Lately, in news stories and on blogs I have read a lot of criticism about my generation–the boomers. Some of it deserved. some of it written by journalists and bloggers who are obviously not boomers. Even when we were younger, our parents’ generation called us the “me” generation so a lot of what is written is nothing new. We have heard it time and time again throughout our lives.
We grew up in a time when thinking about “me” was possible. it didn’t mean that we were not aware of what was going on all around us or that we didn’t care. I graduated in 1968. Graduation is a time when the whole world is right there in front of you ripe for the taking. This is what was happening in my world and my friends’ worlds-The TET Offensive, Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination, Bobby Kennedy’s assassination, The Chicago 7, the looting and burning of our cities, many of my friends, at 18, went to Vietnam. Yet, we dared to hope. We hoped that someone with the vision of MLK or RFK would step up and be able to right our world.
In 1970, things had gone from bad to worse. The invasion of Cambodia began. On May 4, Kent State experienced a tragedy that no college campus should have in their history, and ten days later on May 14, Jackson State experienced the very same tragedy. Many of our friends who had been to Vietnam were now home telling us that the stories in the press didn’t tell the truth. “If you aren’t part of the solution, you are part of the problem” cropped up everywhere on campus-sidewalks, walls, signs. Nothing was safe. The environmental phrase had ventured in to every aspect that we who could not vote were trying to change the only way we knew how by shouting, by writing, by standing up and refusing to believe what we were hearing and seeing were the only alternatives open to us.
In 1973, we were beginning our lives in the “real world”-the world of opportunity and work. The fall of Saigon happened. Soldiers coming home from Vietnam were met with contempt, disdain, and unemployment as if they were some how to blame for America’s plight. College students were met with distrust and unemployment. Everyone suffered from high prices, inflation, and the threat of unemployment. Me, a month before the school year started had no offers of employment. Two weeks before the school bells rang, I had three.
Today, the world is changing quickly. What my cohorts and I experienced is the past. We can do nothing about the past, but we can do something in the present. Someone very close to me says that we are getting a second chance. This time we need to get it right. I believe that. And I believe that as a boomer I have the chance to make things turn out differently this time. Sometimes, we need to go through troubled times to understand what can be done differently.
As boomers, we have real choice in the coming election, we can vote. What we cannot afford to forget is what we experienced in 1968 when we did not have the right to vote. This time the future is in our hands. This time we can change the world. I hope that we all have the nerve to look back, remember, and jump feet first into uncharted waters. After all, what do we have if we don’t have hope.