Thursday, November 19, 2009

Point of personal privilege

Updated I just read one of those posts you see from time to time where some young activist and/or blogger bemoans the "attention" being given to '60s activists. (No, I won't tell you where because it's not important or even relevant.) Now, I have to say that I don't see all this supposed attention to the '60s, but eye of the beholder and all that.

Still, if younger activists are fed up with we old fogies sucking up all the air, there is one good way to shut us up: Outdo us! Put us to shame!

You could start by asking what I (as a self-described "child of the '60s") and my cohorts can say for ourselves. A start of an answer could be a short list I threw together a while back, a short list of things - attitudes, really - that I could identify with the '60s. None of them originated with the '60s and of course the movement of the '60s grew out of and was nourished by previous generations of dissidents. But it was the '60s generation that brought these notions to critical mass and thus moved them from fringe to mainstream. So, just as examples:

When you see people not blinking at an interracial couple - that was us.
When you see men wearing colors - that was us.
When you see women comfortably wearing jeans - that was us.
When you see two adults unselfconsciously holding hands in public - that was us.
When you see two men unselfconsciously holding hands in public - that was definitely us.
When you think about being environmentally-conscious - that was us.
When you see companies finding it necessary to try to convince everyone how environmentally-conscious they are - that was us.
When you see companies actually being environmentally-conscious - that was definitely us.
When you see people admitting that there is a glass ceiling - that was us.
When you see women challenging the glass ceiling - that was us.
When you see women actually breaking the glass ceiling - that was definitely us.
When you hear anyone defining patriotism in terms of willingness to challenge authority when it's wrong - yeah, that was us.

Another answer that might serve is something I wrote to a friend a number of years ago which I have quoted in this space before: The movement of the '60s was one that
over a several-year span was powerful enough to end the draft, limit and finally stop a war, force one (and maybe two) Presidents from office, shake the foundations of a society's judgments about half its population, force the nuclear power industry to a virtual halt, and change - perhaps not by much but quite possibly permanently - that society's sense of its relationship to the environment.
So take that as the place where the bar is set. You want to show us up? Top that! Do it! Turn it into "BFD" material!

Please! Really. I mean it. Do it. Nothing would make me happier.

But do take one bit of advice from the old guy: Please oh please stop imagining that your marginal access to the halls of power - access gained by that "old style" activism at which you now sneer - is the path to a better society. Let me amend that in an important way: Stop imagining it is the path, one that does and can stand alone. That is a fantasy that will leave you feeling - quite accurately - used and dismissed, as I know an increasing number of you are feeling now, almost a year into the "we are the change we've been waiting for" administration on which you staked your hopes.

"Inside the Beltway" thinking - and I note that is not a matter of geography but of a way of thinking, one that focuses on political campaigns, elections, and lobbying to the exclusion of other means - will fail you. Elections surely have their place, a necessary place, in the process of change. But not only are they not the only part, they're not even the first part of that process and they are far from the only means to press ideas. What's more and I would say particularly, your apparent distaste for street actions does genuine damage to your - our - cause.

One more very important piece of advice: Do not repeat the mistakes of the past. Slicing away your friends and supporters in a foolish attempt to avoid criticism or look "more mainstream" will not help you. It never has and it never will. It merely narrows the field of fire for the forces of reaction.

I say you should embrace all nonviolent means to change. You have the skills. You have the knowledge. You have valuable experience in organizing people. You have access to tools we never had. So get on with it! I promise you that you will find the old fogies right there with you.

Put us, put our record, to shame! Please!

Updated with a Footnote: Now you're getting the idea!

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