I’m not talking about you, I’m talking about them: Generational evolution and activism

If I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard the phrase, “Young people just don’t get it,” in the last 2 years I’d have at least enough money to buy a nice, used car. I’m tired of it. Let’s all agree to retire the phrase, mmmkay?

First of all, while I have no empirical evidence to support this beyond hearing it out of the mouths of my grandparents, I’m pretty sure every generation says this about the generations following them. “When I was a kid I walked uphill to school in a foot of snow both ways! Kids today, they just don’t get it!” It’s like generational hazing. And it’s basically noise. It has no substance. It’s highlighting a “problem” that doesn’t actually exist. Perhaps what people really mean is “Young people are doing things differently than I did them and I find that unsettling because I want my way to be the best and only way of doing things.” I’m cool with that, it’s honest, and it doesn’t have the silencing effect of, “Young people don’t care.”

Second of all, NO NO NO. It’s just not true. Young people DO get it. Older generations just need to start looking for things that aren’t on the tip of their nose and get their egos out of the way.

This cliche pops up pretty regularly in the reproductive rights movement. Nancy Keenan, outgoing president of NARAL Pro-Choice America has, on more than one occasion, stated that she has concerns about younger generations taking the reins of reprorights activism. In a recent Salon piece Keenan suggested, again, that millennials don’t prioritize abortion rights the way the Boomers do. Of course, she went on to clarify that she’s not talking about the women and men who are committed, only those that aren’t.

What really bugs me about this sentiment is that it assumes that Boomers, as a bloc, care about reprorights more  than subsequent generations. And I think this is based, almost entirely, on the blinders of a cohort.

When you find your activist cohort, you might think that no one but your cohort is involved because, when you’re planning activisty things, your friends are the people that show up, and not people that you’ve never talked to before. Which makes sense, right? I mean, you know that this group will want to be involved, so you call them up and involve them. And then sit around wringing your hands about how “there are no new faces, they must not care.” When, in reality, the new faces that you’re trying to attract are holding their own party, because they got sick of hearing, as Keenan said, “Young people don’t care. Oh, but I don’t mean you. You’re different.” If you’re going to denigrate my cohort, I don’t have a whole lot of interest in participating in your stuff.

I don’t think there is a divide in the reprorights movement, I think there is the way things have always been done, and a new way of doing things. It’s evolution. Which is absolutely necessary in order for a movement to remain relevant.

 

 

 

 

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “I’m not talking about you, I’m talking about them: Generational evolution and activism

  1. You’re right on target when you write that people need to “get their egos out of the way”–but we all know how hard it is to do that….ugh.

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