They have been bullies for a long time. For so long their conquered and humiliated have no recollection of their own defeat and assimilation. But one group remains unbeaten, one group is still fighting the bullies. And that group is now back on the world's frontpage. It took blood, it took a nasty beating, it took dying, it even took the Olympics, but Tibetans are back in the headlines.
During Tibet's roughly decade long imposed recess from Western consciousness, American youth, the leaders and foot-soldiers in the battle to save Tibet, focused on getting good grades, paying off their mammoth school loans, and playing video games. Generation X had no time for Tibet, especially one the world had forgotten about.
For many years I worked to deny China MFN (Most Favored Nation Status), but we always lost the battle. The Chinese economic machine and America's own greedy profiteers teamed up to defeat our small coalition of opposition. The American Chamber of Commerce laughed at our meager, futile efforts. China merely smirked. Few Americans cared -- they cared about those great prices inside Wal-Mart.
But something is changin', I believe. There is serious rumbling going on in the uncomfortable belly of America. Huge numbers of young people are voting, and for Barack Obama -- a Black man! (Pinch me, is this America?) In Europe young people just returned from a battle in the streets, screaming and shaking their fists at the mighty Chinese empire. Now weird things are stirring in San Francisco. Yes, I think there is change in the air.
The outrageousness of an unnecessary and illegal Iraq War has seriously undermined the credibility of American leadership, not merely President Bush and his vicious cohorts, but also the wimping, ineffective Democratic controlled congress. The youth of America know something important: the old folks don't know crap! Is this de'jÃ vu 1968? And now the economic meltdown with Boomer mommy and daddy strung out on Jack Daniel's and popping pills like rabbits in overdrive. "Think we can hold on to the house, honey?" "Make me another drink." If lucky, only one will get laid off and become a full-time lush and prescription drug addict. Keeping the house is probably dicier.
"This is getting serious," Saul a New York high school student told me. "Where will I plug in my computer? Not only do the leaders of this country not know what is best for us, they are now attacking my only link to reality which requires an electrical wall socket."
Yes, the times do seem to be a-changin', but they have been changing for some time. Last year in Taos, New Mexico a young woman, about three years removed from college and without money for Graduate school for probably 300 more years, said: "You don't understand how much frustration there is out there just under the surface. My generation feels trapped, with no where to go."
"Really?" I replied, attempting to hide my disbelief.
"It may not show on the surface," she leaned across the table, her eyes now narrow, "but the anger is strong inside of us."
"This is the calm before the storm, everything looks OK on the surface but down below the pressure is building?"
"Yes, yes! And something has to give. Young people today are economic slaves. Our school loans, health insurance, rent and food ...."
And I suddenly had a flashback back to 1971. I was twenty-four and driving across the country in my Ford van, as a lot of hippies were. We did not have any school loans to pay off, and medical insurance was not necessary. Gas was super cheap. Crash pads existed in most cities and they were often near free food kitchens. There were communes dotting the countryside to give us a break, but I don't remember what we needed a break from. Part-time jobs were plentiful, but to us working sounded rather drastic.
With slim economic responsibilities and a fat support network and a supplier of goodies on nearly every corner, like today there is a Starbucks on nearly every corner, we spent years on the American road. It was great. I hear a few are still out there, lost in pure road happiness. When sitting in Taos with that unsettled Gen Xer, I realized Boomers in their youth had options and choice of lifestyle that today's youth do not have, have never had, and will never have. Life has turned nasty and narrow for America's youth. This is not pure accident or only market forces, but a confluence of conservative values and monetary decisions that have created "The Trap." Immediately after college, graduates are assaulted by a barrage of incoming bills -- school loans, health insurance, rising housing costs, stratospheric gas prices, climbing food prices -- stunned and scared most scurry for the trenches of a corporate job. Once the cement of security dries, they remain in the materialistic, corporate world.
The Trap is designed to saddle the dangerous, open-minded youth with an endless train of heavy financial requirements channeling them into the straight corporate world that ensures they never have the opportunity to act upon their youthful rebel tendencies, which exploded in the late 1960s and nearly destroyed the country. The Trap is economic entrapment for youth's own good. The Trap is real freedom!
Some Xers are not completely convinced, as in Taos when she asked, "What ever happened to the American Dream?"
A few have a flicker of a rush about Jack Kerouac, the Beat ridding the rails and hitchhiking from New York to California. Some latch their brain waves on to Hunter S. Thompson roaring along in the fast-lane of his own making and writing in whacky abandonment. Some remember the stories of their parents as hippies on the road, experiencing an America they cannot experience. But few Xers never have time for a follow up question. Not even a second thought. The clock says it's time to go to work. The mailbox says it's time to pay the bills. But all things come to pass.