When today’s young people look back on 2016, I can’t help but believe this year will be their Democratic Convention ’68, their Vietnam protests, their Watergate protests. This will be their Kent State. Some current youngsters wonder what “being a hippie protestor” was like, as if it was simply a role we played, a counter-culture fad of the moment, something that time and rewritten history made to sound rather quaint. But it wasn’t a role; it was real-life standing up for what you believe in, standing against racial prejudice and corruption and wrongs we hoped would be eradicated by now. This year like no other is the culmination of years of built-up pressure and concerns that went underground but never went away. This is the year when all the effluence hit the fan.
This will be the time that justice – that the democratic process itself – is under fire, and I hope we are all victorious in preserving it.
Now as then, people are awakening to the hideous persistence of injustice, of lies and untruths and broken promises. They are realizing there are consequences, dangerous and deadly, to standing up for one’s values. All the coddling and helicopter parenting and No Child Left Behind and Don’t Let Your Child Play Unsupervised actions have not prepared them for the uncertainty and cruelty of this year’s issues. Bean bags shot with velocity, hurt. Rubber bullets are painful. Real bullets kill. Kent State is no longer just an incident that happened back in grandma’s day; it could happen today, in their time – TO THEM.
They see black people profiled and arrested or killed for no other reason than the color of their skin. Melanin; melanin and the unreasonable hatred of it, can harm a person simply for having a little more of it than others.
People see Muslims and Hispanics threatened even though they might be third or fourth-generation American citizens, simply because of prejudice against their heritages. They see bystanders from groups like Sikhs hauled out and beaten because prejudice runs so deep in some people there is no difference between a radical terrorist from another ancestry entirely, and a peaceful fellow who wears a turban on his head according to custom. They see Native American rights activists struck down by law enforcement for forming a peaceful protest on their own land, while at the same time seeing white anti-government terrorists get away with threatening other law enforcement officers and taking over and damaging federal property. They see people with alternate lifestyles, who only want to live in peace on their own terms, get attacked and sometimes killed by those who have absolutely no business in anyone else’s bedroom but their own.
People are witnessing a vicious political battle fought with lies and innuendoes and unproven or disavowed accusations, while not knowing whether the ballot they are asked to cast will even make it to the tote board. They are watching Constitutionally-assured rights being eroded away by narrow-minded beliefs and false narratives. They see the devastating but deserved plunge in trust of our elected officials, who act in their own self-interests and political power preservation while asking their constituents to bite the bullet and accept corporation-friendly legislation, increased personal financial burdens and a country-wide failing infrastructure crisis.
They see these dangerous issues too often taking a backseat to the latest hijinks of a pop culture figure and other non-vital entertainment stories. Entertainment figures are given more airtime than health issues, ecological disasters, and social outrages – unless, of course, those issues have anything to do with a handful of entertainment figures.
They see the disappearance of journalistic integrity in lieu of highly profitable infotainment news; “if it bleeds it leads” and “today’s best sound bite” carry more weight than “verifiable facts for the enlightenment of the nation.”
They look on as the very basis of our government, We the People, get shouted over by bigotry, fear and threats of future violence if things don’t go the “right way.” They see a country that began with the notion of inclusion for ALL religions and belief systems, being attacked by one religion’s zealotry, intolerance and ignorance. They see the Animal Farm axiom come to life, paraphrased as “all people are created equal, but some are more equal than others.” They see the 1% receive political and financial favoritism while the majority of the country is pitted against each other in an increasingly vicious class struggle.
And yet people are still willing to fight. To protest. To use every avenue of technology at hand to shed light on the ills of a troubled society. Some day in the distant future – and let us hope there is a future for our country – when today’s young people may say to their progeny, “Back in my day we had to struggle to keep our country together and free in order to guarantee rights fairly, to everyone. And we did it. It was hard and complicated and at times frightening, but we did it. Through protests and speaking truth to power and standing up for our brothers and sisters and making sacrifices, we did it.”
Fight the good fight, people. For the future.