The morning after the presidential election, I was listening to the radio on the way to work. An old song came on: Buffalo Springfield’s “For What It’s Worth,” circa 1967.
I jacked it up as I sat through the light at Temple and Willow, also known as the most obnoxious traffic wait in the Signal Hill area, second only to the left turn lanes at Redondo and Willow. So I had plenty of time to hear the whole thing.
As ol’ Buffalo painted a picture of the civil rights movement, anti-war movement and protest upswell of the ’60s, I wasn’t envisioning the films and photos I had seen of that era. I was picturing what I’d seen on the news that week and for the months and few years leading up to it.
“There’s battle lines being drawn
Nobody’s right if everybody’s wrong
Young people speaking their minds
Getting so much resistance from behind
. . . What a field day for the heat
A thousand people in the street
Singing songs and carrying signs
Mostly saying ‘hooray for our side.’”
I don’t think I have to point out the parallels.
Much in the way that terrorist attacks now seem so frequent that as they mount in number it becomes harder and harder to remember which happened where, the marches and civil rights protests (and, yes, even riots) in this country are now growing so frequent that while the word “Ferguson” will automatically spark an association, frankly, the many that have happened since are starting to blur together.
So, yeah. “There’s something happening here,” as Buffalo Springfield said. We all know it. But why?
I’ll preface this by saying that I am not going to get into a tit for tat over “sides” here, so take a breath before you turn preliminarily purple with outrage.
The civil rights movement has made a powerful resurgence – one I would argue revived in 2008 with the passage of Proposition 8, a ballot measure outlawing gay marriage in California. Then in 2014, the death of Michael Brown, a black man shot by police officers, led to rioting in Ferguson, Missouri. Subsequent deaths of black individuals at the hands of police carried on a protest movement that has in large part been led by the black rights advocacy group Black Lives Matter and has led to protests and acts of civil disobedience throughout the nation. Illegal immigrants’ rights have also come to the forefront of late, considering our president’s stance on the matter.
I should note that these events have occurred while many Millennials, including myself, were in college or entering adulthood/“the real world.”
Then there is the modern women’s rights movement. Women are apparently now so fed up with a myriad of issues (equal pay, a constant and never-ending battle over women’s health care, derogatory speech toward women normalized by certain prominent elected officials, etc.) that they have become determined to make their voices heard on grand scales unlike those seen since the ’60s and ’70s. The Women’s March, for example, didn’t just encompass the United States – it included 673 cities worldwide, with as many as 4.8 million marchers, according to England’s “The Telegraph.”
And of course, for all these movements and protests, there are counter-movements and counter-protests.
I think it hasn’t escaped anyone watching these events unfold that a sizable percentage of participants are Millennials. A poll conducted by The Huffington Post and YouGov in February found that Millennials aged 18 to 30 are more likely to have gone to a protest than any other age group.
But it’s not just the protests and the marches that are making me have flashbacks to my high school history classes. Case in point: The other night I had a dream that I had to diffuse a nuclear bomb. Totally normal, right?
The day before, North Korea had threatened to drop one on us. And there was subsequent news of returned threats by our own president and about SoCal residents wondering where the heck they can take shelter from nuclear fallout because no one here has anything resembling a basement.
Then there’s Russia. Whilst our president is delightedly getting into Twitter spats with a newly minted nuclear nation, we’re still having a war of words and sanctions with good old Vladimir Putin, everyone’s favorite ex-KGB officer turned essential dictator who also happens to enjoy being photographed shirtless whilst taking breaks from fueling Middle Eastern war crimes and overthrowing sovereign nations. Such a nice a guy, that Vlad.
I’ve seen some articles out there comparing this decade to the ’60s and the Millennials to the protestors of that era. But we’re not re-living the ’60s, folks. Pick a decade and you’ll find that we’re mired in a hodge-podge of unresolved issues left over from the messes and movements that previous generations, both foreign and domestic, got us into, like the Korean War and the Cold War. And I guess we have to throw World War II in there as well, because literal Nazis now feel emboldened enough to parade down American streets.
Just in case you sped-read through that part, let me reiterate: NAZIS.
So. Why are the Millennials in the streets? Is it because we are lazy and don’t have jobs? Is it because we secretly want to loot you because we don’t have jobs? Is it because we’re coddled and demand that everyone act in a way that makes us more comfortable/coddled?
It’s because we are about to inherit the earth. And it is in a state of discord.
I know a lot of Baby Boomers who are frustrated with young people for protesting some of these issues. But coming from a generation that pretty much invented modern civil disobedience, I’m a little puzzled by the lack of understanding in this arena. (To be fair, I should say I also know quite a few Baby Boomers who are participating in these movements.)
Whatever your views on the troubles spilling onto our streets, you must at least recognize that at the root of it all are many issues that you likely thought were resolved decades ago that in reality pretty much only got a Band-Aid slapped on them. And, unfortunately, lately it seems like they’re all getting ripped off at once.
The old guard is still guiding our future, but we are due to inherit it. According to a March 2017 report by the federal Congressional Research Service for the houses of Congress: “The average age of Members of the House at the beginning of the 115th Congress was 57.8 years; of Senators, 61.8 years, among the oldest in U.S. history.”
Meanwhile, Millennials became the largest living generation in 2015.
Perhaps Millennials are more likely to protest because they feel their voices are not adequately represented. If so, I have a suggestion for them. It’s one echoed by a number of growing nonprofit organizations like She Should Run or Run for Something that are growing in popularity.
My suggestion is this: Run for office. And if you need a little inspiration, consider Bob Dylan, circa 1963.
“Come gather ’round people
Wherever you roam
And admit that the waters
Around you have grown
And accept it that soon
You’ll be drenched to the bone.
If your time to you
Is worth savin’
Then you better start swimmin’
Or you’ll sink like a stone
For the times they are a-changin’.
Come senators, congressmen
Please heed the call
Don’t stand in the doorway
Don’t block up the hall
For he that gets hurt
Will be he who has stalled
There’s a battle outside
And it is ragin’.
It’ll soon shake your windows
And rattle your walls
For the times they are a-changin’.”
– Bob Dylan,
“The Times They Are A-Changin’”