Jack Weinberg issued these words of caution during the heady, tumultuous and revolutionary 1960s, a period of American history that witnessed the explosion of the Civil Rights movement, popular rebellion against the Vietnam War and post-World War II economic growth that provided members of the middle class with enough material comfort to consider issues larger than their own immediate survival.
Weinberg, a student at UC Berkeley at the time of the famous quote, uttered the ubiquitous line to a columnist working for the San Francisco Chronicle. In an era when the phrase “going viral” had yet to be invented, Weinberg’s legendary soundbite quickly became the unofficial motto of 1960s youth culture, a warning against placing faith in those with a vested interest in the status quo and the reproduction of dominant ideology.
As a child growing up in the 1980s and 1990s, a would-be agent of change in my own right, I often found this phrase catchy but terribly ageist and limiting. The passage of time couldn’t fundamentally change my worldview. Wherever dishonesty and injustice lurked, there would I be. I had been arrested once by cracky! What’s more anarchistic than that? Then it dawned on me that as a 34 year-old woman, my formal education long complete and somewhat established in my career, there’s nothing I fight harder to achieve than a solid night’s sleep.
I make this observation with tongue-somewhat-in-cheek, but dammit the realization that I have become “the man” to a certain extent is horrifying. I am not wealthy, yield no political power and have borne no children that will be raised as Mini-Me ideologues, but nonetheless it’s hard to remember an act of protest more strenuous than saying “no” to the overpriced, tasteless sushi at Whole Foods.
Perhaps even more agitating: I am beginning to identify with the paradox of the now-sedentary Baby Boomers, the ones who stood up for change only to mature into the mutual fund managing, SUV driving helicopter parents that a portion of American society now blames for decades of entitlement and irresponsible spending, the upending of the fiscally conservative, cautious habits of the Great Depression. That’s not to say I’m ready to cash in my rebellious chips for good, but I can see where age and years of routine blunt the edges of urgency.
By speaking my fears aloud, is is possible to forestall the inevitable? The only thing that scares me more than risk is obsoletion. Must I go the way of Ray Bradbury, Milton Friedman, Dennis Miller and Laura Schlessinger, all former stars of the liberal movement, or is self-awareness the ultimate weapon in the battle to stay forever, idealistically young?