I checked back in with some of my old Madison comrades who've moved on to other towns to find out what they were up to, and to show that Madison is still exporting the cause of freedom to all corners of the U.S.A.
Berkeley, Ann Arbor, Northampton, Gainesville, Austin, Eugene, Boulder, Madison -- lots of American college towns have radical reputations dating back at least a generation. Visit them these days, however, and you get a sense that most have been resting on their patchouli-scented laurels.
Not so Madison. Our reputation is still deserved. The hippie days I remember growing up, when the Mifflin Street Block Party still reeked of cannabis, not stale beer, and long hair was still the thing for young rebs (been there, done that), those are long gone. But the commitment to social change is not only still here, it's amped-up from the 1980s.
In the 1990s we saw the emergence of Progressive Dane, that dread pirate political party, scourge of the Wisconsin State Journal. There were student occupations of Bascom Hall and the Capitol and Regents meetings, leading to mass arrests, and an anti-mining movement that got Exxon Minerals so worried it fled the Midwest. Hundreds of Madisonians turned up in Seattle, Miami, D.C. and Quebec to shut down the World Trade Organization and Free Trade Area of the Americas. And the momentum's continued into recent years, with the anti-war movement and immigrant rights movements pulling thousands and tens of thousands into the streets.
I share all of this history, because I've got to get something off my chest. Back in the 1990s, as a 20-something activist, there were two lines I heard all the time, both of which gave me fits. The younger activists who were my age would talk about how the '60s generation had "sold out." The older folks I ran into would channel their parents' generation, and do the, "what's wrong with young people these days?" routine, except that unlike their parents, they meant, "why don't they firebomb ROTC, like my buddies in the '60s did?"
Both attitudes were way off. Most of the people who were actually active in the '60s are still doing good works today. And as for the folks who complained about "student apathy"? Well, let's just say I didn't see many of them at the barricades in Seattle.
Now that I am not just a shade into my 30s, but going deep into them, I'm in a different place. I still want the boomers to recognize the contributions of my fellow Gen-X'ers and Y'ers. But I also want the new upstart radicals to know that my "Slacker generation" isn't slacking off.
To make that case, I checked back in with some of my old Madison comrades who've moved on to other towns to find out what they were up to, and to show that Madison is still exporting the cause of freedom to all corners of the U.S.A.. Three Facebook email blasts and a couple days later, here's what I learned...
The colors of my generation were purple, black and blue. Yes, we got the stuffing beaten and shot out of us in Seattle, D.C., and Miami. But here the blue stands for labor, the black for the anarchism that was then in vogue, and the purple for the totem color of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU). Organizing health care workers, janitors, and security staff with SEIU in California, Florida, Maryland, D.C., Ohio, and Wisconsin are Geoff Goodman*, Ben Runkle, Brendan O'Sullivan, Samantha West*, Eric Brakken, Rich Gibson, Vanessa Bliss, Molly McGrath, and Mike Lauer, among others. Providing legal representation for those same workers is Katie Roberson-Young*.
Other Madisonians have been organizing with other unions: Jill Cartwright with Unite Here!, Jay Driskell and Todd Price with the American Federation of Teachers, and Jayson Pope and others with the National Writers Guild. David Alvarado* is currently stationed in South Africa with the AFL-CIO Solidarity Center.
It gets more exciting still:
- Joe Zefran is in Ireland with Doctors without Borders.
- Matt Bey* is an anarchist lawyer in Austin, Texas.
- Austin King (remember him?) directs the national Financial Justice Project for ACORN.
- Amanda Klonsky teaches arts and literacy at the Cook County Juvenile Detention Center.
- Mike He is in California stopping climate change by inventing new technologies in solar thermal renewable energy.
- Erik Gustafson*, a vet of the 1991 Gulf War, founded the Education for Peace in Iraq Center.
- Ben Wikler* has ghostwritten a lot of what Jon Stewart and Al Franken have to say, and is at the moment working to strengthen civil society in Argentina.
- David Muhammad* and Matt Nelson are doing community organizing in Milwaukee.
- Debbie Rasmussen is the new publisher of the fourth wave feminist magazine, Bitch!
And there's more:
- Pabitra Benjamin* is in Washington working for "Liberty & Justice for All."
- Vance Gathing* is an attorney with Brooklyn Legal Services.
- James Ploeser* is Field Director for fellow Wisconsinite Lori Wallach's Global Trade Watch in Washington, D.C..
- Julia Beatty is rocking the progressive foundation world in the Big Apple.
- Tim Seung is a City Commissioner in New Orleans.
- Thomas Wheatley is organizing for gay rights in Oregon, while his wife Kalpana Krishnamurthy covers the racial justice front.
- Diallo Shabbazz is organizing with the NAACP in New York.
- Jacob Perlman* is mentoring young Jews in California.
- Rebecca Manski*, my sister, just returned to the states from five years of advocacy for the Bedouin in Israel and for workers rights in Ramallah, Palestine.
And that's just for starters.
Oh, what's up with the asterisks next to people's names? Those are the folks who grew up in Madison, and most of the rest are Wisconsin-stock. And of course, I didn't tell you about all the folks who are still here today, and are still knocking down walls and opening doors here in the Four Lakes area.
So, look, you Boomers: Don't give me anymore guff about those of us of the supposed Slacker generations. We're still here in the trenches, and as we get older, we're moving up the progressive chain of command.
And as for you, you 20-something upstart Millennials, I've got just one question: What's wrong with you kids these days? Why don't you occupy Bascom Hall like we use to, eh?