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January 28, 2009

Being a Baby Boomer Is Not a Bad Thing

Cynthia An old friend called me the day after the Inaugural concert, to tell me she’d been reduced to tears as she watched the nearly 90-year-old  Pete Seeger, who, in addition to his later Civil Rights and anti-Vietnam War work, helped organize labor unions and came from Woody Guthrie’s generation, singing alongside Bruce Springsteen, who truly does speak for today’s blue collar Americans.  One took the old words of We Shall Overcome and Ecclesiastes and made them into anthems, and created two of the greatest kids’ songs ever:  Abiyoyo and Sam the Whaler.  The other, with Born in the USA, My Hometown and so many others, has given voice to so much.

As they stood together at the Lincoln Memorial in celebration of the Inauguration of Barack Obama, they represented, to me all that I had believed and tried to help bring into being.  To many, though, they were "the ultimate in subtly old-left populism."  Speaking about the concert early Sunday before it began, I kept talking about Bruce.  A younger friend gently suggested that he was probably not the day's headliner.  That would be Beyonce Knowles, she said.  And Beyonce was magnificent.  And lovely.  And young.

As one who was present the last time "the torch was passed to a new generation" and as a strongly defined Baby Boomer, it's painful to hear anchormen celebrate the fact that "there will never be another Baby Boom President."  It's not that I mind the fact of that; it's just painful that it seems to be something to celebrate.  So many of us have tried so to be productive agents of change, have spent our lives working either full or part of the time to see that our country offers more to the least powerful, demands quality education, justice and maybe, even peace.  So to hear Joe Scarborough revel in the fact that "16 horrible years of baby boomer presidents is over" really hurts.  All my adult life we've been tarred by the brush of the least attractive of us while the work of the rest of us went unnoticed.  For most campaigns, as I've written before, we were the secret weapon of the right.

So as exciting as all this is, especially for one who has supported Obama for so long, it's also bittersweet because I feel the shadow of the disdain in which so many of us are held.  I really don't know how to respond.  If I were to try, it might be by offering some of the words to Si Kahn's They All Sang Bread and Roses.  It's better with the music, but it does the job.

They All Sang "Bread and Roses (Si Kahn, 1989, 1991)

The more I study history,

The more I seem to find

That in every generation

There are times just like that time

When folks like you and me who thought

That they were all alone

Within this honored movement

Found a home.


And 'though each generation fears

That it will be the last,

Our presence here is witness

To the power of the past.

And just as we have drawn our strength

From those who now are gone,

Younger hands will take our work

And carry on.

Cynthia Samuels also writes for her personal blog Don't Gel too Soon, where an earlier version of this post appeared.


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