A reminder from the Woodstock generation that “Boomer” isn’t a four-letter word.
By Steve Kluger
August 13, 2009
Forty years ago this weekend, half a million 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.
Yes, there were a few grimmer memories along the way: the murders of actress 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.