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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Have I forgotten any protests of Generation X?
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