Slack This

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.

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).

Subscriptions: $22/yr. (6 issues) available from Center for
Third World Organizing, 1218 E. 21st. St., Oakland, CA 94606.

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