In recent months, Garry and I have logged a lot of hours watching the political year unfold. I can’t count the number of hours spent analyzing “the millennials,” young folks in and around my granddaughter’s age. How disaffected they are. How they aren’t going to vote because “this has nothing to do with me,” which is a direct quote from my granddaughter.
I love my granddaughter with all my heart, but that just pissed me off to a fare-thee-well.
The world into which my generation — the now oft-dismissed “baby boomers” — was born was not composed of silver spoons and red carpets. Classified advertisements for jobs were divided into “Help Wanted: Male” and “Help Wanted: Female.” It was legal and enforced. As for people of color and immigrants, their help wasn’t wanted.
70 years later, the Help Wanted advertisements looked pretty much the same as they had in 1892. Photograph: Library of Congress Archives
Jim Crow laws were legal. Inter-marriage between races was illegal in all southern states and many northern ones. There was no Medicare, no Medicaid. If you lost your job or your job didn’t offer medical benefits — and employers were not obligated to provide benefits — you were out of luck.
People reminisce about the 1950s and early 1960s as if they were perfect days for everyone. A world in which jobs lasted forever and no one was hungry. But only if you were triple white. White collar. White skin. White picket fence. If you were anything else, you lived a different reality.
Did I mention that abortion was illegal? Illegal abortions were frequently fatal and effective birth control hadn’t been invented. It’s not that we didn’t have sex outside of marriage. Of course we did. Hormones, boys, girls, love, and passion were never much different than now, but acting on these urges was far more dangerous. Because the ramifications of “getting caught” were so perilous (and frequently against the law), we were sneaky. We had sex in cars, not beds.
We hid our lives from “the grownups” who were also frequently “the enemy.” Child abuse was not only not illegal, it was ignored or approved of. Beating your kids was merely “discipline.” Which is why I get enraged every time I read one of those Facebook “nostalgia” posts about how great it was to be able to hit your kids. Hitting kids doesn’t make them better people. It just tells them it’s okay for bigger, stronger people to hit smaller, weaker ones.
January 22, 1973 woman could finally breathe a sigh of relief. We thought the days of back room abortion were finally over. Maybe yes. But maybe it was just a temporary reprieve. Photograph: New York Times archive
My generation — we old people — were out there manning the barricades. Marching for justice. We changed the world — not as much as we hoped we would, but a lot. We fought racial and gender discrimination. While waiting for the law to change, we hid our homosexuality or trans-gender identities. Not doing so might do us in. We never gave up the fight, but we got old.
It’s your turn now.
Things are a lot better for you in many ways. Not perfect. Not without problems. There’s plenty more work to be done. I know you feel the world has failed to live up to its promises to you. Life is too hard. Good jobs are scarce. I know because I’ve heard about it … a lot.
Life — real life — has always been hard and good jobs have never been easy to find. No one told me life would be easy. Did someone tell you that? If they did, they lied.
Despite the complaining, your generation is reaping the benefits of what we fought for. It’s time for your generation to step up to the plate. Put down the phone. Go into the world. Fix stuff. Fight for a better life and a better world. Vote! That’s how change happens. If you don’t care enough to stand up for yourselves and your future, no one else will care. And all the work we did will go down the tubes.
Then, as my mom used to say, you’ll really have something to cry about.