By Jim Kempton
Was it really 50 years ago that one million people filled the streets of our nation demanding we stop the Vietnam War? That Baby Boomer generation marched to end the slaughter of thousands of teenage American kids who were being killed in the name of protecting America’s freedoms. President Richard Nixon labeled them as communist dupes. Vice President Spiro Agnew labeled them nattering nabobs. Some religious leaders called them spoiled brats. “America, love it or leave it,” they sneered.
But a funny thing happened: the war was forced to end. Black people won the right to vote. Corrupt leaders’ crimes were exposed. And America became a better place—more honest, more egalitarian and more idealistic.
Now, the Boomer’s children and grandchildren are marching. They too are protesting the slaughter of teens. And once again they are scorned and threatened by old and bitter partisans who cannot see the tide of history changing. This Millennial generation, however, seems far better prepared than the Boomers—more eloquent, tolerant and disciplined; more tempered in their efforts—and perhaps far more effective.
By responding peacefully, intelligently, morally, they shame their mocking attackers. As David Bowie noted years ago “…and these children that you spit on, as they try to change their world, are immune to your consultations; they’re quite aware of what they’re going through.”
These students have substituted the National Rifle Association for a better way. Whether it be black lives, student lives, brave military lives or desperate refugee lives, these kids believe they matter.
When students in the 1960s rose up, priests and pastors, rabbis and rock stars rose with them, putting their conscience on the line and their morals where their mouths were. Can anyone forget Bob Dylan’s poignant plea for the kids’ support?
“Come mothers and fathers from throughout the land,
And don’t criticize what you can’t understand.
Your sons and your daughters are beyond your command,
Your old world is rapidly agin’…
Please get out of the new one if you can’t lend your hand.”
Mothers, fathers, soldiers and students stood for something bigger than a tax break or another brick in the wall. They didn’t stand so much for making America great, because it was understood that the real America was already great—they stood for making America good.
Today, young people are standing again. But here is the big difference: these kids are not planning to tune in, turn on and drop out – they are planning to read up, write up and step up – right to the ballot box. Four million high school students turn 18 this year. And another four million for the next three years after. Politicians should remember this Bob Dylan verse:
“Come senators, congressmen please heed the call,
Don’t stand in the doorway, don’t block up the hall.
For he that gets hurt will be he who has stalled.
There’s a battle outside and its ragin’.
It’ll soon shake your windows and rattle your walls,
For the times they are a-changin’.”
Isaiah said, “And a child shall lead them.” God bless the child.
Jim Kempton is a writer and surfer who loves to cook. He’s not tryin’ to cause a big sensation, just talking ’bout this generation.