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|January 22-28, 2009
Back to Letters
Use the Force, dude
GenXers are key to keeping Obama from going to the Dark Side
by Pamela White
The Lazy Dog Sports Bar & Grill might be the place to watch sports, but it’s apparently also the place to watch history unfold. That’s where Boulder Weekly’s newsroom staff went to watch President Barack Obama’s inauguration Tuesday morning.
We weren’t the only ones there. The idea of watching the event on big televisions and sharing the moment with friends had brought so many through the restaurant’s doors that there wasn’t a vacant seat left in the house by the time we arrived. Fortunately, the staff at the Lazy Dog seemed to understand that this wasn’t a time to turn people away. They generously opened their downstairs game room to the throng that had gathered in their doorway. We — a group of college students, mothers with babies, senior citizens, businessmen and workers — stood and sat among pool and foosball tables, gazes fixed on the televisions, the excitement palpable.
As emotionally satisfying as the spectacle was to watch — apart from Rick Warren’s few moments at the microphone — the highlight for me came unexpectedly when the commentator announced that it was noon in Washington, D.C., which meant that Obama was already officially president of the United States, even though he hadn’t taken the oath of office.
In that instant, the Lazy Dog exploded with cheers and applause so loud that the sound surely surpassed the din created by the football fans during a Broncos Super Bowl win.
To Americans collectively, Obama’s presidency represents so many wonderful things: the crowning victory of the civil-rights movement; a chance to rebuild our relationships with other nations; the triumph of hope and grassroots effort over cynicism and apathy; the opportunity to learn from our mistakes as a nation and to change our society.
To Americans individually, his inauguration signified any number of things. One older African-American couple told reporters that they now feel like a part of America in a way they never have before. Young people talked about the role they’d played in getting Obama elected and how they really felt empowered by that knowledge.
So what does Obama’s presence in the White House mean to the newsroom staff at the Weekly, a group of GenXers? In discussing the inauguration that afternoon, we discovered rather by accident that each of us privately felt that Obama was our first president — the first U.S. president who represents us, the first president in our lifetime with whom we can identify, the first president who speaks our language.
According to a 2007 economic study — “Economic Mobility: Is the American Dream Alive and Well?” — we GenXers are the first American generation in U.S. history to fare more poorly than our parents. We got college degrees in droves, becoming the most educated generation in American history, according to U.S. Census Bureau, but we ended up with student loans instead of fulfilling jobs. We wanted to do something spectacularly important with our lives like Luke in Star Wars, but far too many of us ended up doing meaningless work for The Empire. (As Kids in the Hall put it years ago, “Can you believe I work in a bank? Me — in a bank! Does that sound fucked up or what?”)
We’re a generation defined not by race, gender or religion, but by economic class, disappointments and deferred dreams.
Though society likes to think of us in terms of skateboards, tattoos and video games, the truth is that GenX is a relatively quiet group, especially when compared to that loudest and most self-absorbed of all generations, the Baby Boomers. We’re a generation that has largely turned away from involvement in society on a broader scale and pared down our idea of success to personal things like family and friendships.
To say that GenXers are cynical is to be redundant. But behind every cynic is a heartbroken romantic who desperately wants to believe again.
The cynicism of GenX is in direct proportion to our disappointment with our country, our society, our Boomer parents who sold out.
And now, at a time when many of us are likely to respond to political speeches with a bored, “Whatever,” we’ve been awakened — almost painfully — to our forgotten dreams by a man who articulates a vision of America that makes us feel hope again. Obviously, his words impact many other people this way, not just GenX, or he wouldn’t be president. But unlike President Bill Clinton, whom we supported simply because he wasn’t Ronald Reagan or Bush 41, Obama feels like he’s truly our president.
But hope can be a dangerous thing.
As one of my Xer friends said, “It’s going to be so easy to feel disappointed.”
But if we’re disappointed this time around, we will have to blame ourselves. Obama can’t accomplish any of his goals without the broader support and active involvement of those who elected him, in particular young people. There has never been a better moment during our lifetimes to come forth with our fresh ideas and new approaches to solving our nation’s old problems.
In other words, it’s time for GenX to use The Force.
For too long we’ve been hidden in the long shadow cast by the Baby Boomers, secretly practicing our Jedi arts on Internet blogs, computer hacking and hip hop. Now it’s time to claim our destiny by taking on The Empire that has both fed and strangled us — and helping to make sure that Obama doesn’t stray to the Dark Side.
There are countless ways to do this. We can destroy our credit cards, go green, grow our own food. We can help the old guy down the block by shoveling his sidewalk for free or play basketball with the kids of that single mother next door. We can volunteer for nonprofits or public schools or heath clinics.
Whatever we choose to do, we must above all guide Obama and our other elected representatives by correcting when they make a misstep — and by letting them know what we believe they ought to do.
Every generation has its day. Every generation has a time when it is called to action. Perhaps our time has finally come.
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