USA Today, August 13, 2009
The Aging of Aquarius
A reminder from the Woodstock generation that "boomer" isn't a
By Steve Kluger
Forty years ago this weekend, half a million Yes, there were a few grimmer memories along the way: the murders of actress
intrepid Baby Boomers converged on Max
Yasgur's dairy farm in Bethel, New York, to
celebrate our youth, our music, and our
unwavering conviction that we'd begun making
our world a better place in which to live. After
watching our heroes die in Dallas, Memphis,
and Los Angeles, we'd brought college
campuses to a halt when we stood up and
asked, "Why?" We marched as a single body
for the rights of African Americans, women,
and our gay brothers and sisters, regardless
of our own race, gender, or orientation. We
forced a war-mongering Chief Executive to
forgo his bid for a second term, we took on the
brutality of the entire Chicago police force
during the 1968 Democratic Convention, and
we invented—off the tops of our heads—a
back-to-the-earth movement long before
anyone had ever heard of global warming.
Sharon Tate and six others by Charles Manson and his "family" of self-styled hippies,
the near-mutiny at the Altamont Music Festival where even Mick Jagger was decked,
and the lack of a muzzle for youth activist Abbie Hoffman--who always preferred
talking his way into a riot rather than suing for peace. But we did the best we could,
and we did it with everything we had.
Yet the Woodstock anniversary has already triggered another backlash of Boomer-
bashing, which has formally supplanted baseball and trout fishing as this country's
national pastime Among the more incendiary accusations leveled at us on editorial
pages across the country:
1. We're determined to destroy Social Security by claiming our benefits. (And what
part of "our benefits" requires a thesaurus for further clarification?)
2. We'd rather live in the homes we built than move, en masse, to retirement villages
in Coral Gables—which means that our kids may just have to wait until after we croak
before they inherit our houses.
3. We're taking jobs away from the more-deserving young by not retiring early
(despite the ironic fact that, four decades ago, President Nixon called us bums).
4. We pollute the media with Boomer-related anniversaries, such as the moon
landing and Bobby Kennedy’s assassination (also known as "history"), and we
subject an innocent public to rock concerts performed by fossils like Bruce
Springsteen, Bob Dylan, and The Rolling Stones. (Contrary to popular rumor, we
don't have a Boomer Gestapo that ties up the youth of America and forcibly drags
them to such events.)
5. We’re still alive.
This kind of backlash isn’t what was supposed to happen when Crosby, Stills, Nash &
Young instructed us to Carry On and Teach Your Children. And yet, despite the
antagonism and the overt hostility, the Boomer legacy remains vibrant: A black
family impossibly occupies the White House for the first time; same-gender marriage
is sanctioned in six states; abortion remains a protected right; heads are no longer
scratched when women are appointed to run large corporations; and the global
powers are uniting (or at least talking the talk) to save our environment. The seeds
were all there at Woodstock. And maybe if there’d been a better dialogue between
our generation and the next, we jointly could have short-circuited the war in Iraq the
same way we forced the issue on Vietnam. Certainly, we might have driven the
previous occupant of the Oval Office to an early retirement in 2004 (Boomers love
pulling stunts like that).
But in the end, what difference do could-have-beens make when your chosen
presidential hopeful disses you from the outset of his campaign? "The psychodrama
of the Baby Boom generation" and "a tale rooted in old grudges and revenge plots
hatched on a handful of college campuses long ago" were among his earliest
descriptors. And The New York Times summed up the announcement of his
candidacy with a pungent thumbs-down of its own: "The time has come, Senator
Barack Obama says, for Baby Boomers to get over themselves."
Pride dies hard when your leaders call you irrelevant.
Okay, maybe it does take more than peace, love, rock and roll, and really good acid
to turn things around--especially in a crisis. Yet with all due respect to Gen X and the
Millennials, it also takes more than an iPod plugged into one ear, a cell phone glued
to the other, and a sense of entitlement that doesn't require a struggle first. But you
know what? There's still time to work on it together. That's what we learned at Max
Yasgur’s farm in August of '69, when anything was possible.
Let the sunshine in.
Steve Kluger is an author and Baby Boomer who'll be in Bethel, New York, for the
Woodstock anniversary Deal with it.