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5 Forgotten Protests of Generation X

African American children, members of the 13th generation of Americans that would become known as Generation X, march in Washington D.C. on March 25, 1972.

One of the first protests of Generation X | Gen X school children protest cuts to welfare in the Children’s March For Survival, Washington D.C. on March 25, 1972. | Source: Washington Spark on Flickr

The Children’s March For Survival, 1972

On March 25, 1972, 30,000 people, most of them African-American school children, gathered on the streets of Washington D.C. to protest welfare reforms. The protest was called the Children’s March for Survival. The kids all carried homemade signs, braved cold temperatures and encircled the White House. They represented the 13th generation of Americans that would one day become known as Generation X.

Nix H R I 1972 Protest

The Children’s March for Survival was organized by the now-defunct National Welfare Rights Organization. It was a national social movement that took place between 1966 and 1975. Most of the activists were poor African-American women. Both the movement and march garnered the support of several famous members of the Lucky Few Generation (1925-1942) including Gloria Steinem and Coretta Scott King. Benjamin Spock and Bella Abzug, members of the G.I. Generation (1901-1924), also supported it. The mothers were primarily Baby Boomers (1943-1960).

Children's March for Suvival

A mother marches with her children in Washington D.C., 1972 | Photo by Pete Copeland | Courtesy of the DC Public Library

I wonder what happened to all these kids? What became of them and where are they now? Did they find jobs or happiness? Did they really believe their president didn’t care?  And, what became of their mothers? Their beautiful, beautiful mothers — raising their babies on roads that harbored danger.

So many dangerous back alleys in America y’all. 

By the way, this is one of my favorite Bible verses. It’s from the Book of Matthew.

“…But whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.”

Rarely Seen Children’s March For Survival Ad

The image below is an ad for the march. It appeared in the March 19, 1972 editions of the New York Times and Washington Post. This is a screenshot of a copy of an actual clipping of the ad. To my knowledge it has never before been published on the Internet. I read about it in a 1998 proceeding of a women’s conference at the University of Wisconsin. The document did not include a picture, but did include a footnote. Through that reference, I discovered the actual clipping was preserved in an archive maintained by the Wisconsin State Historical Society.


Many thanks to the librarian, archivist and volunteer at the Wisconsin State Historical who graciously worked to provide me a copy of the ad. | Children’s March for Survival, March 19, 1972

The First Time Generation X Marched in Protest

Some sociologists and policy makers deemed the protest a failure, while some activists considered it a success. I really don’t know enough about it to comment, but what I do know is that from a purely historical perspective, the Children’s March for Survival was the first time Generation X ever marched. But, what is an even more salient point is that it would become one of only a handful of times Generation X ever marched for anything.

March 25, 1972 March in Washington D.C. for children

Photo Credit: Reading/Simpson via Washington Spark on Flickr

Washington D.C. 1972 Children on Welfare Demand Reform

Photo Credit: Reading/Simpson via Washington Spark on Flickr

Black kids march in D.C. in 1972 for welfare reforms

Photo Credit: Reading/Simpson via Washington Spark on Flickr

African American Boy Prepares a poster for a march in D.C.

Photo Credit: Reading/Simpson via Washington Spark on Flickr

More Protests of Generation X: Love Canal, 1978

In 1978, Generation X school kids from Niagara Falls, New York, joined their parents in protesting environmental contamination in their Love Canal homes and schools. Approximately 22,000 pounds of toxic waste was buried 20 feet below their yards and playgrounds. The EPA would later conduct tests that confirmed significant health effects from the contamination. These included abnormally high rates of miscarriage, high white blood cell counts (a precursor to leukemia) and chromosome breakage. President Carter announced a federal health emergency and for the first time in American history emergency funds were used for something other than a natural disaster.

Children Protest Love Canal 1978

Children Protest Love Canal 1978 | Source: KPBS

Lois Gibbs and her children protest Love Canal

Protests of Generation X | Lois Gibbs was a young mother of two when, in 1978, she took on local, state and federal governments over contamination in her Love Canal neighborhood. After years of struggle, 833 families were evacuated. | Source: The Canal, A Documentary

What is particularly awful about the Love Canal incident was that despite the caveats from Hooker Chemical Company regarding the dangers of building on the Love Canal site, the Niagara Falls School District still bought the land and built schools on it. This was among the first of many experiences that would frame Generation X’s well-documented distrust of government and large institutions

Generation X Protest of Love Canal

When Gen-Xers Built Mock Shanty Towns, Protested Apartheid

In 1986, Generation X college initiated their first widespread protest when they demonstrated against apartheid in South Africa. These rallies, complete with mock shanty towns, were lively and energetic. They involved hundreds and sometimes, thousands, of Gen-Xers and took place on more than 50 colleges across America including Harvard, University of North Carolina, Oberlin College and University of California at Berkeley. They boycotted classes and risked arrest as they demanded sanctions and divestment in South Africa.

In 1986, students at UC Berkeley, erected mock shanty towns in protest of apartheid.

In 1986, students at UC Berkeley, erected mock shanty towns in protest of apartheid.

Oberlin Apartheid Demonstration

In 1986, students at Oberlin College built nine mock shanty towns to protest apartheid.

Anti Apartheid Demonstration at UC Berkeley 1985

Anti Apartheid Demonstration at UC Berkeley, 1985 | Source: Vance Cox Photo Blog

By all accounts, the demonstrations were successful. Many colleges and universities divested billions from South Africa. More importantly, Generation X joined the rest of the world in raising awareness about the apartheid system. In 1990, Nelson Mandela was released from prison and by 1994, apartheid in South Africa ended.

Earth Day 1990

April 22, 1990, marked the 20th anniversary of Earth Day. The event, which included many demonstrations, was assembled by pretty much the same Baby Boomers who organized the first Earth Day in 1970. Generation X students from elementary to college showed up in large numbers and supported the movement. More than 200 million people participated in the event across 141 countries. Later, it would prove to be a turning point in recycling efforts across the United States.

Protests of Generation X | A rare candid photo of an Earth Day celebration held in 1990 on the 20th Anniversary of the event | South Florida | Source

A rare candid photo of an Earth Day celebration held in 1990 on the 20th Anniversary of the event | South Florida | Source:

Earth Day 1990 | A woman dressed up as a garbage lady promotes recycling

One of the best protests of Generation X: Earth Day 1990 | A woman dressed up as a garbage lady promotes recycling | April 22, 1990 | South Florida | Source:

Colleen Fuhri wrote the following about Earth Day 1990 on her now-dormant blog:

“In 1990, I attended my first Earth Day rally. It was the 20th anniversary of the event, so the cause attracted extra media attention that year. I was a young and naive college student and my time to save the world had arrived.”

Another Gen-Xer, John Mark James, posted dozens of images of an event at Wizards Record Store in Corryville, Ohio on April 21, 1990, the day before Earth Day. This is such a great photo with the MTV T-shirt and the “RECYCLE OR DIE” posters.

Earth Day event at a local record store Wizards in 1990

Protests of Generation X: Arthur Parker | Wizards Record Store, Corryville, Ohio, 4.21.90 | Yeah, Yeah, Yeah

And, Then There Was Occupy Wall Street

Some 20 years later, there was Occupy Wall Street, the most far-reaching protest geographically speaking in my lifetime.  Gen Xers represented more than 30 percent of protesters. I’m still not sure what, if anything, came of Occupy Wall Street, except Elizabeth Warren became a Senator and I collected a lot of C-grade logos from Occupy movements around the globe. That is not to diminish, however, the efforts of so many unemployed Americans. They exercised their right to freedom of speech and assembly — privileges that many brave men and women died for. I believe someday, history will look upon Occupy Wall Street and the Gen-Xers and Millennials who formed it far differently than it does now.

Generation Without A Cause

Historians, sociologists, journalists and the like have used many words over the years to describe Generation X. In childhood we were latchkey kids and children of divorce — at best under-protected, at worst neglected. During our youth we were considered rebellious, apathetic slackers. In motherhood and fatherhood, we’ve been called helicopter parents, accused of coddling and over-parenting our children.

The collective persona of Generation X has been sketched out by a myriad of researchers and academics who compare Xers to the Lost Generation (1883-1900). Like them, we are no-nonsense, tough and individualistic. As such, we’ve struggled with group identification. Parts of history have recorded us as a causeless generation, which makes all our protest songs from the 1980s a bit ironic. Nevertheless, we missed out on marches and protests on the scale of Baby Boomers and Vietnam, perhaps because we failed to organize them.

But, it’s important to note that not everyone missed out. On March 25, 1972, 30,000 people marched in Washington D.C. (some reports say 50,000). Most of the protesters were African-American school children. It was just above freezing that day and when the kids were done marching they did what children do. They played tag on the Ellipse just south of the White House.

Childrens March

Reading/Simpson (Cropped) via Washington Spark on Flickr

Have I forgotten any protests of Generation X?

Please leave a note in the comment section. Thank you!

Gen X Blog Jennifer Chronicles

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5 Forgotten Protests of Generation X
Article Name
5 Forgotten Protests of Generation X
Generation X has been called a rebellious generation without a cause, but as you can see by these demonstrations, we've had much to protest including Apartheid and Love Canal.


    • Jennifer

      Thank you for the link, Steve! This post is overdue for an update.

  1. Eric Meece

    Act Up was a big Gen X movement to protest inaction on AIDS in the late 1980s. Also, the “battle in Seattle” (which Amy mentions as a youth culture center for Xers) was the major event that helped launch the movement against “globalization” and corporate free trade in 1999, which Trump and Bannon have capitalized on more-recently.

    • Jennifer

      Thank you, Eric. I look forward to exploring these protests and including them in this post or a new post at some point. I’mm not familiar with Battle in Seattle.

  2. Li

    From reading the blog, it seems Gen-X had, in reality, really organized two majors protests, of which consisted of adult/late teens Gen-xers. The protests from 1972 and 1978 would really have been organized by the baby boomers & the silent generation, whom had told their kids get out and protest.

    The “Are you there God, it’s me Generation X” is an interesting blog to read. After reading about Twitter, Google, Facebook, etc., being founded by Gen-xers, I wondered if most X-gen are leftist / liberals / Democrat. I’m conservative.

    • Jennifer

      That’s a valid point about the protests from 1972 and 1978; however, because of the photographic “evidence” of Gen-X children marching, I wanted to include them. I also think the children involved in these marches would feel their protests were genuine. To this day, the kids impacted by Three Mile Island and Love Canal as well as other environmental disasters of the 1970s, discuss the impact of these events in various places online, particularly, chat rooms. But, like I said, you make a very valid point.

      Regarding the political affiliation, Gen-Xers, so far, have voted slightly more conservative than liberal. The margin is very slim, though. I think, based on most of what I’ve read, we’re nearly split right down the middle.

      Thank you for stopping by, Li. I appreciate hearing from you!

  3. Gen X 62

    I’ve really enjoyed reading your insights into GenX, and being a member of that club (1962), I’ve found myself engaged in numerous discussions with colleagues about the mystique of our seemingly disenfranchised generation. I do brand and marketing strategy for a living, so various demo groups often became the subject of discussion at work.

    I recall often having to defend my inclusion as a GenX-er, and firmly believe I belonged nowhere near boomers and their hippy, love delusions despite being born in ’62. I think cultural connections really play perhaps the largest role in defining these boundaries, when you get right down to it.

    I grew up in California, and as a young GenX-er I was one of the first male adolescents to have longer hair in the 6th grade. Viet Nam meant little to us unless you had an older sibling who fought in the war. Diversity and controversy on TV happened while some of us were growing up; Jeffersons, Jimmy “JJ” Walker, Brady Bunch, The Partridge Family and Charlie’s Angels.

    The 70s gas crisis happened to GenX-ers. Jimmy Carter for President and the 1976 Bicentennial Freedom Train. I was a sophomore in high school when Disco Duck was getting funky, but instead of getting into disco, I got into punk rock and New Wave Music. Although I do remember another famous late ’70’s (horrible) song, “Convoy.” Smokey and the Bandit.

    We were the teens leading the second big wave (after the Gidget crowd) of skateboarding, and then going to the Mall on Friday nights. By then we were listening to DEVO, Blondie and the Ramones and wore Rat Tail haircuts.

    Then Cowboy Ronnie came to Wash DC, and suddenly everyone was talking about “Just Say No!,” Sheesh! I could have told them back then how dumb that idea was. Remember “Real People,” and “Dallas” and Pet Rocks?

    And see, all of these cultural icons that helped to define the GenX group, along with being latch-key kids, well established cynicism, Archie Bunker and a staunch independence.

    A much different rebellion than the boomer/hippies. We had actually been exposed to one hell of a lot of cultural expansion arms diversity, between 1965 and 1985. Think about it. We were incredibly creative, we rebuffed authority, enduted disco, the invention of rap music, new wave, punk rock and grunge. That’s a ton of inspired epic music eras packed into 20 years, dont you think?

    As GenX-ers, we also finally grew up, but on our own terms and behind schedule. We got jobs, and we started revolutions. But not while wearing pink tshirts and white blazers driving around Miami with gold chains, suntans and coke spoons, like a doofus. That’s what the boomers were doing.

    We started companies and became entrepreneurs, and well, so did a few boomers too. One of them, whose products I’ve been buying since 1987, started a company that is now the most financially valuable company in the world. And for decades, I was one of the “fan-boys” that Windows PC users shamed, claiming that Macs weren’t. legit, but just a toy.

    Looking back, I’m not convinced we were unsure of where some of us ultimately stood as the “nondescript” generation. I was there, but just reinventing, and creating brand new ideas. I’ve been thinking, maybe. instead of the X in GenX representing anonymity, or a loosely defined identity, it actually turned out to represent the fact that we just weren’t quite done quantifying the value and definition of X.

    And we still aren’t!


    Tristram Coffin


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