I think I was lucky to have come of age in the Sixties. As a child of the Sixties, I bore witness to a time of cultural upheaval and social change. Civil rights, the Vietnam War, the rise of feminism, the beginning of the environmental movement, the birth of the gay rights movement…all those roused my sense of justice and shaped my world view to this very day. As a student, I marched for Civil Rights. As a young adult, I spent many an hour in my New York City apartment in discussion and impassioned debate over women’s rights with friends and acquaintances. I participated in the April 1967 march on the United Nations with 400 thousand others to hear speeches by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King and Dr. Benjamin Spock to protest the war. I mourned the assassination of Dr. King, and was stunned at the assassination of Robert Kennedy just two short months later. Never, since the American Revolution itself, had there been a time in American history of such significant social and cultural impact.
Never, that is, until tomorrow. Are we on the cusp of another tsunami of cultural, economic, and social change in America? I think we are.
What are the issues that will fire the passions of my grandchildren’s generation? In a 2007 interview with Bill Moyers, Grace Lee Boggs, then 91 years of age and a legendary figure in the struggle for justice for over 70 years, said “"The struggle we're dealing with these days, which, I think, is part of what the 60s represented, is how do we define our humanity?" My grandchildren will grapple with answers to economic injustice, environmental degradation, human trafficking, immigration reform, corporate elitism, and civil rights for all persons, regardless of gender, age, religion, or sexual identity. Big issues. And big emotions surrounding them all. Already we are seeing an upsurge in protest and activism on college campuses, particularly around the current Occupy movement. Already glimmerings of grass roots efforts are beginning to come to light. These young people, so filled with the conflicting emotions of hope and fear for the future, will demand their right to shape their world, just like my generation did 50 years ago.
But young people are not the only ones who are taking to the streets these days. Now that our career and family obligations are winding down, my generation has time, once again, to consider the world we will leave behind us. And we have the experience—from all those years ago when our passionate desire to create a better world drove us to put the efforts of our hands, minds and hearts into creating our vision of the future. We sang, and marched, and organized, and protested, and raised awareness—our own and others’—and achieved remarkable progress. A lot of good came out of the tumultuous years of the ‘60s and ‘70s. We can do it again!
I have been inspired lately by the story of Grace Lee Boggs, a legendary figure who for over 70 years has devoted her life to social activism. Author of The Next American Revolution: Sustainable Activism for the 21st Century, she said, "We are at a stage in human history that is as monumental as changing from a hunter/gatherer society to an agricultural society and from an agricultural society to and industrial society. Where we're headed now will be different because we have exhausted planetary space and human space for us to continue to look at things through the Cartesian measurement of material things. We need to face the way we used the world for our gains, pleasures, satisfactions. This is the way we evolve to a higher stage of humanity. And unless we want to live in terror for the rest of our lives, we need to change our view about acquiring things. We have the opportunity to take a great leap forward in these very challenging times. We need to change our institutions and ourselves. We need to seize opportunities. We need to launch our imaginations beyond the thinking of the past. We need to discern who we are and expand on our humanness and sacredness. That's how we change the world, which happens because WE will be the change."
As I go about redefining my place in the world in light of my upcoming retirement, perhaps I need to look to the past to help me craft that definition. Perhaps you too, dear reader, can draw inspiration from that most inspiring of decades, the Sixties, when you are considering what you devote time to in 2014. Find a cause that excites you, and find a way to use it to make the world a better place and to help us all define our humanity.
"You must be the change you wish to see in the world." - Mahatma Gandhi
Citation: The Next American Revolution: Sustainable Activism for the 21st Century. University of California Press; Updated and Expanded Edition, New Afterword with Immanuel Wallerstein edition (May 31, 2012)