Painting Boomers as Social Justice Change Agents
By Warren J. Blumenfeld, Guest Contributor
This is a commentary that has been a long time coming.
Each time I hear someone from the past couple of generations blame or simply dismiss, with deep conviction, members of my generation, the so-called “Boomers,” for causing the evils and the great divides separating people by race, socioeconomic class, gender, sexuality, and other social identities, I want to shout for them please to read and truly understand history.
From where did the driving force and passion came from within the Black Panther Party, the Young Lords, the American Indian Movement, the Congress of Racial Equality, Second Wave Feminists, the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee, the Farmworkers Movement, the Free Speech Movement, the Peace Movement, Students for a Democratic Society, the Gay Liberation and Gay Activists Alliance, Trans Liberation, Radical Lesbians, the Disability Rights Movement, AIDS Activists, the Patients’ Rights Movement, the Environmental Movement and the organizers of Earth Day, the Anti-Nuke and Anti-Fossil Fuel Movements, and so many others? That’s right – from Boomers!
We stood up, sat in, taught in, marched, lobbied, shouted, wrote, read, organized, discussed, debated, boycotted, and often we sang together in unison and in harmony.
Who do you think police directed those powerful fire hoses against, tear gassed, forcefully arrested, and, yes, shot and killed for exercising their constitutional rights to protest and to advocate for a better society? Yes, it was Boomers!
Of course, like any generation, many were seduced and engulfed into supporting the status quo for the “goodies” the capitalist system had to offer. They entered corporations and as time progressed, their ideals and ideas for progressive and equitable change became merely a distant memory.
Also like any generation, we made many mistakes. Many “bought” into the overriding foundation in our current so-called “neoliberal” age, emphasizing privatization, global capital, reduced governmental oversight and deregulation of the corporate sector, attacks on labor organizing, and competition: an age in which property rights hold precedence over human rights.
In this environment, we are witnessing a cultural war waged by the political, corporate, and theocratic right, a war to turn back all the gains progressive people have made over the years.
But many of us took our progressive ideals with us these many many years since as if they have been encoded into our nervous systems into our very being. During some of those “headier” times, we really believed we could establish a better and more perfect, peaceful, and loving nation and world.
We put into practice what feminists had taught us — that the “personal is the political.” We laughed and we cried together. We shared our ideas and our most intimate secrets. We dreamed our dreams and laid our plans for a world free from all the deadly forms of oppression, and as we went along, invented new ways of relating.
Many of us came to consciousness how we had been stifled growing up in a culture that taught us to follow and respect the hierarchy of privilege accorded to some and withheld from others based primarily on socially constructed identities.
Though many of our dreams for a more perfect society fell far short from our imagination and our tireless attempts, we did, nonetheless, advance social change somewhat on many fronts.
So the next time anyone from the more recent generations attempts to paint all us Boomers with the same frayed and ahistorical brush, you must paint yourself with that same brush since you are currently perched high above our Boomer shoulders serving as your foundation.
Young people have been and continue to be at the heart of progressive social change movements. Youth are transforming and revolutionizing the society and its institutions by challenging overall power inequities related not only to social identity categorizations and hierarchies, but they are also making links in the various types of oppression, and are forming coalitions with other marginalized groups.
Their stories, experiences, and activism have great potential to bring us to a future where people across intersectional identities will live freely, unencumbered by social taboos and cultural norms. It is a future in which the diversity across spectrums will live in liberty and freedom.
And many of us Boomers remain upfront and behind the scenes as active participants and as allies.
I believe that Pat Parker’ poem “Legacy” puts the movement history into perspective:
“…Each generation improves the world for the next.
My grandparents willed me strength.
My parents willed me pride.
I will to you rage.
I give you a world incomplete,
a world where women still are property and chattel
where color still shuts doors
where sexual choice still threatens,
but I give you a legacy of doers
of people who take risks
to chisel the crack wider….”
We owe our gratitude to the young people of each generation over the decades who have taken the chisel and expanded that crack ever wider!
Dr. Warren J. Blumenfeld is author of The What, The So What, and The Now What of Social Justice Education (Peter Lang Publishers), Warren’s Words: Smart Commentary on Social Justice (Purple Press); editor of Homophobia: How We All Pay the Price (Beacon Press), and co-editor of Readings for Diversity and Social Justice (Routledge) and Investigating Christian Privilege and Religious Oppression in the United States (Sense), and co-author of Looking at Gay and Lesbian Life (Beacon Press.)