January 30, 2013

President Obama addresses the Millenials

By Cailtlyn Crenshaw–

President Obama references Seneca Falls, Selma and Stonewall in his recent inaugural speech.

“For we remember the lessons of our past,” President Obama declared in his second inaugural address last Monday.  Most notably, Obama remembered the lessons of Seneca Falls, Selma and Stonewall; however, these lessons seem to be more forgotten than remembered.

While some media outlets are proclaiming that the inclusion of the mention to Stonewall is a landmark for LGBT rights and activists, the cultural reference seems to be lost on the generation who it matters to the most: the millenials. During my Modern American Culture class after the inaugural address, the professor bluntly asked his 30 students, “How many of you know what all three of those references are?”

Not one hand went up. In a college classroom of millennials, not one hand went up knowing the significance of the president’s remarks.

When the women of 1848 assembled at Seneca Falls to fight for their rights or when civil rights demonstrators marched on Selma, Alabama for their rights or when the Stonewall riots sparked the modern fight for LGBT rights, no one imagined that these events would hold the cultural significance that they do today.

What does it matter if the president makes the first inclusion of the word “gay” in an inaugural address, when the generation who his policies affect the most are not aware of history as it ’s happening?  Obama assumed that his audience possessed a knowledge and awareness of current and past cultural events. In reality, we have lost a sense of cultural literacy, not only for the present, but also for the past.

It is this cultural amnesia, especially that of the millennial generation, that controls the future of our country. It is not only the absence of knowledge of important cultural events that calls for concern for this country’s future; it is the absence of a thirst for this knowledge.  What does it say about our country when we as a society are more concerned with what’s on someone’s mind on Facebook, rather than outside of our computer and in the world around us?

In response to the inaugural address, the media has concentrated on the landmark inclusion of the word “gay” and the recognition of LGBT rights, rather than the issues Obama rose in directing our nation towards for the next four years, such as healthcare, alternative energy sources, foreign policy and immigration. A Huffington Post headline reads “By Linking Stonewall with Seneca Falls and Selma, Obama Reminds Us That LGBT Rights Are Civil Rights.”

Obama said, “Progress does require us to act in our time.” To act in our time, our society must possess a knowledge of cultural literacy that highlights not only the past, but the present – significance of events such as Seneca Falls, Selma and Stonewall, so that civil rights, women’s rights and gay rights are more than news stories and political marches.  It speaks as a milestone for society when the policy against women in combat is lifted or when the 40-year anniversary of Roe v. Wade occurs; however, these milestones will not speak for themselves in the future.  We must continue to fight for these rights, as millenials in our twenties and millenials in our forties.

“With common effort and common purpose, with passion and dedication, let us answer the call of history,” Obama said. But first, let us be aware and possess a knowledge of not only events that affect our pockets, but our society’s rights.  If the lessons learned in the past are left in the past, our present will remain in the struggles of the past. Will we continue to fight and uphold the same battles because we forget the past so easily?

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Photo: courtesy of nti.org

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