Boomer Mojo; Our Time Has Come Again

The guest on this past week’s show (11/6/11: David Mills, author of 10000 Days: A Call to Arms for the Baby Boom Generation that asks of us “what do we plan to do with the last 10K productive days we have left after turning 50?”) believes we Boomers can use our past activist experience, combine it with the wisdom (hopefully) and decades of knowledge we’ve accumulated, and once again fix what’s wrong with our country.

This inspired me to ask this question of our followers on the show’s FB page: “Do you think we Boomers still have the collective to power to make great changes to society like we did in our youth?”  (feel free to go to the page and be heard)

Here’s a few of the responses:

  • “We have the collective power to make tremendous change. Need strong leadership and lots of people talking and sharing ideas.”
  • “We can and we are…”
  • “Sorry I believed we did in my youth but in the end I don’t feel we made a difference.”

Now, admittedly we’ve gotten the proverbial bad rap from the younger generations, feeling that we pursued what was in our own best interest at everyone else’s expense.  And indeed, as I mentioned in my last post, once we got into positions of power, we did all the things we derided our elders for doing (bespoiling the land for profit; taking kick-backs for influence; filling our corporate coffers at the expense of our workers’ well-being) – only bigger and with less discretion.

But as a generation, we also propelled more positive societal changes than any other generation in the history of our nation.  Hey, younger ones, enjoy the freedom to live together before you get married, and divorce without societal derision if you find you married the wrong person?  Thank us.  Ladies, glad you can no longer be overlooked for that big promotion simply because of your gender?  Thank your local Boomer.  And, for those of you who think clean air and water is a nifty idea, that river in Ohio would still be so toxic it’s on fire if not for our unwillingness to accept such polluting ways (for you kids, here’s the link for the back story on the burning river thing).

Well, my fellow Boomers, our time has come around again.  We have the numbers, the power, the finances, and the experience, to make this country proud.  We know how to use activism as an efficient tool for change.  Unfortunately, right now, the only members of our generation using it well are the members of the tea party (45% of which are white, male Boomers).  And I say “unfortunately” not because I disagree with their positions; it’s unfortunate because they are a minority of us – the rest of us are remaining dangerously disconnected from our immense ability to influence positive change.

Here is a brief list of powerful things we can do, individually and collectively, to regain our generational greatness as propellers of the social changes needed today, just as we so famously, and successfully did for those that were needed in the 1960’s/’70’s:

  • Lead by example
    Keep your promises; say what you mean/mean what you say; give more than you receive; be a mensch
  • Get involved in something that betters things
    Now that the kids are grown and if you’re not taking care of an elderly relative, give some of your time to something designed to make our world better, whether volunteering for a cause that tugs your heart, or pushing for needed changes in your community; at the very least, regularly communicate with your representatives so they know just what you want from them, and if you don’t get it, find someone who will do what you know needs doing
  • Agitate for changes to the way Congress handles our nation’s business
    A great place to start is by insisting on changes to the way Congress treats itself; if our little Princes & Princesses in DC are treated like the rest of us, we will have more true citizen representation – those who simply love the power will no longer want the job, and those who want the job will want to get the job done and go home.  Here’s a petition I’ve started circulating to insist on just such changes; download it, sign it, and pass it on: 
    Petition to Congress
  • Be a resource champion, not a resource hog
    Did you know that the improvements to the environment we fought for and won 40 years ago, are in the past few years being undone?  Air pollution is now worsening.  Go back to your roots of good earth stewardship; we can start with eliminating our own wasteful habits, from things a simple as reusing rather than immediately disposing, to driving a more fuel efficient car and downsizing everything.  And, become a proponent of both clean and renewable energy sources.

So, to that last respondent of the FB survey, I say; we absolutely made a difference – refusing to see our accomplishments, and build on them has been our mistake.

I believe it’s not a matter of being unable to make the changes we need, our children need, our grandchildren.

It’s a matter of being willing.

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Wall St. Protests….Taking Up Where We Left Off

“How many ears must one man have before he can hear people cry…. Yes how many times can a man turn his head pretending he just doesn’t see….”

1969 protest

1969 protest

Whether or not you were one of the protesters in our youth railing against “the man” (corporate greed and corruption), or the pillaging of the environment, the majority of us still agreed that rivers burning with pollution and companies making millions (billions in today’s dollars) by exploiting their workers or the public at large, and forever destroying pieces of the earth for their financial gain, were worth fighting to fix.

And now, we’re the ones being protested against.

We are “the man” we so reviled as youth.  We are the ones in charge of Big Corp that guts the middle class so that CEO’s can buy that yacht and third vacation home on Martha’s Vineyard; we’re in charge of a Congress that votes to bail out Bank of America with our hard earned dollars and then refuses to ensure that the entity cannot ruin our lives again; we are the ones who have turned our backs on the environmental gains made as a result of our protests, through lifestyles that are built on rampant waste.

What happened?!

Some say that we just grew up…that once the realities of making a living and raising a family kick in, idealism jumps ship.

Some say that many of us really didn’t care about those things as youth, so simply continued to live our beliefs (it’s not greed when it’s “capitalism” because we all hope to get rich someday; the earth is here to serve our needs, not the other way around).

But, even if either, or both are true, neither falls even close to a good reason for leaving our children worse off than we are, ensuring that the top 10%  make and keep 93% of our country’s wealth while they continue to lay-off workers and off-shore jobs, or that pillaging the earth of her beauty and resources is right way to get our needs met…

So, to the former, I offer a suggestion; that we think “and/both” rather than “either/or” – we can strive to have a good life without gutting the earth and harming others in the process.

To the latter, I offer this quote, not by a Founding Father or a high profile preacher, but from a comic book of our youth: “With great power, comes great responsibility” – which of course we all understood to mean great responsibility to care for the less powerful, to use our own capacities to better the common good – not line the pockets of the few and the rest of society be damned.

And to those who say that there are just too many things “out of our control” so what’s gone wrong over the past decade or more is not our fault, I offer this idea to ponder: That which you believe to be out of your control…is, even those things that are well within it.  Think Bank of America is a corporate leech?  Close your account with them.  Believe in global warming as a real problem?  Drive a fuel efficient auto and demand/use recycyled goods.  Angry about off-shoring our jobs?  Then buy only “made in America.”

Our kids are taking up where we left off oh those many decades ago.  Which they must, because we left off.

Avoiding Vaccines? They're Not the Problem

As folks understandably search for answers to the growing levels of ADD, Autism, learning disabilities, and less devastating but equally serious issues of asthma/allergies and cancers in us and our children, vaccines as the culprit are a red herring.

What is irreparably harming our children (and us), from their time in utero to their daily lives once living among us, is something so insidious that we remain oblivious to it: toxic chemicals in our household products at levels that would be banned in the workplace by OSHA if they were being regulated (which home chemicals are not), chemicals spewed into our air and waterways by industry, and the ever increasing amount of chemicals added to our foods to improve shelf life, enhance flavor/color artificially, etc.  Add them together and we have a health issue so large it can account for many if not most of the illnesses we’ve seen mushroom, from cancers to brain damage.

Just a few research examples of this phenonema:

  • Starting as far back as 1997:
    Stemming from a 1997 University of South Florida graduate research project study investigating environmental and chemical causes of learning disabilities, a growing number of scientists continue to provide strong evidence for the leading cause of the increase in learning and behavior disorders in children over the past 30 years – on-going exposure of the developing child to common everyday chemicals used in the home can result in learning or behavior problems evident throughout life
  • US EPA:
     Collected and analyzed fish samples from 500 US lakes & reservoires over a 3 year period (200-2003); they found that 49% of the fish contained mercury concentrations exceeding levels that they (the EPA) consider safe for consumption (this is the most common way Americans are ingesting mercury that causes brain damage)
  • Associated Press, November 3, 2009:
    A study appearing in November’s Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, found a surprising link between common drugs used to treat urinary infections, and birth defects.  This is the first large analysis of antibiotic use in pregnancy…
  • The National Resources Defense Council:
    effects of these chemicals used or found in your home;
    Lead: More than a quarter century after the 1978 ban on lead in paint, nearly half a million American prekindergarten children have elevated levels of lead in their blood. That’s largely because old lead paint remains on the walls in many homes, workplaces and schoolsOld, corroded lead pipes are another common culprit. Elevated blood-lead levels in kids increase risk of learning disabilities, behavioral problems, anemia and, in extreme cases, serious brain damage
    Formaldehyde: used in fertilizers, glues, plywood, fiberboard, particleboard and certain types of insulation, as well as in some disinfectants, antibacterial soaps and even beauty products. Regular exposure to formaldehyde can cause brain damage to fetuses, and asthma/other respiratory damage to children
  • CDC’s New Report:
    http://www.cdc.gov/exposurereport Centers for Disease Control’s Second National Report on Human Exposure to Environmental Chemicals
  • Physicians for Social Responsibility’s Bearing the Burden:
    Health Implications of Environmental Pollutants in Our Bodies: http://www.envirohealthaction.org/bearingtheburden  The known and potential health effects of human exposure to the chemicals studied in the CDC report

Over the past 30 years, we Boomers have happily accepted “better living though chemicals” – and now so do our children.  Who knew that as ever more products have been introduced containing increasing levels of toxic ingredients (from Acetyl methoxycinnamate to Zinc pyrithione found in personal and home cleaning products), designed to be ever more powerful, we have been breathing, eating (on dishes from the dishwasher; chemical additives in our foods), and topically ingesting (through our bath/body products) dangerous chemicals day after day, year after year.

These chemicals stay and build in our homes & bodies as we use ever more of them to clean, bathe, freshen, eat; they enter our water systems as run-off (from both our household and outdoor pesticide use), and when we spray them they immediately enter our respiratory system.

If we were to eliminate many or most of the chemicals in our lives, we would see a parallel and significant decline in the disorders we seek to prevent by avoiding vaccines.

Do your own research.  But do the research.  Because by avoiding what isn’t causing these devastating health disorders, we are only allowing what is causing them to perpetuate.  And that is not the legacy we/our children, want to leave for their children.

Do We Owe Our Progeny an Apology?

According to some featured graduation speakers as reported by the Wall Street journal (& commented on by Rita Robinson of the Seattle Press -reprinted here), we most assuredly do:

“Is it necessary for baby boomers to apologize to younger generations for their excesses?

When I was reading The Boomer Blog, I found an article in The Wall Street Journal called “Boomers to This Year’s Grads: We Are Really, Really Sorry.”

These are among the quotes in the article:

Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, 60 years old, told the graduating class of Butler University last month that boomers have been ‘self-absorbed, self-indulgent and all too often just plain selfish.’

New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, 55, told Grinnell College graduates in Iowa that his was ‘the grasshopper generation, eating through just about everything like hungry locusts.’

Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet, at 44 barely a boomer himself, told seniors at Colorado College that the national creed of one generation standing on the shoulders of the next was at risk ‘because our generation has not been faithful enough to our grandparents’ example.’

The article said the collective advice of the speakers for the class of 2009: Don’t be like us.

What do you think of these apologies?”

I’m glad to hear ’em – and my hope is we’ve just begun, at last, to recognize the damage we’ve done as a generation over the last 25 years, when we started with such promise.  Remember when we fought against “the man” and all his excesses, his polluting ways, his corporate greed, and his disdain for anything but his own bottom line?  So we changed the world for the better w/civil rights, environmental controls, and the uncovering of corporate shenanigans?  We were good!  Then we went bad….

Robin goes on to say that Gen Y/X experience their share of excesses, so it’s not just us…but gee, who raised them?  She states that there were/are those of our parents’ generation who have as well lived lives of excess….in contrast to ours, they were in the minority – and it was not a generational past-time to live beyond their means & consider themselves worthy only if they had more things, as it was ours.

Finally she says: “I know boomers who are environmentalists and live a simple lifestyle. Not all boomers practiced instant gratification.”  Yep… all three of them.

Then, there’s this from Harry Dent of the Miami based HSDent research firm as reported in the Newark Star Ledger, about how Boomers are the prime cause of this recession (as he predicted would be the case back in the ’80’s) – but this time for the opposite reason of the apology:

“Q: You said years ago that the spending habits of the Baby Boomers will eventually cause the economy to crash. Why?

A: This Baby Boomer generation is massive — the largest we’ve seen in a couple hundred years, probably since the American Revolution. They’ve been entering the work force, getting married, raising families, buying houses and earning more money since the early ’80s.

…We said 20 years ago, “Hey, there will be an end to this.” They’ll peak in their spending cycle after they buy houses, raise their kids, get them into college and all that good stuff.

Now, they’re just doing predictable things as they age. In other words, they’ll become savers, not spenders. They don’t need a bigger house. They don’t need more cars. The kids are gone. That’s what happening. They’re going to spend less and the economy’s going to get slower and slower.”

To Mr. Dent I say…”yeah…right…apparently you’ve not been keeping up with your fellow Boomers spending habits…”  We may down-size some things like our home space (although many are actually up-sizing as they “retire in place” and make room for children and/or parents to move in w/them), but we are not down-sizing our willingness to spend for things that keep us feeling good about ourselves. From ultra-expensive “cosmeceuticals” to high-end vacations, our penchant for instant gratification and determination to halt the aging process will well make up for any “savings” we embrace in other areas. 

And please prove me wrong, my fellow Boomers, but once this econonic crisis passes, and our portfolios make a come-back, too many of us will go back to our old ways.  We will be the first generation to leave less for our children (inheritance) than we spent on ourselves.

But all is not lost, says she who has so far filled this post with a quite curmudgeonly “bad Boomers!” diatribe.

I always have faith in my generation, it is faith in ourselves that I fear we lack.  We still don’t recognize the enormous power (for good or ill) we wield (lost track of that once we moved from our youth to becoming “the man” in adulthood), and the immense changes for the better of which we are capable if we put our collective will to it.

If we make driving small, fuel efficient cars the thing to do, they will sell like pork-barrel projects in Washington!  If we make it a priority to hold our legislators accountable for their behavior, we will have far better government leadership.  As the current corporate leadership, if we move from an emphasis on gluttony to one of benevolent leadership (as we demanded of those in this same position in our youth), we will change the face of corporate America.

So, Boomers, as has been the case for the past 40 years, the proverbial ball is in our court.  Will we use our collective might to fix what’s wrong today, and leave a legacy perhaps not equal to but near that of our parents’, or will be continue to ignore our power and by doing so remain destructive?

You tell me.