I was pretty young during the turbulent 1960’s, so it may not have been 10-year-olds burning down campuses and burning bras, but it was 18-year-olds – the same age as my big brother. So those faces on TV looked pretty familiar. By the time I was getting out of high school in the late 1970’s, I was watching people my age protesting the Iranian hostage situation. That event triggered some formerly latent patriotism in my generation, and there we were, screaming “Bomb, Bomb, Bomb Iran!” Then we moved into the very interesting 1980’s, and there we were again – marching on Washington in support of aid for the homeless, or in protest over labor issues. Postal workers were fired by Jimmy Carter for striking, and the air traffic controllers were fired by Reagan for the same reason. People were yelling all over the place.
Then the economy started booming, and we became far more focused on our own private anger – divorces, child custody battles, fighting to keep our money for ourselves, fighting to get jobs, fighting to make sure our children had every imaginable opportunity and never had to experience any sort of denial or pain (don’t get me started on that one). We were the angry parents who shouted down the school superintendent who dared attempt to impose a dress code. We were the angry workers who protested everything. We wanted the best, and woe to anyone who tried to stop our upward trajectory and our quest for the next McMansion.
And today, the Boomers are back in the streets in full force once again. The woman who camped out at President Bush’s Texas ranch to protest the war that killed her son? She was my age. The faces in all the Tea Party protests and marches and conventions? They’re mostly my age again. Why is my generation always so darned cranky about everything?
Certainly a lot of it has to do with the events of the 60’s and early 70’s. So many of the ideals and beliefs we held were dashed during war protests, assassinations, gas rationing, pulling out of Vietnam without a victory, and losing a president to scandal and impeachment. The status quo of working dad and stay-at home mom with 2.5 children living in the ‘burbs was thrown out the window. The ground shifted right under our feet, and our disillusion led to cynicism. Is it any wonder that the flower children of the 60’s morphed into the “me generation” of the 70’s? Fed up with it all, we started taking care of “numero uno” – ourselves. We wanted bigger houses, faster cars, fancier clothes, private schools for our prodigy, and more, more, more of EVERYTHING.
On the plus side, we are a generation which has dramatically altered the face of the world we live in. Our noisy travels through life have brought attention to situations that more polite generations may have just chosen to ignore. Never fear – the Baby Boomers don’t suffer anything in silence! And we’ll keep yelling until someone pays attention to us (back to the “me generation” again…). There’s a lot to be admired in that, and issues like women’s equality, racial equality and the environment can thank us for the attention.
It is curious how our perspective on issues can change over a life time. Some of the same students who marched for equality and aid for the poor are now marching to deport immigrants and to roll back school busing in the interest of keeping children with those “of their own kind.” The flower children just wanted peace and love, but unfortunately they chose to disparage American soldiers when they returned home from Vietnam. Today, we fervently supports our troops with flags, parades, care packages and yellow ribbons galore. And some of the noisiest protesters who fought so vehemently for clean rivers and air in our cities in the 1970’s are the same ones screaming “conspiracy!!” and “fraud!!” over the talk of controlling global warming today.
Some of this may be the natural pendulum swing of humanity across the centuries from one extreme to the other. And I suspect some of it is just Baby Boomers looking for something to be mad about. All. The. Time. Now that we’re in our 50’s and 60’s, maybe it’s time for us to grow up and get over ourselves. I have to admit that I cringe when I see gray-haired folks out there carrying signs and screaming into the television cameras. Where are today’s college students and young people, and why aren’t they taking some responsibility for changing the world? Isn’t it their turn now? Why can’t we retire from the protest lines?
On the other hand, I have to admit I get a pretty strong surge of pride when I see those folks, too. Yeah, we’re an in-your-face generation, and we’ll probably never change. When we see something we don’t like, we make noise about it. And if we really don’t like it, we make lots of noise. And we change things. Deal with it.
I can’t help but pity the nursing home workers and social security workers as the years catch up with us Boomers over the next 20 years or so. As we start needing their care and moving en masse into assisted living and nursing homes, heaven help them all. I have visions of sit-ins (in powered wheelchairs) over food, or protest signs printed on bedsheets hanging from our windows (but please ladies – no more bra burning!). Our generation has been yelling about things since our teens, with no sign of slowing down at this point. So treat us right as we go sliding into old….OR ELSE!!!!