EARTH TO MILLENNIALS: STEP UP TO THE PLATE, YOUR TIME HAS COME

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.

help-wanted-advert-1892

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.

civil-rights-bill-passage-nytimesheadline

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.

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.

Selma alabama 1965 resized

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.

29 thoughts on “EARTH TO MILLENNIALS: STEP UP TO THE PLATE, YOUR TIME HAS COME

  1. “I’ll give you something to cry about.” She did, too. I remember being young and believing I would change the world — all by myself — in a matter of weeks. I think I was well into my 30s before I realized what a long slog it was and that my particular task was teaching writing; it was no big, exciting revolution as tart and instant as Tang. It was day after day after day after day for more than 30 years. It was exactly as some of my more aware and generous elders had told me, had shown me.

    Basically, changing the world means showing up for the race. Many people don’t show up. Others fall by the way. It’s about showing up and enduring. It’s a long slog.

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    • Yes, it’s a marathon, not a sprint. And as soon as you catch your breath, you realize you are at another starting line. I’m just burnt out and I think this youngest adult generation needs to stop feeling sorry for themselves and start looking for ways to improve their lives. Because youth is such a temporary thing.

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      • I am a bit more optimistic about them — but I would like them to put away their electronic devices, but here I am typing to you on WordPress.

        I remember the afternoon (four or five years ago) I noticed that my students no long arrived in the classroom early to talk to me or to each other, but to stare at their phones. That realization explained why my hitherto successful “community of learners” ideal wasn’t working any more, why they didn’t know each others names, why they didn’t engage in discussions, why they were not interested in solving problems together, why they thought they could “Google” answers to everything. But now I think that our generation was equally self-absorbed in its own way. We take a lot of credit for things we didn’t do — but that our parents’ generation did just as kids today think they invented “diversity” and LGBT rights just because they happen to have been born into a world in which that had come to be valued (thanks us!).

        When I get all huffy about “my generation” I remember The Donald and Dubya are both Baby Boomers (as are Billary and Obama). And, those born toward the end of the Baby Boom had different — fewer? — opportunities than those born early because they’d been squeezed out by sheer numbers. And GenX is the one that REALLY hates us.

        I think the net result of the anti-war/anti-draft demonstrations of the 60s was the all volunteer army and the longest war in our history. I think there are Machiavellian maneuvers among people hungry for power no matter when they were born — BUT if people don’t step up, even to vote, then they are surrendering to those people. I believe that the early church was right; it’s a constant battle between good and evil.

        Anyhow — I was very happy to see WHO the Millennials did get excited about. That was very heartening.

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        • Yes and yes. Major historical movements are not born in a generation. Cultural shifts take multiple generations, so whatever your cause, there were always people working on it (whatever “it” is) 100 or 200 years before you were born.

          Abolitionists were ardent advocates of Civil Rights in the 1700s, but it took a lot of people … a mass of people … to push down the walls and get it turned into law.

          Did baby boomers invent civil rights? Or women’s rights? Of course not. But we DID push. Without that groundswell of popular support, LBJ wouldn’t have dared push through the Civil Rights. I doubt that Roe Vs. Wade would be the law of the land. The help wanted ads would still be “female” and “male” — white only, if you please.

          I’d like to see these kids spend less time complaining about how life has cheated them … and more time trying to fix an ailing system. It’s their world. We won’t be here much longer. If they don’t step up and decide to participate? Who knows? Apathy is not a healthy path for any country and definitely not for a republic.

          Liked by 1 person

          • I agree. I wonder if some of them realize that they are THERE and they need to prepare their way for themselves and their kids. Still and all, I like them and sometimes even miss hanging with them in a classroom. They often surprised me and not always in a bad way… 😉

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              • I just watched three of them on a panel. I wanted to slap all of them. One chick said, “We’re different from other generations because we’re informed and we vote on the issues not on whether someone’s famous or not.” Brought back the nightmare I retired from…the class who didn’t know Greek was a modern — not a dead — language.

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              • I remembered the symposium at the womans college I attended back in 1970-72. It was about feminism, but I thought the issue was bigger than feminism; I thought the rights of women was a human issue. My argument was good enough that our faculty sponsor changed the name of the symposium from “From Sexism to Feminism” to “From Sexism to Humanism.” Shirley Chisholm was our keynote speaker. Some of the speakers were male feminists, lawyers who spoke about how the laws should be changed for women to get true justice. I admit, a lot of it was over my head, but I was there.

                Some of my students were, too, in their turn, but differently in the last 10 years, less truly involved — the same with their classes in which they were less truly involved. They were good at answers but undisciplined as hell at questions.

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  2. Marilyn, I extracted a promise from my granddaughter – no matter what she will always go and vote – even if to decline a vote (which is legal here) do a write in or protest vote . Women have had to work too hard to get the vote.
    Leslie

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  3. Well said. If you don’t vote then you can’t complain. My children both vote – my son reads about the politicians agendas to make an educated vote. But many young people think they know it all and that nothing matters. Big mistake.

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  4. We should not forget that at one time we also thought voting had nothing to do with us. It was an old folks battle and the things we wanted to change had to be done more up-front by protests, sit-ins NAACP, CORE, and singin’ folk songs while holding hands. BLAMM! guys.., that didn’t work and voting became more important but it took years for us to realize it, especially since we didn’t understand the “Electoral College” that seemed to ignore the popular vote anyway. Now we openly ask each other if you will, did, or intend to vote and if not.., why?

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  5. GWB went into Iraq – ostensibly and among other things – to give Iraqis the gift of democracy, and his own people can’t be bothered to vote. How ironic.
    I said my piece about the need to vote in my last post. If it was just millennials who can’t see it, I might forgive them on the grounds of their youth, but I am truly horrified at how many Americans shirk the responsibility that goes with the privilege of democracy, particularly when tomorrow’s outcome will have huge consequences for the rest of the world.

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