I am writing this on March 24, 2018. Today young people are taking a stand against violence in schools. Almost 50 years ago, I marched on Washington to take a stand against violence in Vietnam. The passion and commitment to challenging the status quo is a legacy handed down from our Founding Fathers.
Each generation since 1776 has seen its share of hardship borne of social, economic, environmental, and political change. During the almost 250 years since the Colonists first complained to King George about the unfairness of the Stamp Act, Americans have been protesting something. This legacy continues today.
The legacy of protest is dramatic and inspiring. It reflects expressed values of righting wrongs, addressing unfairness and imbalance in society, and raising consciousness while demanding change. Sacrifices made during protests represent both the best and the worst of humanity. Lives have been lost in sacrifice of many movements ranging from civil rights to the environment. That such sacrifice remains necessary is a sad indictment of where we are today as a society.
Several legacies are shared with today’s protesters. First, coming together whether in protest or in support of a position, is a way to connect on a deeply personal level. We are, after all, social beings. So much of what we do today is in electronic form. This is different neurologically, biologically, and sociologically from what has been our history. Yet, the result appears to be similar. Connection, validation, and a sense of empowerment from knowing I am not alone.
Secondly, demonstrating is a powerful expression of participatory democracy. It is not unique to the United States. It is a way for any group to make known a position that is either being ignored or suppressed. It requires individual leadership, expression of an idea larger than the self, and a call to action.
Thirdly, participants in these events will return to their lives changed. They will have been changed by the experiences of coming together, of participating in something larger than their own individually-driven needs, and taking a stand that requires courage. This courage in many ways is able to be expressed because it is in a group. Individually expressing dissent is often too risky and so is silently held.
These experiences, when looked back on may turn out to be pivotal in the life choices made by the protestors. Bonds formed by joining in these events will reinforce or perhaps, change beliefs and values that determine and inform choices made across the lifespan. They may dramatically change how a life will be lived.
How does this impact us in terms of aging? For Baby Boomers in the US, several movements and group events stand out. The Civil Rights’ March on Washington, the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago, the Moratorium to End the War, and Woodstock come to mind. For many Boomers, these events marked a coming-of-age experience, where generational and political differences were highlighted, and the “generation gap” was born.
For Millennials, 9/11, Occupy Wall Street, Arab Spring, the Women’s March on Washington, the #MeToo movement, and today’s March for Our Lives are seminal events. What will be made of these as Millennials turn 60, 70, 80, and 90 is yet to be determined.
Today, March 24, 2018, thousands of people of all ages are gathering across the United States to express a desire for change. Coverage will include interpretation of speeches made, the strength and weakness of the arguments on both sides, and the likelihood of political change arising from these gatherings. Individually, I suspect people who actively participated will come away feeling charged and inspired. Some may even find themselves transformed by the experience.
Years from now, I hope they will look back and realize, as I do, that many of my political beliefs and social values were honed through these assemblies. Coming together in support of things much larger than my daily existence helped me to define my patriotism. Hearing the stories of others who shared my passion but came from different backgrounds, opened my heart and mind and helped me become more vigilant about which rights were being undermined or were threatened by demagogues.
I received a legacy from my parents and grandparents in terms of what is required of me as a citizen in this increasingly diverse and aging nation. Specifically, I hold my elected representatives to a higher standard, and when they do not meet that standard, I take steps to see that others are elected in their place. I gained experience in what it means to participate in a representative democracy that requires more of its citizens than just voting. I gained courage in taking a stand with others that allowed me to speak my truth when I was alone or in a small group.
I am inspired by the marchers today. I hope their legacy will include changes to our laws and changes in how we address violence, marginalization, and obtaining justice. I know the stories shared by the speakers will touch many lives. I also know the individual experiences arising from coming together for such a powerful cause will resonate across the lifespan of those who were in attendance.