When I arrived at VCU in Richmond in 1989, I remember seeing an art installation for the Tiananmen Square protestors on the lawn of the student commons. It featured a replica of “The Goddess of Democracy,” which had been built by Chinese art students in Tiananmen Square, before the sculpture was destroyed and many protestors were massacred by the Chinese army in early June.
The installation featured hundreds of small placards with Chinese characters sketched on them in red paint. These placards were meant to represent each of the protestors killed that day. A moving tribute.
How did this affect me at the time? I felt the proper sense of outrage, and was proud to be in a new, exciting place where political statements like this were made. Moving to Richmond, Virginia from small-town Southwestern Virginia was a liberating and eye-opening experience, as I’m sure this rite of passage has been for countless others. I went on to do what most college kids do: try to get good grades, meet new people, and learn more about life away from home. But this novel display of solidarity has stuck with me over the years: it is still one of first images that come to mind when I think about those heady days so long ago now.
Back then, when the World Wide Web was still in its formative stages, how connected did I really feel with those protestors? I remember watching footage of the infamous “Tank Man,” and being shocked at how heartless the Chinese government seemed to be. However, back then, we Americans still enjoyed a comforting if false sense of distance from international events such as these. China seemed to be a world away from us. The Soviet Union had just fallen, and pro-capitalists were gloating over the fall of communism as a viable system. Most people my age were busy preparing to launch their careers into an early-90’s recession economy. Sounds kinda familiar, doesn’t it?
So although I felt for the lives lost, and found the wanton brutality repugnant, I didn’t see how what had happened there really affected me here in America. That has changed now. Thank you, VCU Art Department, for creating a lasting image in my mind of what it means to stand up with creativity and courage against a brutal regime.
In 2011, we don’t need much prompting to see how much has changed in our country. The largesse of the 60’s and 70’s has dried up, and we are starting to see through the capitalist façade. After the dot com bust, I noticed that our country seems to have recessions every ten years or so. This recent deep recession should just be called what it is: the second Great Depression.
After 9/11, the Enron scandal, ten years of global warfare, bank bailouts, the deregulation and swindling on Wall Street, and the travesty of a politicized Supreme Court, it’s hard to recognize what we have become. The ridiculous inquiry into Bill Clinton’s private life paved the way for the current penchant for “reality shows,” trials-of-the-century, and the general exploitation of human emotions for entertainment purposes. When is our country going to grow into something more than an adolescent gang of hoodlums snickering at Super Bowl half-time nip slips?
Now I understand how my mother felt as she watched the 60’s generation come of age. She shared their politics, but was born twenty years earlier than your average hippie. Occupy Wall Street (and beyond) is the first political movement in my lifetime that I feel compelled to take part in. I have seen the ups-and-downs of our modern job market and societal mores, and so instinctively, I know I have to create my own reality, my own working environment, my own value system. The tired old Vietnam-era, “uptight squares vs. wild hippies” framing of our country as a cultural battleground must stop. We are bigger and better than that.
We are looking at the first generation of college-age young adults who may never have the opportunities that their parents did. Training our youth to think critically isn’t going to work out so well when the target is our own crumbling society. The concentration of wealth in the hands of a small minority has happened a few times before in history, and the result is usually the same: revolt and revolution. When is America going to drop its puritanical obsession with everyone’s sex lives, and start to see the crisis for what it is: the majority class of workers against the minority class of corporate investors?
This past year had some record-breaking weather, including a tsunami which devastated Japan, which led to the world’s worst nuclear disaster. This should be a wake-up call to many, but instead, perhaps due to overwhelm, we giggle at the latest case of sexual indiscretions. How long will America be able to keep this up? What if a nuclear winter were to occur, and we all became sterile? There wouldn’t be many left after a generation to publish the tabloids.
As more and more draconian laws are passed, to placate a fearful yet fading worldview, let’s take the inspiration of the Arab Spring and American Autumn into 2012, and remember that people power will always triumph over the fickle few. Why don’t we forget about 1960’s-era debates – it’s time for Gen Y *and* Gen X to come into their own. We can’t live in the shadow of the Baby Boomers forever. Let’s start framing this in modern terms: a struggle not only for the welfare of the little guy, but for the sustainability of our ecology and planet. Peace. Solidarity. No nukes in any hands. Occupy peace of mind.