I fall into the cracks between Generation X , Generation Y and the so-called “Millennials.” I grew up in the Reagan and Bush 80’s, the Clinton 90’s and then came of age in the Cheney 2000’s. This chronological placement of my existence has enabled me — and hundreds of millions of people like me — to experience life in a unique position, and I’ve come to the conclusion that because of our shared placement on the space-time continuum we have developed some shared values. While there are plenty people of my relative age range that fall into the far-right fringe, the majority of us hold far more liberal social standards than our parents and grandparents.
Social norms have rapidly changed over the last decade or so, and that change has been made possible largely in part by the actions of people in my age group. In our twenties, we became willing to step out of the closet and declare ourselves equal, whether it be equal in deserving love on our terms, or equal in pay regardless of our gender. A shock wave of change started deep below the surface of the Earth and wound up moving quickly, shattering tectonic plates, and shot bursting out into the open air with the force of a million volcanoes.
We are the children of the Baby Boomers. We benefited from watching them wind down the Cold War. We gazed up at them as they elected twelve straight years of trickle down into the White House, and then we watched them redeem themselves and change course for the better when they elected a smart, funny, charming Arkansas Rhodes Scholar with a silver tongue, a golden heart, and a wandering dick.
We watched as the Republicans, drunk on scandal, religious fanaticism, and political theatrics, tried to toss a sitting president out of office for lying about a sexual dalliance…after they spent six years accusing him of being everything from a murderer to a secret Communist. We watched him rebound from that personal and professional low point with amazing resilience, guiding us — and our economy — to surpluses and prosperity.
As the century turned over, we got our first chance to vote for a president. I was one of far, far too many who bought a lie about a “domestic policy” Bush who would avoid the allure of “nation building” that had been the hip foreign policy ideology of his party for years. After one of the most contentious and probably incorrect insertions of the Supreme Court’s judicial powers, George W. Bush became our president, ending the Clinton Era, and ringing in the Bush Era.
Then the towers fell.
The attacks on September 11th, 2001 were a turning point for all Americans, but for people of my generation, it’s the turning point. We had grown up in a time of supreme American dominance on the world stage. By the time we could drive, the Cold War was already over. Sure, we knew what terrorism was, and we knew not everyone in the world was enamored with the United States, but not since Pearl Harbor nearly seventy years prior had we been attacked on our own soil.
I can’t tell you how many times growing up I heard that since we were essentially an island nation with two massive oceans buffeting us, we were pretty safe…especially because by then the “threat” of a nuclear strike from the Soviet Union was a thing of the past (not that the nukes just went bye-bye, of course). Yet, there we all were on the morning of 9/11, watching as thousands of Americans lost their lives in one fell swoop.
9/11 was even more profoundly life changing for our generation because we were the ones being asked to sign up and go die for our country. We were the ones that all the “Be All You Can Be,” and “Freedom Isn’t Free” rhetoric was aimed at. I have friends who served, were in the Indian Ocean when the first rockets were fired into Afghanistan, and I have known personally young men who lost their lives in Iraq. When you are the generation being asked to lie down and die, you have a certain, focused attention on the world around you. After a decade of being treated like expendable assets, we all know the game and how it’s played. Old, rich white dudes decide to go bomb some little, poor, brown people, and they’re not going to ask their own sons and daughters to go drop the bombs or assault the terrorist compound. No, they’ll farm out the middle and lower class for that job, thank you very much.
It was off the backs of my friends that Halliburton profited. It was because of the blood spilled by people our age that Dick Cheney could afford his Darth Vader breathing chamber. I only assume he has one because no one with that much technology in his body and evil in his heart is not a Dark Lord of the Sith. Kidding aside, the anger and vitriol that I spew out onto the Bush Administration is based largely in the fact that those vile war mongers sold the country on the Iraq War with lies, and the human capital that was spent was largely people my age, people who should have been finishing up their college degrees and starting families, not getting shipped off to die at the whim of a suicide bomber or an IED.
We weren’t kids when the planes struck the towers, and we weren’t middle-aged either. We were coming of age. There’s something to that, I think, that we were the generation just climbing up to get a seat at the adults table when our chairs were pulled out from under us. Once the United States got drug into chasing terrorists around the world, things were going to be drastically different, and the Bushites did everything they could to ensure that. The Executive was handed near God-like powers of war. Basically if the president thought someone was related to the attacks on 9/11 in any way, he could kill that person. With a bomb dropped from a drone, with a covert CIA operation, or with good ol’ fashioned boots on the ground, we could justify our killing because our colors don’t run.
They march. Our colors march.
When the wool was removed from our eyes, and the lies unraveled, it was understandable that people of our generation would revolt — not with guns in the streets, but with votes. We helped elect President Obama in direct response to the blood thirst and idiocies of the previous eight years. All Bush II left was with was a smoking pile of rubble for an economy, and an international community that largely distrusted us, and rightfully so. Guess who was just entering the work force when the economy blew up? Many in our generation either couldn’t find work, or had the work they’d just found pulled out from underneath them.
We wanted change. We needed change. And if we were going to be packed off to war and expected to shoulder all the debts of those wars — emotional, spiritual, financial — we were going to take our place at the table, goddamnit, and demand to be heard.
Occupy Wall Street was our generation. Conservatives can make fun of OWS all they want, but it was a spontaneous group response to something many people felt was going the wrong way. You know, like the Tea Party but without all the racism, homophobia, ironic hatred of takers while in fact taking money from the government, and just outright bat shit craziness.
It’s our generation that will make pot legal. Over the next decade more of us will enter public service. We will be elected into offices that will give us access to the people who make the rules. We will change the rules ourselves when we have the ability. I don’t know very many people my age who haven’t tried or been around marijuana enough to know it doesn’t turn you into anything but a hungry, sleepy marshmallow who really just wants to watch Hulu and play video games all night.
Marriage equality? No problem. Even if the generations before us can’t figure out how to get it done, we’ll take care of it. I’m growing more optimistic by the day about how the upcoming decisions in the two gay marriage cases before the Supreme Court will go, but even if Scalia and Thomas somehow manage to wrangle Kennedy and Roberts over to the wrong side of history — it won’t be long until people of our generation are either casting the votes or writing the laws that will make marriage equality an established paradigm; at least in the states that aren’t run by backwater homophobes.
Those on the left who decry Obamacare because it doesn’t go far enough towards universal health care needn’t worry. There are many of us who grasp the concept that human health care isn’t a commodity to be used to maximize profit margins. For those who worry about the Islamaphobic undercurrent that seems to have infested much of the right-wing’s foreign policy ideologies, fear not, our generation knows that Al Qaeda and other fringe Muslim groups are no different than our own KKK, Timothy McVeigh types, or the Westboro Baptist Church. Religious fundamentalism that is twisted into hate-fueled and violent rhetoric is all the same in our book, and we won’t allow an idiotic “War on Terror” to turn into a never-ending war on Islam.
If you’re tired of women making less than men for no other reason than because they have female genitalia, that too will be tackled and dismantled in the coming years. If you, like me, are a fan of capitalism but are shocked and appalled by the damage that it has done to our political spectrum, you too can rest easy. Citizens United is just one wrong Supreme Court decision out of many and it too will be corrected when the right number of people are in office that can swing that pendulum back towards the side of sanity and logic.
Of course, what do I know? Every generation has boldly proclaimed they would be the ones to finally get it right. The truth though is that ideologies breed — they’re passed down like other traditions, so there will still be plenty of opposition even within our peer group. That doesn’t change the fact that fundamentally we agree on a number of extremely important issues facing the country right now, and provided that the ones in charge now don’t fuck it up too badly for us, we will be able to make some progress. Perhaps we will fail in some or all of these areas — the world is unpredictable and I’m just one guy born at a time that has allowed me to witness the left and the right being “in charge,” and maybe I’m wrong in my judgment of just how united my generation is in righting so many of the glaring wrongs facing our country today.
At least I know we’re going to try, which is better than giving up. Victory is not guaranteed, but you can’t win if you give up before you get a chance to play.