How does it feel to no longer be the activist but the enemy?

Every generation has its defining characteristics. They manifest into the stereotypes we all know and hate. Most infamously, Baby Boomers were idealistic activists who protested the Vietnam war and the Draft and marched for Civil Rights. Now they’re a meme. 

Boomers are defined as the generation born from 1946 to 1964. That currently places them between the ages of 56-74; they aren’t exactly spring chickens. So what have they been doing since the good ole days of racism and bigotry and warmongering? They were the generation that demanded change, right? Well, they’ve been steadily taking over the American Empire. The average age in Congress right now is 57.8 in The House and 61.8 in the Senate. The average ages of CEOs and circuit court Judges are 54.1 and 64.7, respectively. Even the average age of a full professor with tenure is 55. They are our teachers, our lawmakers, our generals and world leaders. They’ve had 60 plus years to change the world. 

So where did their fire for justice go? When did they become the same enemy they once fought? The United States has been in 16 armed conflicts since the Vietnam War. Let that sink in. Sixteen armed conflicts over the course of 60 years. America’s human rights problems haven’t shown many signs of improving, either. Black Lives Matter is still fighting the same fight that Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr. began in the 1960s. People of Color are still disproportionately killed, jailed and discriminated against. I.C.E. is still following the blueprints of containment and abuse laid in American history with Native American exile and Japanese American internment. 

In my opinion, Boomers failed to change the world the way they once wanted to because they lived largely successful lives. They grew up in the post-WWII economic boom that allowed them to have access to well-paying jobs and attend colleges that didn’t place them in deep debt. Boomers were the last generation to be financially stable enough to raise a family of five on one paycheck. More importantly, they are the generation that saw conflicts as wars to win, and the enemy as a concrete entity to subdue and defeat. Boomers didn’t continue pushing for change in the Defense budget after the United States pulled out of Vietnam; they had won their fight and thus the war. Boomers didn’t continue to push for civil rights after the assasination of John F. Kennedy or Martin Luther King Jr, either. Instead, they made the two men martyrs and allowed statues and renamed schools to become the proof of their participation. 

The parallels between young Boomers and both Gen Y (Millennials) and Gen Z are easy to see. Vietnam has been traded for the War on Terror. The Civil Rights Movement has become the Black Lives Matter Movement. Arguments against the draft have shifted to the over-bloated budget of the Defense Department. We’re running in the same place we were 60 years ago. So why do I believe that we can do what Boomers could not? 

First, we aren’t blindly idealistic in the same ways. I saw the World Trade Center fall when I was nine years old. I’ve lived through the housing market crash and two recessions. I was part of a generation of students who were told that all they needed to do to have the same life as their parents and grandparents was go to college and work hard—yet my friends are still struggling to balance student loan debt and bills with living their lives. Most of them are still living paycheck to paycheck. We’ve become the Kings and Queens of the side hustle. My generation has been called lazy, accused of killing the diamond industry (among others) and told that the reason we aren’t rich is because we drink too many $4 coffees and indulge in avocado toast. And Gen Z has a pretty raw deal, too. The technology generation is still defining themselves, but they know that they don’t want to be tied down by materialistic endeavors. They’ve seen what that’s done to their families trying to keep up with the Joneses. 

More importantly, both generations know something that Boomers never fully grasped: Change doesn’t happen overnight. The “instant gratification” generations are the ones actually seeing the big picture this time. We aren’t saying that Boomers and Gen X won’t be a part of the solutions we create, but we are also saying that we don’t mind breaking a few eggs to make this omelet. 2020 has been hell—a year of death and anger and epic dark humor coping skills—but it has made me proud of the newest generations. Proud to see them standing up to be heard, to protest, to vote. We may be young, but we are mighty, and we are looking forward to changing the world.

6 Comments

  1. I don’t see much sense coming from the younger generations. All I see is anger and arrogance. Much like the children of the 60s.

    I don’t see anything righteous in the”efforts” made throughout 2020. In short… I see broken eggs, but not a hint of an omelette. I don’t even see the intention of making san omelette. Just blind, undirected action.

    As a Gen-Xer, I can tell you that your generation has had more than mine at every stage. It’s just that somehow you acquired this strange and naive expectation that you would immediately go from graduation to wealth and success.

    I worked hard and went through a lot of adversity in my 20s and 30s. And that’s okay. Living in the world takes effort. Maybe, just possibly, your expectations were off. Sure, there are problems, and we should arrive to fix them, but this isn’t your works to break and reform. It’s pure arrogance to assume so. We all have to live in it. Quite honestly, it’s been all these attempts to break and reform it over the decades (no, you aren’t the first) that have been complicit in making it a wise world, rather than a better one.

    You don’t build a world by destroying it. You find solutions to problems that are compromises that everyone can accept. You create unity, not chaos.

    Maybe you’ll understand that one day, when a new generation is threatening to tear the world apart again because they think it’s imperfect. It will always be imperfect, because there is no perfect world.

    I seriously think the younger generations have no desire to actually do the hard work of making the world better. They’re just another generation of nihilists, out to destroy whatever they view as flawed. And that will be everything.

    Your generation very likely will have no part in even cleaning up your own mess. The self righteous feeling you have… it’s just a feeling. It doesn’t equate to justice, and it doesn’t excuse destructive behavior.

    Grow up, and do the hard work of creating positive, wholly inclusive change, and stop scapegoating.

  2. To be fair to Boomers for a sec (I know, not popular) they had to walk so the rest of us could fly. They lived through the Moon landing (!) and the Cold War, when everyone thought NYC might go up in flames during a nuclear holocaust and we were all going to have to go full Furiosa / Mad Max. Instead of aliens and space travel, and dystopian postnuclear society, we got the dotcom boom and social media and pocket computers. Way more boring, banal, and yet equally dystopian.
    A minority of Boomers, really, were the hippie antiwar dove generation; a minority of Boomers were second-wave feminists and anti-racists who advanced our discourse and made truly impactful criticisms and analyses of our social realities. But it is these Boomers without whom Gen Y and Gen Z would be inconceivable. We learned from them in school. They are our bosses and parents or grandparents. Sure, a ton of them are technophobes and traditionalists who are just really scared of change, and who are stuck in their idyllic 1950s childhood memories, but not all of them are. A bunch of them kept Socialism alive during the Mccarthy era and brought it up again after it was over and they haven’t shut up! Quite a feat.

    The trick is to always remember what it is that in fact made the world better. It wasn’t paranoia, and it wasn’t technofuturism, and it wasn’t the economy, and it wasn’t tribalism, and it wasn’t superheroes, and it wasn’t defense spending. It was careful and sustained argument and protests, building coalitions, healthy self-criticism, leveraging power, punching up, compassion, loyalty, forgiveness, tolerating dissent, and soft power above hard power. I mean, there’s a lot more to be said. I just hope us Millenials will (a) survive the pandemic (b) find opportunities to build where things are currently being destroyed and (c) that we move to build community rather than build bunkers. As Millenials, most of us had a pretty good childhood. Early 90s were a good time to grow up. By the time we finished high school and college, things were tougher. They didn’t ever get much better. But we had a good solid childhood, a lot of us, and we had the optimism of Y2K, and we had the Obama years to rebuild a bit.
    Gen Z has had a much more cynical start, in a way, and they’re stepping up. I just hope they don’t get crushed right out the gate :/ Can’t change much if you never get a slice of the pie. I believe in them, though. The kids are alright.

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