You Say You Want a Revolution?

A boomer on her generation's legacy and lessons learned

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On a recent sunny afternoon, two young men ambled down the sidewalk in front of my house, laughing and talking, one of them pounding the other on the arm in that curious way men do when they're bonding. Just two guys hanging out, a completely ordinary sight.

Except that each was pushing a brightly colored stroller. Whenever they paused to offer one baby a sippy cup or adjust the other's position in the stroller, they cooed, then went back to their conversation as smoothly as a Beamer shifting from third to second and back again.

I was so moved, so proud, I nearly wept. If you don't understand why, it's a good guess you're under the age of 50. And you certainly never went through The Wars.

Culture wars, that is. Having lived through a decade and then some in which every core value was turned inside out and backward, subjected to examination and experimentation, challenged, questioned and re-thought, I can tell you: My generation went through some stuff.

We caught a glimpse of a world that could work for people and the planet, and in myriad ways, we took a stand for that world. Being a pain in the ass about alternative energy, healthy food, medical care, domestic chores, workplace equality, war and peace, sex and intimacy, and, well, absolutely everything might have earned my generation the reputation of being narcissistic and self-righteous. But it paid off.

Those two young fathers, my neighborhood co-op, the hybrid car I drive to the office where I'm a valued member of the management team are reminders that some of those Goliaths I battled are slowly sinking to their knees.

We aren't failed revolutionaries. We just got overwhelmed. We dropped the ball. We got tired. We had you.

Then we watched with numb resignation as our decade of courage, invention, and barricade-storming was contorted by the media and by some of our self-parodying cohorts as nothing more than a bunch of Dr. Spock-spoiled brats toking on a bacchanal of sex, drugs, and rock 'n' roll. It was so much more. We were so much more.

The reason this is important isn't just so we can settle some cosmic score or finally be appreciated by our parents and children. If this hasn't happened by now, it probably won't. It's just that a glance at the condition of the world, particularly our society, makes it apparent that the time is ripe for massive cultural change.

And this, we know about.

Partly, we know about it because the Suffra-gists' songs and labor organizers' stories gave us courage when the police batons fell or friends and family turned away because our views diverged so dramatically from theirs. We learned about the power of boycott and picket, of activism and challenging the status quo.

We discovered firsthand the radical nature of simple acts: Sit in the front of the bus, ask that your husband be present during his son's birth, decide to feed your infant with your own breasts, refuse the nuclear power plant being built just up the road. We also learned how much more effective those acts can be when compounded by the hundreds and thousands, their feet on the street, standing before those in power and saying, 'No. That's not the world we want.'

As a musician, I regularly come in contact with dozens of 20- and 30-somethings like those two young fathers. Watching them in action tells me we got the job done. Smart, kind, comfortable with each other in ways we only dreamed of, they're full of energy and unfocused passion, just as we were.?

I wish I could say to them, to you: Step up, my darlings; it's your turn to transform this world. Yes, you. We didn't finish the job -- and you won't, either. Success begins by taking the first few steps, dislodging the boulder, defying inertia, starting the scary journey. And you needn't do it alone: We've got your back, in ways our own parents could never manage.?

This mentoring thing is a little tricky, though. If we blather on about how we did what we did, or, worse, what you should do, we become those same tedious old farts we refused to listen to. You have to want our help, because before you ask someone to mentor you or coach you, it helps if you actually respect them and believe that they have something to contribute. I fear this component is missing between my generation and those now in the catbird seat. Everyone wants to copy our fashions, but not our passions.

On some level, I can't blame you. More than a few brothers and sisters from my generation bought the lie that enlightenment and personal freedom are commodities to be bought and sold, smoked and snorted: Many ruined their lives on that fiction. Others never grew up, so whatever wisdom they might offer is wafer thin.

But some of us -- activists then, activists now -- have learned quite a bit about who to be and what to do and not do. And we'd love to pass along some wisdom before we go to that Really Cool Tipi in the Sky.

All you have to do is ask.

K.C. Compton is editor in chief of Grit, Ogden Publications' rural lifestyle magazine. She's currently working on Junebug in a Twister: Riding Out the Sixties in the Heartland, a book about that tumultuous decade. Check out her blogs at www.GreatBigWow.blogspot.com and
www.SamuraiMama.blogspot.com.

Want more? Read the rest of Utne Reader's September / October package on mentoring:

  • The New Elders
    Eric Utne and career coach Richard Leider on mentoring, wisdom, and why boomers can still save the world
    interview by David Schimke
  • Tangled Up in Me
    Hey boomers: Get over yourselves. Then maybe we'll pay attention
    by Joseph Hart