Tuesday, March 27, 2012

The Baby Boomer Report Card

Walking around the waning cherry-blossoms near the Lincoln Memorial, granddaughter Zadie nestled in the snuggly, it struck me—the first time I came here was in the Fall of 1969 for a massive Vietnam War Protest. I was a freshman in at Antioch College and arrived in a bus full of outraged young idealists (in fact, probably half of the student body! We were a radical hotbed in those days.) We were kids, of course, who had nothing of wisdom, but were overflowing with good-intentioned hope. Our hearts were young, but aimed correctly toward the eradication of all the ism’s that limited and hurt people—racism, sexism, classism— and particularly, an end to war. And side-by-side with all we were against, there were the things we were for that we were trying out— wholesome food, expanded consciousness (with and without various plants and compounds), free schools, good music, comfortable clothes and more.

So here I was again, 43-years over the rainbow that we had begun and thinking about the nature of the pot of gold we expected at the other end. How did we do?

Here in D.C., I passed the Capital bikeshare bicycles and remembered that we had instituted free community bicycles back at Antioch in 1969. Back then we hitchhiked, now we ride share. Then we just crashed with people who picked us up hitchhiking, now there’s couch surfing. Then Chinese restaurants were the main choice for “ethnic food,” now, I’m walking by Thai, Egyptian, Salvadorean, Vietnamese, Brazilian and Ethiopian restaurants—all in the same block! Shopping at Safeway, I picked up tofu and miso and tahini and other foods I never heard of in 1968 and now are commonplace. Then girl’s basketball had different rules, now one of my high-school alum girls is on the wrestling team and beat a boy. Then Yoga and meditation and Buddhism were an exotic flower, now a relatively accepted part of the American landscape. Then a mixed-race baby got tongues clucking, here and now I’m walking through the Capitol Hill neighborhood with my granddaughter with such welcome greetings from folks of all ages and colors. Back then, Martin Luther King was newly gone, now he is immortalized in a Memorial filled with crowds reading his messages carved in stone. Back then a Democrat was in the White House who had signed a Civil Rights Bill, now a Democrat is again in the White House—and he’s a black man. And though it won’t make national news, back then a group of dedicated young teachers had just moved their three-year old alternative school from a church basement to a new building and now the school is still thriving, in some ways better than ever—and I (who came late in 1975) still work there. Fellow Baby-boomers, A+!! We have put feet under the wings of our vision and changed the world for the better.

But less we get too self-satisfied, there is plenty that didn’t quite turn out as we thought. In 1969, McDonald’s had sold 5 billion hamburgers and now is up to 247 billion. Every corner of the country has been stripped, mauled and strip-malled so every place is equally ugly and without character (except Yellow Springs, home of Antioch College, which has triumphantly refused national chains). Attitudes about race have shifted notably, but there are still more black men in prison than in schools. California went from number 1 in schooling to number 48 and we’ve lost a decade of training an imaginative and intellectually prepared future generation to mindless and harmful testing. Average TV viewing for children back in 1969 hovered around two hours per day, now screen time is over seven hours daily. Marijuna is still illegal, population has doubled, we have 80 degree weather in March in Michigan and the level of discourse in the Republican primaries would have made even Nixon shake his head. Most devastating, the Vietnam war I was protesting in 1969 was far from the end of U.S. involvement, On we marched into Grenada, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Lebanon, Libya, the Persian Gulf, Serbia, Iraq, Afghanistan, not too mention CIA involvement in Chile, Guatemala and other places not yet revealed. Baby-boomers, F-!!

Well, the world is a big place filled with some seven billion complicated human beings with all our weird beliefs, allegiances, outdated ideas and strange new notions. Our greed, ignorance, hope, good-heartedness and good work are all mixed-up, now armed with great technological power and an increasingly interconnected Web in which a butterfly's flutter affects the whole deal. We know more than we ever have about what can grow eloquent bodies, dynamic minds, compassionate hearts, but seem powerless to effect it straightjacketed by our own stubbornness, fears and determination to stay ignorant.

On a windy Spring day walking through the legacy of Lincoln, Jefferson, Roosevelt and Martin Luther King with the next generation in my snuggly, there’s still plenty of work for us all to do. Plenty of hope, plenty of shame, plenty of good reasons to walk through each day and choose which side of the problem/solution line to stand. Plenty of reason to renew our dedication to train our future citizens to pick up where we left off. With Spring in the air and Zadie looking out at the world in wide-eyed wonder, I vote for hope.

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