Generational Front

My kid is home!  She spent the last three weeks in South Africa, caring for the fauna at a wildlife rehabilitation center for endangered species.  The word most often used by my daughter to describe her experience in our limited texts and FaceTime calls was “awesome”.  I’ve seen photos of rhinos, cheetahs, hippos, elephants and lions; there will be tales of many more, I’m sure.  I cannot wait to see her photos, as I believe she is a natural-born photographer.  In fact, my dream for her is that she becomes a wildlife photographer, like that Burrard-Lucas Photography guy we both follow on Facebook (sadly, no relation) who takes these amazing photos of wild creatures, sometimes using his “beetlecam”, which is a tiny camera that stays on the ground and is remotely controlled.  Some curious animals (often young ones) come right up to it, providing some fantastic shots.  Whoever thought of that “beetlecam” was a genius, but Mr. Burrard-Lucas uses it to its maximum effectiveness.

I am so proud of the woman she’s becoming.  She’s finally figuring things out, which is so difficult for young people, especially these days.  The huge outpouring of support for Bernie Sanders, a grandfatherly, almost curmudgeonly long-time but largely unknown (before now) senator from a tiny New England state, was evidence to me that young people want to cling to SOMETHING.  The Black Lives Matter protests and, before that, Occupy Wall Street and its progeny are all powered by folks in their twenties, because it is THEIR world the old farts are messing with.  And as far as I can tell, the younger generation – as younger generations are wont to be – is fed up.  It’s clearly time for a change.

Hearken back to Bob Dylan’s “The Times They Are A-Changing” and the mayhem of the ‘60s.  CSNY’s “Four dead in Ohio” on the Kent State campus during a protest was a shock in 1970; now it’s a common occurrence.  My goodness, there were ASSASSINATIONS of prominent and beloved public figures by unhinged people, dark forces that may or may not have been driven by political motives.  While today’s daily news has become more and more scary, I’ve come to believe that what we’re seeing now is a cataclysmic generational shift.  It needs to happen if we are to progress as a civilization.  The stakes are very high – nothing less than the survival of the planet and the human race.  Even though we have most certainly had hiccups and missteps on the road of recorded history, the course of human civilization is toward evolution and progress, moving forward and only looking back to learn from our collective mistakes.  These “Make America Great Again” people have this cocked-up idea that we need to go back to the “good old days”, when white folks – white MEN – had all the power and everyone else followed along willingly and respectfully.  Taken to its extreme, its ISIS wanting to re-create a medieval caliphate.  It’s just WRONG.  It is not how civilization is supposed to GO.

I have a dear friend, a progressive thinker of the first order and a woman who has single-handedly raised the hopes and capabilities of young people seeking a better future with the Global Kids program she founded in 1989.  We had dinner the other night (one reason my blog post was delayed this week, the other being the return of the prodigal daughter) and she was literally bowed under the crushing fear that somehow the Idiot Trump will be able to convince enough people with money that they should buy the election for him.  She is deathly afraid that it will happen.  I cannot even conceive of the damage a Trump presidency would do to the students of today that she has always held in such high regard as being the embodiment of hope for our future.  Interestingly, she is from a different generation than I am – she would probably consider herself to be of the generation just preceding the Baby Boomers, whether or not it had a catchy name – just barely old enough to have been my (very young) mother.  And yet I am a full generation (plus) removed from my daughter’s generation, since I had her when I was already 36.  And yet, on the subject of the 2016 election, at the very least, all three of us representatives of disparate generations want the same thing, which I suspect is a very unique situation in this day and age.

Yes, it can be said that the current revolution was born of what Bernie Sanders called “grotesque“ income inequality, and that is certainly a driver, and undoubtedly it’s the youngest among us who suffer most from income disparity.  Young people coming out of high school, vocational school and two, four or more years of college feel as if their career prospects are slimmer than their parents had, and it’s no surprise that drug addiction is at an all-time high.  The combination of a crappy education (for my recent thoughts on this topic, see  “An Ideal Education”, 7/6/16) and feelings of disenfranchisement and despondency inevitably engender anger, which in turn engenders revolution if you get enough of those angry people together (and with social media, you don’t even have to be in the same physical location).  How could it not?  But the dilemma is whether the revolution should be peaceful or violent, cooperative or antagonistic.  It might SEEM clear which is the better choice, but unfortunately there are plenty of people who believe the opposite is the only way.  And those folks unfortunately (and yet somehow predictably) sure do love their guns and other weapons of mass destruction and control.

Millennials have the bad rap of being the “entitled” generation, getting trophies for just taking part and being swaddled and coddled and overprotected from the realities of life, especially by those people who have enough money to keep their families insulated from the big, bad nasty world out there.  But we need the millennials, their relative numbers not seen since the Boomers that are their parents (and now grandparents, egad), to find a common voice based around their common problem:  IT IS THEIR WORLD.  They must not take for granted that it will always be here and always be what they’ve known it to be.  If negative forces (like ISIS, right-wing radical extremists and crazy people with guns on the one hand, and lying, corrupt and downright lazy lawmakers who don’t do their jobs (and the greedy, “have so much but still want more” Mr. Burns-ian billionaires whose self-interest fuels and funds them) on the other) conspire to have their way, there will be nothing – I REPEAT, NOTHING – left for them or their children, let alone their children’s children and beyond.

I do hear encouraging stories, like about the Dutch kid who’s trying to figure out some way to first gather all the plastic from the oceans and then actually do something constructive with it, or the simultaneously powerful and compassionate force of nature that is Malala.  I love that young people mobilized for Bernie, because Bernie was saying things they wanted to hear about student debt and health care and also giving them the courage to work toward achieving their goals – and they DID, even though the ultimate prize was just out of reach.  As Bernie is now telling them, Hillary is the better choice for the country at this juncture, and Hillary herself has been, shall we say, ENCOURAGED by the sheer force of will of the Bernie supporters to open herself up to necessary changes in the party platform.  And beyond this election it’s about the grass roots, local elections, running for office themselves – if young people want to change the government, they’ll need to do it from the inside, from the ground up.  Protests are OK to a degree – it’s important for voices to be shared and heard – but there needs to now be POSITIVE ACTION.  One person can make a difference.  (I loved this comic posted on the Upworthy site the other day, and it makes my point precisely:  http://www.upworthy.com/this-comic-nails-the-power-of-one.)

I’m certain my daughter is going to be one of those people making a difference, particularly in the sphere of wildlife that she has chosen for her career path.  She has always had a righteous anger at intolerance and injustice, although she tends to let stupid people bother her a little too much.  As we always tell her, you can’t win an argument with stupid people.  They’re just not ready for the lesson you’re trying to teach them.  But my hope for stupid people everywhere is that there’s something out there that can enlighten their ignorance before it’s too late, whether it’s a tragedy in their own lives or something they read (IF they read, that is – there definitely needs to be more reading of things over 140 characters long) or see or hear on TV (hallelujah for the voices of Jon Stewart and Samantha Bee and John Oliver and Bill Maher, who try to make you see sense while also making you laugh – sometimes uncomfortably, yes, but laugh all the same – and like the genius George Carlin before them, whose words resonate now more than ever).  It’s true that the Fourth Estate is biased and sorely in need of renovation (another post for another day), but I believe they do try to show positive stories as well as negative ones (maybe sometimes even going too far in the “positive” – or should I say “fluff” – direction).

So my advice to young people would be:  Seek as many sources of information as possible.  Figure out how you can make a difference.  Do something small to start with and make it grow.  But first and foremost, in the words of Bernie Sanders, “none of [his campaign’s proposed] initiatives will happen if we do not elect a Democratic president in November. None! In fact, we will go backward. We must elect the Democratic nominee in November and progressive Democrats up and down the ballot so that we ensure that these policy commitments can advance.”  https://medium.com/@BernieSanders/forever-forward-ee015b23547a#.9zxt18m4x.

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