Monday, November 10, 2008

In Defense of the Boomers

I guess it all began with Garrison Kiellor. I'm very fond of him and his Lake Wobegon crew. People driving next to me must think I'm nuts because I'm either laughing out loud or singing along with his guests - of course, with no one else in the car.

But on his broadcast following the 2008 presidential election, he made the observation that this was probably the last election when his generation (i.e., my generation as well) would run a candidate. It's over, he said. We'd given the world Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, and now the torch had been passed. (OK maybe he didn't invoke the torch. I heard it anyway.) He then proceeded to reflect on his generation, the partying at Woodstock, the greed of the 80s, and how what we'd given the world was self-absorption and whining.

In truth, I'd been reflecting for some time about what my generation had given the world. We came of age shaking our adolescent fists at our parents, accusing them of having done poorly in transmitting a world badly in need of repair. We would fix the world, we declared.

And then as I held my first grandchild, nearly eight years ago, I found myself whispering an apology to her for the world we were giving her, and the prayer that her generation would do better.

So my friend Garrison really only articulated in a joking manner what I'd been thinking for a while.

But while we may never be called the Greatest Generation (although doesn't every generation have the opportunity to rise to greatness at some point?), I don't think we've done so badly.

Ours was the generation that stopped the tide of complacency. We were the ones who demanded answers. Andrew Goodman and Mickey Schwerner, born technically two years before the official start of the Baby Boom, died for the cause of civil rights. Our generation boarded the buses and rode through the South, literally taking their lives in their hands, to further the rights of the descendants of slaves.

Ours was the first generation to refuse to go to war. Sure, there have always been conscientious objectors or pacifists, but we looked at Viet Nam and said no. We knowingly broke the law by hiding or fleeing the country, because we refused to support a war we believed was wrong.

We were the generation who read Betty Friedan and Gloria Steinem and decided that there was more than one kind of inequality that had to go.

Our children and grandchildren have rights they take for granted because we stood up and said no - to de facto segregation, to an illegal war, to sexual oppression. And I do believe that subsequent legislation like the Americans with Disabilities Act can trace their roots to the drive for civil and sexual rights that saw their greatest expression in the 60s and 70s.

We weren't all partying at Woodstock. We didn't all listen to Timothy Leary. We didn't all crash on the streets of Haight-Ashbury. Some of us got educations and got married and raised children. But we learned to think and to question and to challenge, and we made questioning and challenging not only acceptable but a requirement for a functioning society.

Our country would be very different if the 60s had been just a continuation of the 50s, when we accepted life as it was (remember the photo of all those movie-goers wearing 3-D glasses? Quick: how many blacks do you see in that photo? I'll tell you - none. And we never thought there was anything wrong with that). We accepted that no photograph was ever shown of FDR in his wheel chair. We accepted that it would have been a problem if such a photo had been shown. We accepted a lot. And then we stopped accepting and started questioning. And I think our society is more open and more healthy for that.

I think I've stopped being ashamed of my generation. I hope Garrison Kiellor can agree with me.

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