Punk isn’t about the way you look or the music you listen to. It is an attitude of rebellion against what people tell you to do and believe.
For me, and many of my fellow Gen Xers, my punk attitude came from growing up with people I didn’t relate to running the show. They freaked out about drugs at home and communism abroad. They wasted tax dollars mismanaging all sorts of things that would eventually go away on their own. They should have been focusing on building our communities and our education system. They should have been evolving our policies to pave the way for women and minorities who stopped being okay with their second class status.
25 years ago our refusal to embrace the status quo was sometimes interpreted as “slacking.” But we did care. We were just not in a hurry to participate in the existing paradigm. As kids, our lives were shaped by the shattering of our parents’ relationships. The charade of their adult values collapsed around us, revealing to us that our child mind was purer and clearer than theirs. We sought alternative paths to adulthood that were more expressive, more genuine, and more fulfilling.
We said "fuck you" to the man, because we knew what he was selling was a lie. We deliberately adopted styles to turn him off so that our secret club, while poor and smelling of piss, was safe from his cheating ways. And we went along like that for a while – until punk broke and the Internet came along to keep us from being directionless forever. It was really the perfect platform for our generation. Creative, flexible, expressive, alien to the old school, but also powerful and profitable.
Now here we are, 20 years later, and when I look at the world, on many fronts I see progress. Decriminalized drugs, urban renewal, gay rights, more acceptance of women and minorities in untraditional roles. But there is still a long way to go.
So, middle-aged America, what do we do now? We are older, our perspectives are more nuanced, our lives are more complicated, we are more risk averse, and (yikes) more conservative ourselves. But it's not just us anymore, it also about our kids. Do we really want to teach them to settle for less, when so much more is possible?
We still have the fight in us, I know we do. But we need to find new strategies, and to return to some old ones.
From our punk rock past:
- Let's get reacquainted with our inner rebel and be willing to pave the way to change.
- Let's gets connected and rally around cultural identifiers that remind us we are not in this alone.
- Let's reclaim the Internet as our own and find a way to make it more substantial and impactful on our real lives.
From our middle-aged present:
- Let's use our collective intelligence to outsmart the system so we can get our way without ending up in jail or unemployed.
- Let's have faith that we can do it and the patience to persevere.
Here are a few things I'd like to see addressed:
Soul-sucking jobs – No one working anywhere should be treated like a robot without a brain and forced to work so much that they have inadequate time for themselves or their family. This happens at all levels of the workforce, including high-paying jobs. We need enlightened HR policies and management practices that provide for work/life balance and professional development. And we need to stop paying hardworking people so little that they can't provide the basic necessities for themselves and their families.
Classist striving in education – We are neglecting our kids by testing them to death, and not giving them enough freedom to be kids. Far from the promise of quality education for all, we have created communities of haves and have-nots. Learning is a whole-child process. Kids in low-income communities struggle in school because of the poverty they are raised in. This is not their fault, and it is not their parents’ fault, and it is not their teachers’ fault. It is a systematic problem and can only be fixed by changing the system.
Unsustainable business practices – Let's stop pretending that our planet has unlimited resources. It's time to mandate metrics that will enable shareholders to hold businesses accountable for their practices, not just their profits. It’s time for more serious tax incentives to reward sustainability.
Money in politics – Let's find ways to take the money out of politics. Good, principled, effective leaders need to be able to get elected and stay in office without having to spend more then half their time raising money. These are our public servants, and they have hard jobs. Let's devote money and time to creating online resources for political education, activity, awareness, and elections. Let’s create fair and affordable ways for politicians to get the word out about their campaigns by requiring traditional media outlets like radio and television to allocate space at low costs as a public good.
You may or may not agree that these are important issues, and that’s just fine with me. My agenda is not to convince you to believe what I do. I think for myself and I expect the same of you – “think” being the operative word.
I’m both – and I’m neither – liberal nor conservative, and I fucking hate labels. I’m just punk rock – at 45.