Slack This

Gen X activists know how to take it to the streets

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Like other so-called Generation Xers, I have spent my entire political life shivering in the shadow of the '60s. On the one hand, I'm awed by the extent to which the '60s generation in its youthful heyday was able to destabilize the government and change some laws. On the other hand, if I meet one more old head who attempts to rein in young militants with a statement about how he 'marched with King,' I'm gonna hurl. (How did the country function back then, with everyone who is now over 40 marching behind one guy all the time?)

If you ask me, it's way past time for the new generation to step out into the warm sunshine of our own achievements. We've given the old school much respect (and rightly so), but I hardly ever hear them--or us, for that matter--giving props to the new jacks.

The political history of our generation, which includes folks in their early 20s to early 30s, begins in one of the toughest political periods imaginable: the Reagan-Bush deep freeze. Yet Gen X student activists during that time launched successful, militant struggles to support revolutionary movements in both South Africa and Central America. Nelson Mandela is president of South Africa in part because of us. And by calling for no nukes, we kept the world's attention on the arms race while Ronnie's finger was on the button.

Gen X activists maintained a 10-year offensive to make college campuses less exclusive and less hostile to 'outsiders.' Gen X warriors across the country won or defended academic programs such as black studies, Asian American studies, lesbian-gay-bisexual studies, La Raza studies, and women's studies. The national press and President Bush panicked and started calling us politically correct McCarthyites. We didn't let up. On many major campuses, through determined trench warfare, Generation X created a place for formerly excluded students, expanded curricula, and added more women and people of color to faculties.

Hundreds of overlooked and underfunded Gen X activists mobilized for peace on the streets through the gang-truce movement. Gen X organizers brought the concept of environmental justice into the nation's consciousness. Gen X optimism and commitment fueled the tidal wave of volunteer community-service projects like Citycorps and Americorps that swept the country in the early 1990s.



In a matter of months in 1990 and 1991, our generation mobilized broad opposition to the massacre of the Iraqi people. In 1992, after a Simi Valley jury acquitted the Los Angeles police officers who beat Rodney King, we were among the first to take to the streets in organized mass protest. And Gen Xers have been key players in efforts to save the life of death-row political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal.

Generation X feminists revitalized the women's movement by staging Take Back the Night marches, establishing campus-based rape-crisis hot lines, and defending women's clinics from far-right terrorists. And don't forget: It was the daring theatrics of Gen X activists in ACT UP that put the AIDS epidemic on the policy agenda as a health care crisis.