That used to be a common saying when I was growing up. I was and am part of the follow-on generation to what I think was the real “greatest generation.” That’s probably because I grew up watching that generation throwing tear gas grenades back at the riot police. I watched them stop the Vietnam war, cried when they got shot for their trouble at Kent State and cheered them when they were the “freedom-riders.” This was the generation that burned their draft cards and bras, picketed, marched and sat in against every unfairness they could think of. It was a time of “What are you rebelling against? I don’t know, what have you got?”
Their fathers and mothers may have won the second world war, but the greatest generation changed the world after the war. And this is the generation that is beginning to retire now, these are the ones worrying about healthcare, jobs, and a declining economy. They are the ones who have seen the shenanigans on wall street and had their 401ks cut in half. The ones who have watched the economy double since 1980, but noticed that they actually make less. The ones who are public servants, private entrepreneurs and most of all, thinkers.
These hippies, yippies and socialist revolutionaries are the ones who are listening when there is a call for a revolution. You see, they’ve answered before and mostly they aren’t conservatives or strict constitutionalists. They’re not “Everyman for him/her self-ers.” They won’t abandon each other against big corporations, big politics or big media outlets, they invented the word “solidarity.” They know how to change the world. They know that it happens among small groups of friends in basements making posters, at rallies, marches and demonstrations. They know it takes a long time.
They also know they’re much more dangerous now. These days they have checkbooks, disposable income and lots of time. Best of all, they remember how. They’ve seen all the “man’s” tricks. He splits you up, tries to force you to fracture and turn against yourselves. The man uses the force of law, cops and soldiers. He lies, cheats and smears you, then chews you up and forgets you. They know the secret is not to stay down and fight just as hard for your enemies’ rights as you do for your own. That brings them to your side. A lot of their children have learned this as well. The man can manufacture a myth, outrage or even a “popular movement” but they soon fade against the real thing.
There have been all sorts of calls for revolutions and returns to American values lately, but I often wonder if they know what they are really calling for? Will it be a thrifty Ben Franklin answering the call, or an angry Angela Davis? People out of work, or who just lost a home are tough to fire up about cuts in government services.
We have to look at what happened in Wisconsin with a careful eye, it’s not September yet. I think that may be a very interesting month in New Jersey as well. We all just have to hope the best selling “Back to school” supply this year isn’t tear gas. If it is, I know who’ll throw it back.
Copyright Prentiss Gray 2011