The Generation Connection

Generations assembling at Zuccotti Park,
October 2011.

The Occupy Movement has sparked a national brainstorming. It began with effective naming, slogans, high energy, and an endless conversation. Talk and more talk, all day and into exhilarating, sleepless nights. The Occupy Movement and the 1968 French May Revolution share quests for a public voice, shared “horizontal” leadership, and space for open-ended, open-minded debates.

One of the major similarities between events in 1968 Paris and 2011-12 NYC is the inter-generational nature of the protests. In the spring of 1968, I was in Paris, studying French and art and looking forward to celebrating my twenty-first birthday in the City of Light. Then the talk invaded our boarding house, where several high school and college students from the French provinces and other countries gathered around a huge oak dining room table to discuss their role, if any, in the Events of May. My French language was still limited, but I understood enough to realize that such a discussion could never have taken place in the America I had left behind. American adults in the 1960s were largely dismissive of student politics.

Workers and the French middle class (“bourgeoisie”) supported the student protests during a million-strong demonstration, Paris, May 1968.

Lawrence Ferlinghetti of San Francisco’s City Lights Books and beat poet fame wrote Love in the Days of Rage, a master work of fiction describing the 1968 Parisian “Events of May.” His American protaganist/observer was a 30-year-old American woman. I wondered how different the Revolution would have looked if she had been eighteen instead of thirty? And what if her boyfriend had been a twenty-one and a hopeful idealist instead of a seasoned, hardened, 30-something anarchist? Like Ferlinghetti, James Jones, the author of the quintessential World War II novel, From Here to Eternity, tried his hand at the May Revolution. But again, Jones’ narrator and protagonist in The Merry Month of May was far beyond his student years—a cynical, jaded, 49-year-old intellectual.

My novel on the subject, A Time to Cast Away Stones (available June 1) is written from the viewpoint of the generation that started and exemplified the May Revolution. If the view is from youth, I reasoned, there are years ahead and hope and belief that a better world will come to pass, and that what they do will be worthwhile. I have spent my adult life as a mother, teacher and university administrator, first at San Diego State and later at Stanford. Thanks to these close connections, my sympathy has surpassed my cynicism on issue after issue.

This is democracy – whether American or French. Please note the American flag at the center of this Occupy crowd in NYC (double click on the image to enlarge).

The Occupy Movement has proved to be far more sustainable, scalable, and effective than the May Revolution. If you are sick of Occupy, but think that anyway, it’s going away, watch the energy still there at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nF1B3l2lu1s&feature=youtu.be. Focus on the many generations of faces and the signs: “20% of American children live in poverty, changes needed” and “All of our grievances are connected.”

I am blessed with the hope of youth—now transmitted to a felicitous mix of generations—that the Occupy Movement weaves a powerful narrative into the fabric of American history.

Elise Frances Miller’s novel, A Time to Cast Away Stones, is set during the 1968 Berkeley antiwar protests and French May Revolution. Available June 1 from Sand Hill Review Press. Visit http://www.elisefmiller.com for more about the history of the May Revolution.

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3 Responses to The Generation Connection

  1. Christopher Wachlin says:

    Great connections, Elise. Thanks for this, and in advance, future interesting posts.

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  2. Marty Sorensen says:

    Hi Elise, I’m in Hawaii at the moment. In Honolulu across from the Academy of Art, in the park with the beautiful huge banyan tree, is a small encampment with two signs, one reading “Aloha Revolution” and the other, more meaningful, “Billions for Rail, Nothing for Roads”. This latter sign at least signals something many in the Occupy Movement wanted: concern on the part of government for what helps everyone, not just the few.

    Congratulations on your book and this blog – Marty

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    • Thanks, Marty, for your thoughtful comment. I’m fascinated that a form of the Occupy Movement has spread across the ocean to that “paradise,” which many might think to exempt from popular dissatisfaction. The issues of land use and the rights of native populations were highlighted in the recent film, The Descendents. Bravo to George Clooney, working as usual in the context of human rights and environmental concerns. It just shows that even in mythical islands or cities like Paris, where the human condition is involved, people are moved to take action in 2012. Nevertheless, I do hope your seas are calm and your cocktails are sparkling, wherever you are!

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