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Kathryn Eastburn Promo Fall 2010

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The Middle Distance 9.24.10: “Through the Fog”

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photo by Sean Cayton

Sometimes it’s hard to see clearly through the haze, out here in the middle distance. Even on the most pristine Colorado fall day, with bluebird skies and luminous white puffs of clouds overhead, the fog of experience and fatigue obscures our view.

My generation, the notorious Baby Boomers born between 1946 and 1963, are fast approaching retirement age, and all that we have stood for and experienced in our privileged lives seems up in smoke. Our parents, the venerated Greatest Generation, delivered, for the most part, on the promise that our lives would be better than theirs. But 77 million of us have somehow failed to deliver the same promise to our children, not to mention our grandchildren.

We rejected social conventions when we were young and changed social mores and attitudes in this country and around the world. But as a generation, we have failed to pass on or to grasp our own personal responsibility for the economic, social, and environmental conditions of the neighborhood, the town, the state, the nation, the world we live in.

I speak for myself when I say that I have failed to live the courage of my convictions. I have settled for comfort when stepping outside my comfort zone might have been more effective. I have watched in despair as two wars launched by my country in the last decade have persisted and rained destruction on nations I know only as abstractions.. I have been a compliant witness to global warming and over-consumption. I have failed to be an example to my children of what it looks like to defend freedom by opposing the status quo.

So this week, I stepped out of the fog momentarily and attended a political rally in downtown Colorado Springs, where I was thrilled to meet Shelby Knox, a young activist who was the subject of a superb documentary film, The Education of Shelby Knox, that premiered at Sundance in 2005 when Shelby was 18.

Now 24, Shelby has spent the last six years spreading the film’s message and leading the fight for reproductive rights and personal empowerment of young people through community and political organizing. The film tells the story of her awakening when she was a high school student in Lubbock, Texas, and took on the school system’s abstinence-only sex education policy. A curly-haired all-American girl who had once imagined herself starring on Broadway, Shelby defied her Southern Baptist upbringing and her loving but cautious parents to speak her truth and stand up for what she believed was right.

“It was personal,” Shelby told the crowd gathered on The Pioneers Museum lawn. “One of my best friends, a 15-year old girl was pregnant, and told me she believed her boyfriend when he told her you couldn’t get pregnant the first time.”

Throughout college and after, Knox continued to advocate for young people, insisting that they educate themselves on issues that affected them, like sex education and reproductive rights. She rejects the perception of her generation as apathetic. She proudly calls herself a feminist of the 4th, spelled ‘F-O-R-T-H’ wave.

I asked her how she keeps it up, how she manages to remain committed and active.

She reminds me that the personal is political; that when we are talking about reproductive rights, we are talking directly about people’s real, personal lives. And protecting our personal rights is our personal responsibility.

Shelby said, “You look around and think maybe the school board will do it, maybe the church will do it. But in Lubbock, at my high school, the group that was being hurt by the sex education policies of the school, the kids whose lives were affected, stood up for our own rights.”

She can’t imagine it any other way. She is a tireless community organizer and advocate for youth involvement in the social and political issues that affect their lives.

“You can’t leave your brothers and sisters alone while you take a rest,” she said.

My generation, poised by its sheer size to change the nature of aging in America, has been resting for far too long. According to a recent Harvard-Met Life study, Boomers are less civically engaged than the generation that preceded ours by every measure, including voting.

We need look no farther than our own kids for inspiration. When I finally grow up, when I reach my prime, I want to be like Shelby Knox, a young woman who can see through the fog, who lives the courage of her conviction.

“The Middle Distance” is published every Friday on The Big Something and airs each Saturday at 1 p.m. on KRCC right after This American Life.

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8 Responses to The Middle Distance, 9/24/10: "Through the Fog"

  1. Great read! Being a Baby Boomer myself what you write hits home. I’d like to let you know about my book-”The Reindeer Keeper”-a Christmas story us Baby Boomers can connect with. I invite you to check out http://www.thereindeerkeeper.com.

  2. jere martin says:

    I love Shelby Knox and the example of her convictions. My daughter and she were honored a few years ago for their activism for women and girls. You so eloquently wrote about our need to do what we can to make things right. I think it will take all generations, doing whatever intersects with each of our own talents and capabilities.

    Thank goodness Kathryn, we have your inspiring talent out there as a writer and observer…..and following in your footsteps having had some mentoring from you when she was young, my daughter Courtney E. Martin, who not coincidentally perhaps has her fourth book just released called: Do It Anyway: The New Generation of Activists. You can get more information about the book and see videos of some of the amazing young activists she profiled on the website doitanywaybook.org.

  3. Sandra says:

    You nailed it. The baby boomers’ children are worse off in many ways, the terrible high price of the ME generation. Still, many of us have learned a lot from our parents’ mistakes.

    Thank you for another beautifully articulated piece on an important issue (and “pishaw” on that bit downplaying your part).

    And to Shelby Knox, what an inspiration you are to women of all ages! THANK YOU!

  4. Always lovely to hear more of your voice Kathryn… I still miss your column in the Indy!

    I, too, am a baby boomer (born in 1953) and am proud of how my generation seemingly is the 1st (spelled FIRST) generation to dare come OUT of the fog of centuries of status quo. “If it was good enough for me it is good enough for my kids” our past generations would say…

    However we, seemingly, were more about “It wasn’t good for me and I am certainly going to do something DIFFERENT with my kids!”

    We came out of the fog of child abuse, trust in authority (including government and the AMA) and so forth. We became critical thinkers. We started the revolution for a better world.

    Is it better? You bet it is! Let’s not sell ourselves short. We have a LOT to be proud of…

  5. Ellen says:

    Today’s column is stunningly good. A great reminder to get or stay involved in issues so important to women.

  6. Kim says:

    Whoa! Hold on there. I am NOT fast approaching retirement!! I am considered a baby-boomer, because I was born 2 days shy of the next generation, but I can not relate to the baby boomers at all. I am 46 and still have a lot more working years left in me. I’m looking foward to moving up the chain and taking the place of those baby boomers who will be retiring in droves.

  7. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by ShelbyKnox, janniaragon and Sean Vessey, Mary Churchill. Mary Churchill said: RT @ShelbyKnox: A Boomer writer has very kind words about me, #youngfems & a message to her generation: get back on the front lines! http://ht.ly/2JDFe [...]

  8. kathryn says:

    Kim is correct. I should have said that the oldest of the Boomers are approaching retirement age.

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