I am a leading-edge Baby Boomer and a card-carrying member of the generation that protested the Vietnam war and fought for civil rights. I marched with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and I chanted at war protests. Back in the sixties, we made a difference simply because there were so many of us. Young, fed up and angry, we didn’t have much respect for previous generations. We saw them as old fuddy-duddies, invested in their own importance, eager to replicate the past, and resistant to any kind of change.
We were a force they had never seen before. They responded by attacking us as immoral, selfish rabble rousers. That didn’t bother us. The government couldn’t make protest illegal so, as John Ehrlichman later revealed, they created the War on Drugs that let them put hippies in jail for smoking weed and black people for taking heroin.
We grew older and thought we could pass the torch on to another generation but we were wrong. No other generation stood up to carry the flame and fight for change. We were the last generation to stand up and make our voice heard – for almost 50 years.
The Lack of Change
I never understood why the kids of so many intervening generations were so silent, so quiescent, so uninvolved with change. The country and the world have presented us with a lot of causes to fight for and argue against, from environmental protection to nuclear disarmament. Where we had war and inequality, they inherited pollution, corruption, and a massive transfer of money upward.
Critics have derided he Baby Boomers for being too safe, too complacent, too selfish and greedy. That must have happened after the Vietnam War ended, once young men were no longer being drafted into an unwinnable conflict that chewed them up and spat them out in body bags every day.
That must have happened after James Chaney, Michael Schwerner and Andrew Goodman were buried, after George Wallace stepped away from the schoolhouse door, after the lynchings stopped and the Whites Only signs got taken down.
And it must have happened after the demographic boom’s forward edge graduated college and went out into a difficult work world. The sheer size of our generation meant that too many young people applied for too few jobs in a recession. We had to fight to get one and keep it. Despite what you read now, no one gave us much.
The Music of Change
Our music also threw a gauntlet in the face of existing biases and demanded that society change, improve, be better. We sang, “We Shall Overcome” and meant it. Fast forward 37 years and consider one of the most popular songs of 2006: John Mayer’s “Waiting on the World to Change.” I listened to it in dismay, wondering whether Mr. Mayer and the young people singing this passive anthem understood that waiting accomplishes nothing.
Change doesn’t just happen like the passing of the seasons or the rise and fall of the tides. No one gives up power voluntarily, much less the money and authority that go along with it. The world changes when you force it to – and not before. We chanted and marched and sat in and many died—but we couldn’t vote. Not until 1971 did the country pass the 26th Amendment that lowered the voting age from 21 to 18. We had a voice but no teeth.
Mobilizing the Change
Now Generation Z, has picked up the gauntlet of change and mobilized the country. Fearless, they speak out in the face of criticism, of being demonized by the NRA and Fox News, of death threats and accusations, Photoshopped pictures and Russian bots. They demand a change with which the majority of the country agrees.
What made the difference? I think it was an existential crisis. Facing the threat of death, whether in high school, the red mud of Southern states, or the rice paddies of Vietnam, mobilizes young people in a way that more remote causes cannot. As British author Samuel Johnson once said, “When a man knows he is to be hanged, it concentrates his mind wonderfully.”
We had the draft and the Vietnam war, lynchings and murders. Today’s kids have school shootings and they understand no place is safe from angry men with powerful guns.
Thanks to the 26th Amendment, many of today’s youth have teeth. They can vote and more turn 18 every day. They are focused on the mid-term elections in November and they are ready.
But they can’t do it alone.
The Politics of Change
The numbers tell us why. In the 2016 Presidential election:
- 70% of 18-29 year olds DID NOT vote
- 60% of 30-44 year olds DID NOT vote
- Only 38% of 45-64% did not vote
- Just 15% of 65+ citizens did not vote
That means us old geezers come out to the polls and vote for what we consider the country’s best interests. But the young people who are inheriting the future have until now disempowered themselves. For America to progress, the people who care about progress, must care about voting.
On this issue, the majority wants change. Here’s what a recent Fox News poll said about gun laws. (Yes, Fox News):
We all know that the National Rifle Association has our Congress by the short hairs and they’re not afraid to squeeze. They can do this for two reasons:
- They know that pro-gun, Second Amendment supporters will come out and vote as a block. And they will vote en masse for this one issue alone.
- They know that supporters of sane gun laws and reasonable restrictions will not do the same thing. They will either refuse to vote the issue or they will stay home and wait for the world to change without them.
Be the Change
If you want the school shootings to stop, be the change. If you want to go to the movies, a concert, a night club or any public venue without fear, vote for change. If the millions who marched across the country on Saturday comes to the polls in November prepared to vote their beliefs, change will be unstoppable. Here’s what to do:
- Register to vote early. Don’t wait until the last minute.
- Make sure you have the right identification to vote in your state.
- Take the day off from work.
- Bring sunscreen, water, and snacks
- Stand in line as long as you have to.
- And vote for change.
Believe that the opposition will be out in force, organized, motivated and aggressive. They will not give up their power, their money and their authority easily. On Saturday, armed men showed up in multiple places to harass and intimidate the marchers. They will do it again.
Be prepared. Support the young people. Get ready to make change happen.