Most Likely to Succeed

Oh very young, what will you leave us this time?
You’re only dancing on this earth for a short while.

-Cat Stevens

I heard these lyrics the other night while making dinner and realized it was one of those songs that has left a permanent imprint on me, the kind of song that intertwines with a specific memory or a specific life juncture, when your feelings of happiness, sadness, or confusion collides with music and your sense of life’s fleeting nature becomes acute.  I was introduced to Cat Stevens by a girl I had an intense, but brief friendship with in high school back in Iowa in the 1980s.  Her name was Sue and she was Canadian.  She moved to the United States when her parents got divorced and her dad’s publishing company transferred him from Toronto to Des Moines.  At seventeen, having lived my whole life in one state, I no longer felt like I was just watching paint dry.  I felt like I was the drying paint.  Sue’s arrival was the biggest cultural expansion I had had to date, save my parents bringing me back kimonos from their trip to Japan.  Sue introduced me to taboo things like smoking cigarettes at Rocky Rococo Pizza when we were supposed to be in the school cafeteria or improvising vegetarian sandwiches in my kitchen after school.  These were rebellious, not-to-be discussed activities for proper, tradition-following girls in the Midwest.  I knew I needed to expand my horizons when putting grated carrots in a sandwich felt subversive.

I remember listening to Cat Stevens on a mixed-tape Sue and I kept rewinding from the cassette deck in her light blue Nissan as we blazed down I-35 to Kansas City — without our parents’ knowledge — on a covert prom dress hunting mission.  We were Thelma and Louise before the movie came out, except instead of fleeing abusive men, we were fleeing protective conformity. We didn’t know what we were “going to do” in the next chapters of our lives, we just knew it was going to be different. In retrospect, I am astounded at how limited my field of vision for future options was.  I thought by getting out of my physical location, I would somehow become more interesting, better.  I thought by “blowing this pop stand,” I would be shedding the blase and inhabiting the cool. How I wish I could go back now and tell my burgeoning adult self, you’re misguided.  You’re looking for action in the wrong place. How I wish I had had this current generation of young people to beckon me away from the warped definition of success that I and everyone in my generation, X, had been presented with, the one that is all about upward mobility and accumulating things.  How I wish I would have developed my young adulthood around what I wanted to leave on this Earth, instead of what I wanted to take.

In retrospect, what I was really craving was less something different than something meaningful, but Sue and I were products of our environment: white, upper middle class girls in suburbia, pre-globalization, pre-Information Age.  We knew some things, but we were in the Stone Age in terms of awareness of the problems in the world compared to teenagers today.  I wonder how young people feel now when they hear all of us old fogies talk about how much simpler life used to be, how innocent.  I wonder if they understand that the innocence we enjoyed was a byproduct of our ignorance. One could argue that things weren’t as bad “then” as they are “now.”  But one could also argue that for a lot of people in a lot of parts of the world…oh yes, they were.  We just didn’t know, and as a result, we kind of cared less. I volunteered occasionally and processed the gravity of some issues, but I was more enamored with actors than activists. At that time, my privilege blinded me from even conceiving of a life spent fighting for justice.  I had no clue that democracy wasn’t something given to me, like a Christmas present, but something I had to keep alive through my actions, in perpetuity.

“I feel really awake,” Thelma says to her soul sister, Louise.  “I don’t recall ever feeling this awake.  You know?  Everything looks different now.  You feel like that?  You feel like you got something to live for now?”

Whatever plans I had for myself on March 14th, 2018, they were usurped by the thousands of American students spilling out of schools across the country, pleading in solidarity, for an end to the gun violence plaguing their nascent lives. My feelings of despair about America, that we are all just too divided and too powerless to come together to tackle everything we must confront — gun violence, climate crisis, war, racism, sexism, state and corporate propaganda — that feeling took a back seat to the March for Our Lives.  Young America’s response to gun violence was just something I had never experienced before.  Their coming together was a hybrid protest/piece of performance art, a series of mosaics colored by their diversity and shared purpose.  This was a representation of protest unique to their generation, a generation with profound awareness (a burden and a blessing), and, perhaps more importantly, a generation with unparalleled civic responsibility. They are fighting not only for theirfuture, but a future, and as untraditional as it might be, we should let them lead the way.  Those of us who did not grow up fearing being shot in the buildings that our parents put us in so that we might learn to become productive citizens should take a back seat now, too.  Because our young people have a winning combination of courage, idealism, context, and stakes. They have a different vision of what success looks like, and it is collective, not individual.  If progressivism is going to have a much needed coming of age in this nation, we need to toss the keys to the young activists who are coming of age right now.

Meredith Anton is an independent writer living in the mountains of southern Vermont.

More articles by:
Weekend Edition
June 22, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Karl Grossman
Star Wars Redux: Trump’s Space Force
Andrew Levine
Strange Bedfellows
Jeffrey St. Clair
Intolerable Opinions in an Intolerant Time
Paul Street
None of Us are Free, One of Us is Chained
Edward Curtin
Slow Suicide and the Abandonment of the World
Celina Stien-della Croce
The ‘Soft Coup’ and the Attack on the Brazilian People 
James Bovard
Pro-War Media Deserve Slamming, Not Sainthood
Louisa Willcox
My Friend Margot Kidder: Sharing a Love of Dogs, the Wild, and Speaking Truth to Power
David Rosen
Trump’s War on Sex
Mir Alikhan
Trump, North Korea, and the Death of IR Theory
Christopher Jones
Neoliberalism, Pipelines, and Canadian Political Economy
Barbara Nimri Aziz
Why is Tariq Ramadan Imprisoned?
Robert Fantina
MAGA, Trump Style
Linn Washington Jr.
Justice System Abuses Mothers with No Apologies
Martha Rosenberg
Questions About a Popular Antibiotic Class
Ida Audeh
A Watershed Moment in Palestinian History: Interview with Jamal Juma’
Edward Hunt
The Afghan War is Killing More People Than Ever
Geoff Dutton
Electrocuting Oral Tradition
Don Fitz
When Cuban Polyclinics Were Born
Ramzy Baroud
End the Wars to Halt the Refugee Crisis
Ralph Nader
The Unsurpassed Power trip by an Insuperable Control Freak
Lara Merling
The Pain of Puerto Ricans is a Profit Source for Creditors
James Jordan
Struggle and Defiance at Colombia’s Feast of Pestilence
Tamara Pearson
Indifference to a Hellish World
Kathy Kelly
Hungering for Nuclear Disarmament
Jessicah Pierre
Celebrating the End of Slavery, With One Big Asterisk
Rohullah Naderi
The Ever-Shrinking Space for Hazara Ethnic Group
Binoy Kampmark
Leaving the UN Human Rights Council
Nomi Prins 
How Trump’s Trade Wars Could Lead to a Great Depression
Robert Fisk
Can Former Lebanese MP Mustafa Alloush Turn Even the Coldest of Middle Eastern Sceptics into an Optimist?
Franklin Lamb
Could “Tough Love” Salvage Lebanon?
George Ochenski
Why Wild Horse Island is Still Wild
Ann Garrison
Nikki Haley: Damn the UNHRC and the Rest of You Too
Jonah Raskin
What’s Hippie Food? A Culinary Quest for the Real Deal
Raouf Halaby
Give It Up, Ya Mahmoud
Brian Wakamo
We Subsidize the Wrong Kind of Agriculture
Patrick Higgins
Children in Cages Create Glimmers of the Moral Reserve
Patrick Bobilin
What Does Optimism Look Like Now?
Don Qaswa
A Reduction of Economic Warfare and Bombing Might Help 
Robin Carver
Why We Still Need Pride Parades
Jill Richardson
Immigrant Kids are Suffering From Trauma That Will Last for Years
Thomas Mountain
USA’s “Soft” Coup in Ethiopia?
Jim Hightower
Big Oil’s Man in Foreign Policy
Louis Proyect
Civilization and Its Absence
David Yearsley
Midsummer Music Even the Nazis Couldn’t Stamp Out