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You old folks, you're not off the hook yet

By Alanta Colley - posted Monday, 25 November 2013

Donald Sutherland commented last week about the passivity of the younger generation - my generation. He declared that we have not moved in 30 years, and that we have been "consumed by telephones" and "tweeting". The irony that I read this on my phone was not lost on me. Sutherland is not the first of an older generation to take a swing at us as being apathetic and inert, or to point out what his generation achieved in the protests against the Vietnam War, racism, and gender inequality.

"We did it in '68 ." I'm not going to belittle the achievements of your generation. The mass scale protests in Paris were incredible. Against the Vietnam war amazing. They were. My Dad was among the protesters, a conscientious objector, and was kicked out of high school for refusing to remove his Moratorium badge. I grew up inspired by you and wanting to match your efforts. Your sacrifices were many, your voices loud, and gosh your hair looked good.

But you can't compare Vietnam to our struggles now. Climate Change is a whole other bag to war. It's an insidious, amorphous crisis and every one of us is complicit. Every time we cook an egg or get on a plane we buy another ticket to the global warming show. The enemy is us.


Like us, you lot stood on the shoulders of giants. You made activism look good, but you sure didn't invent it. It was your Mum's Mum that got out in the streets wrapped in proto-feminism and lace, demanding suffrage. It was your Mum that first balanced a career with a kid or five. What you achieved was amazing, and I benefit directly from it every day. Let's acknowledge this beautiful conga line of social progress.

A lot has changed since you carried your banners. The Man has lost his personal touch in watching our movements. In your day ASIO were a patriotic and clumsy bunch who parked Holdens outside your houses, writing hand written notes in voluminous files about what you were wearing and who you talked to. An Aboriginal activist friend of mine tells me how in the 70's she used bring them cups of tea and tell them where she was going in the afternoon so they could plan their lunch break accordingly.

Now The Man doesn't discriminate; he's watching all of us. Every time we touch a computer our information is snaffled up by some unapologetic and unseen force. Friends are stopped and interrogated at airports for transferring funds to friends and family in Thailand or Nepal. We have no clue who is watching or how. The digital age just took that 'feeling special' element out of the whole being spied on.

Neither of us can display hands clean from the guilt of the damage currently underway. We're both complicit in fronting the cash for the exploratory digs in Kakadu for uranium, and those dudes looking for oil in the Barrier Reef. You and I are the shareholders who demand larger profit margins from the heads of corporations. How, you say? You don't remember discussing that with your stock broker? Superannuation. I am as oblivious as most of you to where my hard-earned 9% a year is invested. We're the faceless enemy we rage against at Occupy. We front the cash to the 1% while we wait for retirement.

I reckon we do some things better than you. We stick it to the Man in our own way. We get our news differently. You shake your heads as we attach ourselves intravenously to Facebook and Twitter; but no two of us use it in just the same way. The BBC might be in our feed, but so is Al Jazeera. So is a blogger in Burma writing about life behind the barricades of the junta. As well as a feed on how to turn a garden into a veggie patch and some rad cartoonist who sums up the politics of the week using only cats. Our news isn't a channel; narrow like the English, it's a tropical storm. You guys smoked spliffs to the sound of post-modernism tearing apart such juvenile concepts as 'truth'. The internet put this lesson that no one person holds the right to truth into practice. We paddle in a sea of a multitude of voices; not just your 7pm News presenter tsk tsking about the latest scam involving second-hand white goods. The Arab Spring awoke to the dawn chorus of a million tweets. Our news source not only lets us know what's going on, but we get to talk back. If only you were as excited by this as we are.

Our generation is pretty envious we missed out on the sexual revolution. Free love sounded awesome. Those of us born in the 80s arrived just at the peak of the HIV epidemic devastating the western world. It had been claiming lives since the 1950s in Africa but no one noticed. We grew up to images of the Grim Reaper taking a bowling ball to innocent looking families. I was scared of AIDS before I knew what sex was.


On that, maybe our greatest contribution to the planet is that we're spawning lesser and later than you. Your generation arrived like a tidal wave; the fertility rate by the end of the 60s at a whopping 3.6 kids on average per family. As for us, we're replicating our little hopes and dreams at about 1.8 kids per couple. Most of us aren't making little critters till our thirties. Kids, after all, get in the way of status updates. But also, with the average Westerner producing 20 metric tonnes of carbon emissions in their lifetime, slowing down the whole reproduction thing can't hurt. As Genesis declared: "Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it." At seven billion I reckon we can say "Mission Accomplished".

We're also a little sad. You were the last generation who got to labour under the delightful misapprehension of original thought. Now every time we come up with a brilliant pun or an exciting new idea we run to Google to be confronted with the 1.6 million people who came up with it already. Could Bob Dylan have rallied you so inspiringly with "The Times They Are A-Changin'" if he knew just how many people had called it first?

Look, the main point is this. I agree with you Donald, the clicktivism isn't enough. We need to get up, get engaged, get involved. But not just us. The times have changed but while you're still here you're not out of the race. You're probably here for another 20 to 30 years at least, eating carrots from Ecuador, being opinionated in Guardian columns and cooking with gas. No one gets to retire from the march for progress. You still need to be experimenting with solutions and sharing your ideas. You don't get to pass the baton just yet. You did great with that Vietnam thing, but you're as much the cause of those troubles that grieve us now as the solution. Climate change cares not for comfy laurels. We're all in this together.

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About the Author

Alanta has worked for the past 7 years in community development in Africa, South East Asia and with Aboriginal communities in Australia. Her training is in Public Health and disease prevention, and is particularly focused on gender equality through health. She's dug latrines, inspected mosquito nets, and surprised men's meetings with family planning education. She is simultaneously easily disgruntled and incurably optimistic.

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