to tell him (and you) anyway. Tom Wolfe didn't stick to 300 words (shocker), so I'm not either. Defying the rules is certainly one kind of American idea, after all. * * * My paternal grandfather had 27 brothers and sisters and grew up above a whorehouse in Iowa. He left home at 14 and spent the rest of his life as a traveling salesman, prone to fantastic successes shortly followed by grand acts of self-sabotage. My grandmother was a writer in her heart, but a bipolar mom...

Generation Overwhelmed

Thomas Friedman has mistaken my generation's absolute paralysis in the face of so many choices, so many causes, and so much awareness, for a mere quiet.

At my housewarming party last weekend there was vodka and tonic and indie rock, there were a few, inexpensive cheeses, and there were some 20-somethings with loose tongues and misunderstood hearts. My friend Molly, an assistant in a big New York publishing house and a fascinating world-wanderer, had sent me the link to Thomas Friedman's New York Times op-ed , "Generation Q," earlier in the day. "So what did you think?" she asked. Molly and I met while studying abroad in South Africa together. "About what?" asked my friend Daniel, a labor organizer destined for Harvard Divinity School next fall. A native of Paul Wellstone's Minnesota, he's spent the years since college on the Hill in Washington, in Harlem sky rises, and Los Angeles barrios and synagogues alike, trying to figure out how to bring people together. "That Friedman piece where he alleges that our generation is idealistic and 'too quiet, too online, for [our] own good,'" I summarized, I admit, rolling my eyes. "What's that?"...

Time to Rethink Our Economic Priorities?

Americans and their elected representatives need to start considering the relationship between the economy and quality of life.

A scan of today's headlines is like viewing a potpourri of economic dissolution. We've got a broken mortgage system, unaffordable health care, skyrocketing consumer and student debt, and inflexible, stressful workplaces. It is a moment ripe for rethinking the economy. John DeGraff, a filmmaker and activist with that rare gift of 20/20 foresight, has organized a campaign and conference that will take place this weekend at the Washington, D.C., Convention Center entitled " What's the Economy for, Anyway? " As part of the annual Green Festival , Democratic pollster Celinda Lake , Bill McKibben (author of Deep Economy ), and other left-leaning thought leaders, authors, and activists will explore questions like: What is the ultimate measure by which our economy should be evaluated? Is it profit for the few or is it health for the many? What would an enlightened workplace look like? How might the federal budget be altered to reflect real American values? Over 25 individual speeches and 30...

New School Racism: Jena and Beyond

Thursday's rally in Jena, Louisiana, should be the starting point for a national conversation about the state of race relations in America.

Charles Steele Jr., president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, speaks in Jena, La. The streets of this tiny town began filling with protesters yesterday, a day ahead of a planned march. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)
Once upon a time there was a tree, beautiful and broad, the kind of tree perfect for sitting under when shade is scarce in the deep South. A group of boys -- strapping, white, proud -- called this tree their own; they defended against the intrusion of "others" by hanging three nooses from the tree's arching branches. Violence ensued. Injustice reigned. In the time of Obama fanaticism and everything "melting pot," this story sounds like an ancient proverb, or at the very least, a shameful Jim Crow–era memory. Students might look for it alongside Emmett Till in their American history books. Teachers giving their lesson on that most vague and unhelpful of politically correct notions -- "tolerance" -- might ask students to reflect on how very far we've come. But, in fact, it turns out that some of us have not come so very far at all. This story is neither an ancient proverb nor a Jim Crow–era memory. It is happening right now in Jena, Louisiana, a town of 3,000 which is predominantly...