Saturday, December 27, 2014

'If I had a hammer'

There's been much discussion about the apathy of young voters during the recent mid-term election. Many have moaned about their lack of interest in doing their part to strengthen our democracy by casting their ballots. Others have opined that they are so self-involved that they lack any interest in the world of politics that is shaping their future.

I was on the fence until recently  listening to a radio interview with Peter and Paul, the surviving members of the Peter, Paul and Mary folk trio who became popular in the early 1960s. Listening to the music prompted me to mentally go back into that time when we Baby Boomers were young.

In the '60s, some in my generation carried on with life just as their parents had - not questioning authority, not standing up for what they believed and not grabbing hold of an idea and working to make it reality. They just accepted that those in political power were working for the country's best interest.

And then there were the rest of us - the marchers, picketers, letter-writers - the rebels.

We began our growing up years right after the end of the war to end all wars - World War II. In the decade or so following the war, life for most was good. The economy was rolling, schools were crowded but adequate and there was plenty of time to play ball, skate and get into mischief.

I faintly remember when Dwight David Eisenhower was in office but my first clear recollection of presidential politics is of John F. Kennedy campaigning. My parents sat in front of the black and white television each night and watched one of the network news channels. That was a time when "cable news" wasn't in existence so the competition between the networks was based on reporting the news first and getting it right the first time.

The networks weren't trying to carve out niche audiences such as those prevalent today on the cable stations. Today's general cable focus is more about pandering to particular biases instead of just reporting the facts. It reinforces divisiveness and preconceived ideas instead of providing facts that viewers can decide whether to accept.

But even before cable, there were those who sought to influence more than inform. Kennedy was slandered daily because he was a Roman Catholic, and there had never been a president who wasn't Protestant. The presidential hopeful didn't take the criticism lying down and marched into the lion's den by addressing the Greater Houston Ministerial Association, a group of Protestant ministers, many of whom had disparaged him to their congregations. Kennedy spoke of the importance of religious freedom and the need to keep politics and religion separate.

His speech has become even more relevant today. To read his address in its entirety, click here.

The war in Vietnam was never a declared war but the imposed draft fed the monster for much of the '60s and '70s. Friends, brothers, neighbors often came back from the horrific battles in coffins or with both health and mental health problems that continue to affect many.

We had enough of trying to comfort their mothers. We marched, protested and voted.

Big chemical corporations, logging companies and polluters were ruining the environment so we said "enough" and once again let the politicians know that we were watching. Congress began passing environmental regulations to protect water and air quality and the natural environment.

But then as we became older, life got in the way of paying attention to what our government was doing. We were raising families, paying mortgages, getting our feet wet in the new computer age and becoming enamored by cable television. Life jumped into warp speed and while babies and money were being made, things got out of whack in the world around us..

Campaigns began being all about how negative one's opponent could be portrayed - and the light of truth began to dim.

And then came Sept. 11, 2001 - the day that broke our hearts and shut down our senses. The scenes from that day will remained burned into our memories - that is, those of us old enough to both remember the events and comprehend the numbness that it left us with.

When the towers were collapsed, many of the current generation - many are our grandchildren - were in elementary school. Their biggest fears were based on such things as getting a low grade or getting caught dipping into the cookie jar after being told not to.

But their lives changed that day and not in a good way. For years, as they watched television, threat alerts were streamed across the bottom of the screen. Traveling by air meant going through security, taking off shoes, being scanned and patted down, and even more if one happened to have an Arabic name or coloring.

Instead of being told that the terrorists being feared were a radicalized group that claimed to be Muslims, there has been a constant barrage of insinuations that all Muslims are terrorists. Timothy McVeigh and Eric Rudolph proclaimed themselves to be Christians but not all Christians were held responsible.

"Cable news" fed the fear with outrageous claims often based on fabrications. Sites full of hate and misinformation popped up on the internet and their offerings were accepted as facts because...well, it was on the internet.

The country was mostly in support of going into Afghanistan in an effort to find Osama Ben Laden and his organization. Our troops were making progress and running the Taliban out of the county, thus allowing greater freedom for the people there. But then, based on claims of Saddam Hussein having weapons of mass destruction, many of the troops were redeployed to Iraq. This left Afghanistan under-supported militarily and led to the loss of countless lives - both civilian and military.

Iraq was a mess. The country was destroyed and there was no stability when we pulled out - there also were no weapons of mass destruction found.

The Taliban re-entered and has taken control of many areas of Afghanistan and ISIS is claiming portions of Iraq as it sweeps through that region. Schools are being closed as children - particularly girls seeking an education - have been targeted. The entire region has become destabilized.

At home, there is a constant barrage of accusations hurled back and forth between the parties, and Congress has changed its focus from conducting the business of the nation to constantly castigating the opposing party in hopes of winning the next election. No work is being done.

Corporations and billionaires are deciding elections through the use of dummy nonprofits, PACs, and out and out bribes. I get just one vote - they are buying millions.

Wall Street and the banking industry, both of which have been so crooked and reckless that they almost put the country into a depression, have gone on unscathed while taxpayers bailed out the banks to keep them from closing. Although it is obvious that many laws were broken, no one has been prosecuted. Paying the price of bad behavior seems only fit for the common man, not millionaires or billionaires or corporations.

Congress has refused to lower interest rates on student loans but has passed laws to make it easier for banks to commit the same crimes again. Politicians have cast the poor, the old, and the sick as something less than what is worthy of our efforts and attention. They would rather give handouts to Wall Street than a hand up to their constituents.

On the front of newspapers and online publications, the torture committed while interrogating alleged terrorists is being reported, but no one is being held accountable. No one is being prosecuted.

And on the same pages, some decry normalizing relations with Cuba because, they say, Cuba is guilty of human rights violations. Do atrocities against human beings only deserve punishment when some other country commits them?

We have allowed big money, ideology and fear to take over this country. We - the Baby Boomers -  are handing down to our grandchildren a world and a country that seems out of control.

Now back to my original pondering - are the young people of today guilty of apathy or being self-centered?

No. They are suffering from lack of hope.

It's time that the Baby Boomers take the younger generation by the hand and show them how to take control. Teach them how to make their voices heard and their votes count. Teach them how to discern rhetoric from fact.

Teach them how to find their hammer, bell and song and then use it.

It's time for us to find ourselves again. You might want to start here.