On my 30th birthday, I walked into my publisher’s office and offered up these words: “I am officially over 30. You can trust me now.” He laughed.
We’d had a years-long, humorously courteous, running disagreement about pretty much every editorial position of the newspaper. That made for the occasional hold-my-nose challenge. I was his editorial page editor and I wrote the editorials. He owned the thing; he got his way. I honed my research and writing skills to advocate persuasively for contrarian positions. (On a side note, I admit it was good training. There’s nothing quite so heady as knowing exactly how the “other side” thinks to bolster one’s own position — or, gasp, change it.)
Anyway, back to the point. In 1964, University of California Berkley student organizer Jack Weinberg coined the phrase that became the definitive counter-culture mantra: Don’t trust anyone over 30. Those were the days when political activists fully engaged in a national battle of wills for the good of the social order. Sixteen years later, my publisher was still having none of it, reminding me often that as long as I was UNDER 30, he had no reason to heed, much less trust, my point-counterpoints to his editorial positions. We agreed to disagree.
These days we 1960s and ’70s counter-culture warriors are fussing on Facebook about “young people” and sounding more curmudgeonly by the hour. We’re clucking tongues and shaking heads with back-throated grumbles as 20-somethings pack the bars, run amok on college campuses and in dorm rooms and generally throw off such things as masks, social distancing and, quite likely, hand washing. Oh, hear the lament on social media over youthful miscreants doing precisely what under-30s have done since, well, always: Ignoring the rules, going about doing whatever the heck they want.
Crikey, grownups. What were we smoking (to use another hippy-dippy phrase) when we thought young ones would do the right things upon returning to classrooms and campuses in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic? What, like they were going to do it because “we said so”? In what universe has that ever worked?
We should instead be listening to — and trusting — the under-30s if we are to challenge Covid-19. They can and will step up with solutions.
I remember being under-30. I remember knowing answers and being dismissed because how could anyone so young know stuff. And, we, we grownups? Can we stop fussing long enough to remember the strength and righteousness with which we fought to end a war, secure the rights to vote, protect the environment and re-shape our parents’ worlds despite their clinging to a past WE dismissed? Can we stop clucking our tongues and instead empower these young ones? They, every angry, goofy, scared, careless, clueless, demanding, wonderful under-30-something, won’t wait for us to stop dithering. Their leaders are shifting into position. We old boomer warriors either support them as they take the lead, or they will, as we did 50 years, roll right over the old generations.
On Monday, Aug. 17, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill said it had changed its mind after two weeks of in-person classes and an outbreak of Covid-19 clusters on campus. Everyone back to remote learning. The day before the announcement, the Daily Tar Heel Editorial Board called the administration to task in an exceptionally powerful editorial, “We all saw this coming.”
We all saw this coming. In his fall semester welcome message, Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz wrote, “As always, remember that it is our shared responsibility to keep each other safe. Every person you walk by on campus will be counting on you to diligently work to prevent the spread of the virus.” But University leadership should have expected students, many of whom are now living on their own for the first time, to be reckless. Reports of parties throughout the weekend come as no surprise. Though these students are not faultless, it was the University’s responsibility to disincentivize such gatherings by reconsidering its plans to operate in-person earlier on. The administration continues to prove they have no shame, and the bar for basic decency keeps getting lower. … We’re angry — and we’re scared. We’re tired of the gaslighting, tired of the secrecy, tired of being treated like cash cows by a University with such blatant disregard for our lives.
I like these young ones (and their Gen X parents and older siblings). I’m ready for the leadership that will come from these Xers and Millennials. I see it in the “children” of my family; in their friends; in the places where they live, work and play. It’s their time.