The phrase is gaining currency by the day: “Ok Boomer” is being covered by the television networks, NPR, The New York Times, and media all over America. But what does it mean? And as the targets of the phrase, do we deserve it? That’s what Ed Meek of Somerville, Massachusetts writes about in the Boomer Opinion piece.
You may have heard talk lately of a conflict between Generation Z, Millennials, and baby boomers. The symbol of this conflict is the phrase “Ok Boomer,” adopted by many of the young as a response to criticism they get from us, or as a complaint about the world they’re inheriting from us.
Although we boomers share music, movies, and memories with Millennials (born between 1980 and 1996), Generation Z (born in 1997 or after) can seem to us like they are from a different world, with their asymmetrical hairstyles highlighted by pinks and purples, their mismatched non-binary clothes, their very own personal pronouns and genders, and their piercings and tattoos. Where many Millennials are ambivalent about technology, Gen Z is all in, preferring text to talk and cancel culture to working things out. Like most every American generation, they grew up thinking they are the one generation that matters, and they’ve been building a solid case against us baby boomers, born back in the Stone Age (1946 to 1964).
But here’s news: boomers are not the only ones to blame for climate change. It can be traced back to the Industrial Revolution. In fact our generation can claim credit for fighting it. We started an environmental movement in the 1960s with Rachel Carson, Volkswagen Beetles, and getting back to nature. But it’s fair to say, we left all that behind in the Reagan era when the country moved to the right and embraced free trade and unfettered capitalism, which ultimately eroded the environment.
Now, forty years later, with wildfires burning California, flooding in the Midwest and on the coasts, melting ice at the poles, and rising oceans everywhere, we are finally beginning to wonder how the hell we got here. Meanwhile, we’ve kept Social Security and Medicare intact, if fragile, but on the other hand we’ve benefitted from tax cuts that have created a deficit the young will have to address. Now we’re retiring and getting discount movie tickets and cheap train fares while the young are saddled with debt. They are not happy, friends. From them, “Ok Boomer” is not a happy phrase.
When the young climate activist Greta Thunberg says “You are stealing my future,” she is talking to us. And we ought to listen. Social Security is a “pay as you go” system, and because of cost-of-living raises, when we retire we can get more out of it than we put into it. Medicare is also financed by those who are working. Do we really want to alienate the young? They are contributing to our pensions and our medical care!
Finally, whether you believe in an afterlife or not, we live on in our deeds. We all leave a legacy of one kind or another. It is time our generation fulfilled the promise we once believed in. That means making personal changes to the way we live and consume and travel and eat, yes, but it also means using our voting power to elect candidates who will confront climate change by sponsoring bills to transition from our dependence on oil and gas to renewable energy.
It means divesting from oil and gas. It means getting out and marching with Generation Z and the Sunrise Movement to demand that the government represent us rather than ExxonMobil. According to a Harvard study, if .035% of the population protests, the government will respond. We’ve seen evidence of that in Hong Kong and Puerto Rico. While we have the time and energy, it is our responsibility to do what we can to ensure that our children and grandchildren have a bright rather than a bleak future.