Gen X activists know how to take it to the streets
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.
Our politics far outstrip the classic 1960s agenda of civil rights, women's rights, and peace. Our most committed activists not only oppose white supremacy, male supremacy, and economic exploitation; we also passionately support queer liberation, the rights of people with disabilities, community control of police, human rights for immigrants, and sustainable ecological development. We use technological innovations to raise our voices above the mass media din, and we eagerly embrace cultural celebration and spiritual renewal.
And allsigns point to increasing militancy. Recent political attacks on immigrants and affirmative-action programs have radicalized a whole new group of California youth; in New York, the Giuliani-Pataki attack on social services has elicited mass protest from young people, swelling our ranks with new faces and ideas.[run in]
As bad as times are right now, things would be much worse without Gen X activists and organizers. If you compare our track record with the accomplishments of the baby boomers since the 1970s, it's hard to see why everyone is calling us slackers.
From Third Force (Sept./Oct. 1996).
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