Movies have a pretty incredible power over us sometimes. For two hours or so you get wrapped up in a story that you don't want to end. You want it to be true, you want to live it. At least if its a good one. I had the good fortune to see an excellent film today with a friend that got me thinking a lot. The movie is one I'm sure you've heard of, as it will undoubtedly be up for many awards; Milk. To give a quick summary of this biographical picture, Sean Penn plays Harvey Milk, a gay rights activist in the 1970's. The movie chronicles the growth of the gay rights movement that began in San Francisco but grew to national proportions. Throughout the film, we see the transformation of Milk from a 40 year old insurance agent in NYC, to a hippie business owner in San Francisco, to a suited up political activist that has the power to move a crowd of thousands to their feet to march. Powerful stuff, and Sean Penn is amazing.
For obvious reasons, the movie made me think about changing the world. I saw parallels between Milk and Barack Obama, as both started as community organizers with no name and only their ideals to guide them. I will admit too, that I was taking mental notes; "how did he organize that group," "what did he say to make that change," "where did he start and how did he know what to say?" The answers to a lot of these questions, I figured, had to do with both the times and the cause. The cause, in the sense that, the cause of gay rights was both pretty black and white, and very personal for Milk. Black and white; they were being discriminated openly, so it was easy to tell who was on who's side. And personal, because Milk was gay, so he knew what to say and when because he himself was discriminated against, as was his community. It came from the heart. Easy enough, I suppose... But, the times?
This second idea got me thinking. Milk benefitted from the time period in the sense that the 60's and 70's were already times of such drastic social reform and civil rights awareness. With other minority movements in full swing, as well as anti-war protests, peace movements, and an entire generation that rebelled wholeheartedly against the establishment of their parents', the gay rights movement fit very nicely into this cloth. But if you look at the 60's and 70's in the context of the last century they seem like an anamoly. I mean, when you think about the 40's and 50's, you think leave it to beaver and the family from A Christmas Story. You think innocence, and unfortunately still lots of intolerance. On the flip side, when you think of the 80's and 90's, instead of seeing them as a continuation of the change from the previous two decades, it seems like change hit a wall. There were no more protests, no more social movements. In fact, it was a step back for the environmental movement, with Reagan repealing much of the work of the 70's movement. What happened..?
The answer I can come up with is one that calls for hope for today, and that is that change oscillates and is generational. For whatever reason, the young people (people who were 18-30's in these decades) of the 60's and 70's just could not accept the establishment and fought their hardest to change it. Maybe their parents raised them to be dreamers of a better tomorrow; or maybe it was quite the opposite, that their parents bought so fiercely into the system that they alienated their children enough that they could see the built-in injustices for what they were and could fight them. It's probably that. Regardless, they brought change. Then, the young people of the 80's and 90's stopped this momentum. Why? Well, a lot of change had already happened, so there was less injustice to enrage the youth, and likewise there wasn't a horribly unpopular war to demonize. But I think the answer is more generational. If you look at who raised the youths of the 80's and 90's, who taught them in school, it was people who were young in the 40's and 50's, the time of American innocence. At home they were taught of the good old days when kids listened to their parents and didn't do drugs or march on the streets, where order and discipline were respected. Their teachers in school were of the same persuasion. Growing up in that kind of environment, you'd feel more inclined to buy into the system, to believe in the end it will work for everyone.
Which brings me to my point. Who were we raised by? Our parents were those kids in the 60's and 70's who didn't listen, who didn't buy into the injustices of a broken system, who decided it was time to unite and rise against the discriminators and bigots and polluters. Our parents were dreamers, and if they didn't march in the streets themselves, they knew 10 people their age that did. Our teachers were the same way. All the people sculpting our minds from day one were people who saw real results from fighting, protesting. I always wonder why protesting went out of style. It seemed to get things done.. at least eventually. People are too serious nowadays; they can't justify missing that day of work or school to go walk around in the streets. They don't believe anything will change if they go, or they believe the tired argument of "what's one more voice going to matter anyway.."
At my college graduation last May, and at the high school graduation of my brother a month later, I heard speakers across the board mention the hope they had for our generation. They kept saying things about how like no other time in history we need change, and just from talking to students in the halls or dining halls they knew we were dreaming of change too. And they expect a lot from us. Because even though it is our parents who are at the peak of their careers and have the most influence they have ever had at work and in their communities (a place someone with youthful ideals drools over, a position with influence), ultimately it is the young people who dictate change in this country. It is the idealism reserved for the freshest faces, those of us who have yet to give up hope in the face of the system. Our parents and teachers expect so much of us because, as Alex said in his post about our generation, they have told us from day ONE that we can do anything we want to, that the world is full of endless possibility, and that we CAN change it.
I think the problem that we are running into now, the problem that Alex explained so perfectly, is that we have been instilled with all this hope, this vision, this dream, our whole lives, that we want to do something immediately, and more importantly we think we can do it immediately. We don't know our own limits, which is scary, in a good way. Yet, the institutions for us to express this passion, this dream, are not in place to serve us. The system exists today as it did for our parents. In the 60's and 70's politicians and non-profits and communities did not go to local college campuses to recruit optimism or outrage. When our parents and their peers graduated college, there wasn't an organization called Change, Inc., or Protesters and Co., or Civil Rights Conglomerate that recruited young talent for their causes. And good riddance. No, our parents fought the institutions that existed because they didn't believe that this was all to life, that you had to get a job in an office and raise a quiet, neat family and look away when their neighbor was beaten for being different. They stared that injustice square in the eye and acted. It's time for us to act. We aren't going to get that call that Alex referred to. No one will call tomorrow saying, "look, man, the globe is warming, poverty continues to ravage the third world, we are overpopulated, malnourished, oh, and there is war in the Middle East...think you could help?" That call will not come. We have to make them hear our voice. The time is now. We have to fight. Our survival depends on it.
2 years ago