Left Coast Voices

"I would hurl words into the darkness and wait for an echo. If an echo sounded, no matter how faintly, I would send other words to tell, to march, to fight." Richard Wright, American Hunger

Archive for the tag “Cambodia”

Agent Orange – Not Going Away?

During the Vietnam War (1961 – 1971) the US military launched a program called Operation Ranch Hand in which chemicals (herbicides and defoliants) which the Vietnamese  government estimates killed or maimed  400,000 people. In the ensuing years they claim that half a million children were born with birth defects.[1]

It was later discovered that Agent Orange (a 50:50 mixture of 2,4,5-T and 2,4-D, if that makes any sense to you) contained an extremely toxic compound (2,3,7,8-tetrachlorodibenzodioxin). During Operation Ranch Handthe US military sprayed nearly 20 million US gallons (80 million liters)  mixed with jet fuel over Vietnam, Eastern Laos and parts of Cambodia. The goal of the program was to destroy the dense forests where the guerrillas took cover. In addition, they sought to destroy the resources needed by the indigenous population which would force them to live in the U.S. dominated cities. The idea here was to deprive the guerrillas of their rural support base and food supply.

All this is a history lesson, right? Wrong. History has a habit of not disappearing into books.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qYlzApY5MM0

And a CBS report:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=65KFpyxK0Ho&feature=related

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/ and on Twitter (@alonshalevsf).

Millennials – Another Point-of-View

I wrote a post on Friday about how I see the millennials and paid tribute to their parents. A few people have taken issue with me and claim that I wrote a very one-sided article. Probably true. So today I wish to focus on the other side of the coin. Ironically, the Pew report that I referenced on Friday, has something to substantiate this perspective.

Millennials claim that what sets them apart from previous generations is their relationship with technology. I think they mean that they are better connected to their family and friends, more in touch with cultural changes, and genuinely believe that technology unites rather than isolates people. I do not think we should read anything into the fact that 83% of millennials sleep with their cell phones. I know what you’re thinking!

Social historian Neil Howe disagrees. He sees millennials as sheltered by helicopter parents who wouldn’t even let them go unattended to the park to play. With their parents always there, picking them up from school, driving them to play dates and soccer practice, there should be little reason to wonder why the millennial has sought to leverage technology to build community.

While their parents fought for individual rights and boundaries, the millennial seeks community and acceptance. In many respects, they are more conventional with regard to social mores. “Asked about their life goals, 52% say being a good parent is most important to them, followed by having a successful marriage; 59% think that the trend of more single women having children is bad for society.”

The study also shows that they tend to see the trend of unmarried couples living together as not the optimum solution. Their desire for inclusiveness is well illustrated in that, though they support the institution of marriage, they believe that gay and interracial couple should share the marital experience.

One final point touches my work at the San Francisco Hillel Jewish Student Center. There is a general perception that the millennials are not interested in religion, or as one individual told me: “the millennials religion is themselves.” But what the study shows is that the young generation sees itself as spiritual and do pray. What it reveals is that the millennials are not attracted to institutional religion.

I think we can take great hope out of this study. This generation might not be turning out the way the older members of the community are (but then who ever did?), but this is a generation seeking experiences that are meaningful to them and they want to do this as part of a community.

Students are looking for community

Above all, the millennials are incredibly optimistic. This study has left me feeling optimistic too.

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist (now available on Kindle) and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/and on Twitter (#alonshalevsf).

Millennials – We are missing the point

The Pew Research Center has recently released a study comparing about the millennials. Since I work with college students I am particularly interested, though not surprised at the results.

Forty years ago, as the college campuses erupted in protests to the wars in Vietnam and Cambodia, students held sit-ins, threw stones at police and when the National Guard opened fire at Kent State, killing four students, and the entire college system was galvanized and ground to a halt.

It is hard to imagine anything galvanizing students today and the Pew study highlights how this generation, instead of rebelling against their parents actually embrace their values. An earlier study asked the students to list their three heroes. Most included at least one of their parents.

Forty years ago, 74% of students responded to a Gallup poll agreeing that their parents’ generation was corrupt and that they felt alienated from their values. Today’s college students are Facebook friends with their parents and text them on average 10x a week. They shop together because they wear the same clothes, listen to the same music, and the millennials credit their parents as having superior values to their own generation.

Parents and children still tied together virtually

This, and similar studies, has led to considerable criticism of the millennials: that they lack values and motivation, that they embrace an air of entitlement, that they are more concerned with the latest cell phone than the headlines of a newspaper.

There are two mistakes here. Firstly, if we are going to compare between the two generations, we would have to admit that this generation has better education, opinions that are more diverse and have an inherent belief in the system. But it is the advancement of technology and social media that is shaping this generation and it is making comparisons with past generations almost impossible.

But there is a second point that we are missing. While it is easy to berate the millennials while idealizing their parents’ radicalization at their age, we forget to give credit to this generation’s parents. These are the people who, through honest and committed parenting, have engendered the close bonds with their children. By listening to their music and watching their TV programs, this generation of parents are informed about their children as no other generation ever was.

These parents are deeply committed to being a part of their children’s’ lives without offering value judgments that would push their children away. By embracing their children and joining them on their own turf (Facebook, Twitter, texting), they are engendering a sense of intergenerational acceptance that is unique and deserves credit.

Perhaps it was something that evolved during those college protests forty years ago, but today we are so focused on the millennials, we forget that their parents are still out there holding their values up for the whole world to see.

When I meet the parents of my students and see their mutual love,  commitment and comfort, it inspires me to be a better parent to my children because I see the bond between them as a cause worth fighting for. 

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist (now available on Kindle) and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/and on Twitter (#alonshalevsf).

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