I spent much of my adult life certain that being born into an era of domestic assassinations must have affected my worldview. I often wondered why there weren’t studies of my age cohort. Did we grow up cynical and afraid? Did we superimpose targets on the backs of charismatic leaders? Did we think that dissent equaled violence? I assumed that my earliest civics lessons must have left a semi-dark imprint on my consciousness. And like most early assumptions, as time passes, I begin to see that I was wrong. In fact I would go so far as to say I was a complete 180 degrees wrong.
Unbeknownst to me I actually absorbed the other side of the coin all along. My worldview was shockingly optimistic. I grew up during a time and in a place rife with women leaders; Bella, Phyllis, Angela, Golda, Gloria; hallelujah. Ms. Magazine came to my house, that is until my mother felt her Erma Bombeck (with a smattering of Betty Friedan) brand of feminism was being dismissed. I came of age when access to birth control and prevention were an assumed right. For a small child there was nothing radical about Shirley Chisholm running for president. Nothing at all. I proudly wore my “Never Again In An Unratified State” button to school, not needing to explain the reference to the ERA and the DNC. It never occurred to me that I was experiencing a bubble. Just as it never occurred to me that; Joni Mitchell, Carole King. Judy Collins, Phoebe Snow, and Janis Ian should hire stylists, pyrotechnicians, back-up dancers and learn to simulate sodomy on stage. They appeared on stage in all their stupendously talented glory, no more or less spiffed, buffed, and polished than their male counterparts. This was my world as a child and teen. It never occurred to me that women were not equal to men.
In 2016 this worldview seems as grounded and realistic as Willy Wonka’s factory. I am continuously gobsmacked to discover how false my assumptions now are. The only realization more chilling than the severe backlash to feminism is how far reaching bigotry is today. In the 21st century. As children we made fun of Archie Bunker and his views on immigrants, gays, women, and people of color. He was a pitiful anachronism surrounded by an argumentative greek chorus on the side of right. It was his one loud voice versus the evolved masses. Something has dramatically shifted since then hasn’t it? I don’t mean to suggest that the 70s were all fun and games for underrepresented people. However, choose any group and you can find the ephemera of a movement. Migrant workers, “Chicano” and Black Power, Gay Liberation, and of course the ERA were in full force in the 1970s. Movements by definition are hopeful. People gather to make change because they believe they can. That’s a heady concept for adults let alone a 2nd grader.
Is it a handicap to grow up with such rose colored glasses? Does it lend itself to resting on one’s laurels and to missing the warning signs? Are we too tired and distracted to pick up the mantle? Is it no longer our problem? Has life just gotten in the way of our ideals? Is it all just too big, too daunting, too exhausting, too depressing, too deja vu all over again? I know my dabbling in protests, petitions and politics is not enough. But how does one muster the urge to fight after witnessing the erosion of progress? Isn’t that the very definition of insanity? Or is it in fact the very definition of the human experience? Do we keep trying regardless of the odds, regardless of the outcome, because to not try and right the wrongs is simply intolerable. Do we stop finding solace in raging with like minded people, and instead rage for change? When this whole world keeps getting you down it’s time to roll up your sleeves, slap on those protest pins and take to the streets, community organizations, polls, and elected office. It is not enough to tweet, Like, or blog. If it were, everything would be better by now. Today’s children are growing up with their own version of domestic assassinations, that on a personal level are far more terrifying than what my peers and I experienced. Is it not our responsibility to show them the other side of the coin? We have been there before; small people witnessing atrocities, we know the way out. We have been shown how to muster our outrage and hurt and create something liberating and good. We know that out of loss and pain can be growth and freedom. There’s no quick fix, but I suspect that if we can focus less on generalizations and surreal presidential campaigns, and more on specific issues, we will get somewhere. If we can focus on one or two issues and give them the kind of attention and passion they deserve, we might just start to move things. The thing about a movement is that once it starts it can really get going. But it’s got to start, it’s simple physics. So the next time a like minded friend engages me in conversation about the woes of the world, my response will be; “let’s do something about it.”