Readers respond to "Across the Great Divide," by Cary Tennis.

By Salon Staff
Published December 20, 2002 7:55PM (EST)

[Read the story.]

Thank you for publishing Cary Tennis' account of his foray into the younger generation. I'm a 22-year-old leftist and antiwar activist, and much of what Tennis described brought a knowing grin to my face.

My own politicization was poised ambivalently between the past and the present. Like my introduction to punk rock, which came as Nirvana had begun to rearrange underground music, I was politically radicalized in the lull just before the anti-sweatshop movement and the Seattle WTO protests transformed and energized at least the white sector of the student movement. Perhaps that's why I found myself swaying back and forth between the Tennis and Brody perspectives in your piece.

I could criticize the article for glossing over the fine textures of the antiwar movement, or for representing today's socially conscious youth through one not so representative kid from the Upper West Side, or for predictably confusing the Revolutionary Communist Party with the Workers World Party. But I'd rather just applaud Cary Tennis and Salon for making an honest effort.

That may sound like damning with faint praise, and I suppose it is. But Tennis' article nevertheless stands head and shoulders above most of what passes for coverage of young activists in the mainstream media and in hip para-mainstream media like Salon. It's refreshing to see an article that isn't either pandering to youth and fulsomely praising them for being so much more reasonable and pragmatic than the boomers, or castigating them for not properly catering to the tastes of aging middle-class liberals.

I don't have a generalized antipathy to the boomer generation, and I tend to be suspicious of that attitude in my peers, since it typically arises out of narcissism or arrogance. Indeed, I reserve my deepest respect for people of my father's (and Cary Tennis') generation who are still quietly plugging away, providing both wisdom and hard work in the service of a revitalized left, refusing to either give up or sell out. Perhaps some of those humble veterans need a journalist to follow them around, so people of all ages can be reminded that today's radicals -- and the more enlightened aspects of our politics -- didn't spring from nothing, but were the fruits of the labor of all those who kept up the struggle during the lean years.

-- Peter Frase

Oh ye gawds. Please. Is there anything that can possibly be done to make a boomer get over himself, ever? Would somebody please do it to Cary Tennis, right now?

I'm sorry, but his puzzled-sincerity act as he goes about doing fieldwork on my generation (I'm 31, a core Xer) reminds me of nothing more than awful college dates who called themselves feminists and spent our evenings yammering to me about being unable to "truly understand" women's experience. It was their inability to compass the experience that so fascinated them, not the experience itself or (shocking thought) me as an individual. Cary's article isn't about Sam Brody at all, except inasmuch as he serves as a mirror for Cary's goggle-eyed discovery that the boomer experience of youth isn't universal.

And I'm not sure whom Cary thinks he's performing a service for here -- other boomers newly awakened to basic adult self-awareness at 50-something? Well, much good may it do them -- but I'll tell you one thing, the rest of us don't need the boomers to "understand" us anymore than I need a male partner to really grok what it feels like to menstruate. You miss all possibility of real connection by making it anthropological.

Cary, if you'd just make the leap from wondering how young people in the mass could be so different from you to viewing individuals on their own terms, you'd actually be interacting like a grown-up. Then, we might all be able to do something together.

-- Cyd Harrell

In his article, "Across the Great Divide", Cary Tennis states "I had been thinking about why the mass movement of the 1960s seemed to crumble after the Vietnam War ended ..."

The answer is that the young men were no longer in danger of being drafted and killed in Vietnam. While my fellow baby boomers like to romanticize the late '60s/early '70s, the reality then as now is that it was all about self-interest. The focus in "self-actualization," "self-improvement," "self-expression" and "self-discovery" is our individual selves. And this total self-absorption in maintaining our self-interest explains everything from the sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll to the Masters of the Universe, the "Bonfire of the Vanities," the monsters-of-the-road vehicles and the midterm elections.

My husband, a Vietnam-era veteran, used to state in the early '70s that the best thing that could happen to the country was to disenfranchise the entire baby boom generation. We thought he was being facetious, but apparently he was merely farsighted.

-- Carolyn Cooper

I am heartened to know that radicalism is not quite moribund on the campuses. But hey, Brody, have you ever put your ass on the line? Did you ever sit in or march in a place where you could be disappeared without a trace? Have you ever seen your best friend killed in combat? Did you ever fight a war and then come back home to oppose it, only to get beaten up and thrown in jail? Don't write us aging hippies off. You might be able to learn something from us.

-- Christopher Key

After reading Mr. Tennis' article about Brody, I'm find myself forced to respond. After recently graduating from a school full of people like him -- trust-fund activists -- I grow stronger in my conviction that his cause is a noble one, but his methods of making a tangible difference are so insulated from reality it's scary. What he has failed to realize is that their movement has to persuade Middle America into their way of thinking. To do so, it needs a public face that isn't covered with a black bandanna. It needs a representative that people who don't have the luxury of picketing on a Wednesday afternoon can take seriously and actually respect. Just look at what the lack of a unifying, central force has done to the Democratic party: fragmentation and political impotence.

He might want to live in a world where everyone should have a voice and everyone should be heard for the sake of equality. And that thinking is fine in the coddled environment of college. But until he realizes that some voices are more articulate and easier to listen to than others, his movement isn't going anywhere.

-- Paul Johnson

I'm glad that young Mr. Brody is exercising his right to free speech. I can only hope that he can remember that many other 19-year-old men and women (many of whom share Mr. Brody's views) are spending the holidays far away from home because they volunteered to serve their country and preserve Mr. Brody's right to free speech.

-- Eric Hoernemann

I'm a 50-year-old woman who cannot believe I am 50; the past seems so near. Your article re: comparisons between the children of the '60s and today's antiwar students was wonderfully compelling. I am eager to read further articles.

-- Barb Adams

I'm surprised that someone who writes such insightful advice to others on a daily basis would produce such a self-indulgent article with the claim of "bridging the gulf" to the younger generation. If Cary Tennis really wants to get to know the people he chose to visit, perhaps he should, in his own words, "shut up and listen." Less than half of this article is actually about Sam Brody; the rest is Tennis' jaded nostalgia. Even when Brody is allowed to speak, his statements are book-ended by Tennis' daydreaming.

Here's a thought: If you want to know about how something affected your subject, ask him. Don't just present speculations based on superficial judgments. How can Salon readers hope to understand Tennis' thesis if every observation is viewed through the lens of his justification for his own actions 30 years ago?

-- Karen Lamprey

Salon Staff

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