Op/Ed

Ways of Seeing: We really were going to change the world

Once upon a time, I was young. That’s a statement everybody, other than the very young, can make, but I state it for a reason. There was a time when we were going to change the world.
It’s been 50 years since the environmental movement got started with the first Earth Day in 1970. Fifty years since John Lennon wrote the lyrics “All we are saying is give peace a chance.” A bit more than fifty years since the Civil Rights movement was considered over, after wide-ranging anti-discrimination laws were passed. Not quite forty years since a nuclear freeze resolution passed in 88% of Vermont’s Town Meetings. Wow! We were going to change the world.
Upon leaving college, many of my colleagues vowed not to join the military-industrial complex, choosing ways to help the world rather than to make a lot of money. (Student debt was not much of a thing in those days.) College officials worried we were all going to join communes, but instead we became teachers and builders, social workers and artists, farmers, labor organizers, and environmentalists. We were going to change the world.
So how did we get to where we are today? I feel like I got on an airplane that somebody highjacked. It’s not a plane, though. We are not passive passengers while a crazed pilot moves us to our next destination. People speak of youth as idealistic, as if that is a sweet but essentially foolish thing. I don’t think it is. Idealism means pursuit of the ideal, of the best, and that seems worth our efforts. Idealism might just mean getting out of our seats and taking over the plane.
When youth from gun-ravaged schools speak up and challenge us, it is time to act. When a young Swedish girl starts leaving school to protest lack of environmental actions — and when there are ample indicators that fifty years from now the environmental devastation may be complete — it is time to act. When nuclear arms treaties are dismantled, when families are treated as criminals and torn apart at our borders, it is time act. When millions of supposedly educated people cannot tell truth from lies, facts from fiction, it is time to act. When people are dying unnecessarily because of those lies and fictions, it is time to act.
I feel like my generation got it right, and then got it wrong. Here’s our last chance to get it right again (and it’s okay to jump in even if you are younger). If that’s idealistic, great! We can change the world, but it won’t happen unless we get out of our seats and get involved. Each of us has issues for which we feel the most passion. Choose one and go for it. Write letters, blogs, posts. Send money or go yourself to work with the relevant organizations. Do research and find out the facts; then share them. Put solar panels on your roof. Run for office or work for a candidate whose vision most closely matches yours. And do look at their whole vision, because any of us can disagree on a single issue, but our state and country are complicated. There are many, many issues that need focus and action.
John McCain said, “It is foolish to view realism and idealism as incompatible or to consider our power and wealth as encumbered by the demands of justice, morality, and conscience.” We can kick the hijackers out of the plane and get it back on course. We can work for our ideals, even if our eyes are wide open. We have been changing the world — all too much when it comes to the environment — but we can do it right this time. There really is not a choice.
Laurie Cox is a retired school counselor and long-time Ripton selectboard member. Besides occasional writing, she sings with Maiden Vermont, pursues art, takes long hikes with her dog(s) and seasonally gardens. She also is about to become more actively involved in things political, environmental, and just.

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