Don’t Trust Anyone Over 30
By: Mike DiGioia
Don’t trust anyone over 30, seriously.
Kids should be skeptical, because adults aren’t necessarily looking out for them. Never have, never will.
“Don’t trust anyone over 30” became the rallying cry for 1960s counterculture. It was wrongly attributed to Abbie Hoffman, Jerry Rubin, John Lennon, and many others, because the sentiment resonated with the young boomers. The adults had failed them. Nuclear war felt imminent, the environment was a mess, race relations were at a boiling point, and more and more young people were being drafted into Vietnam, a war that seemed never-ending and senseless. The social and political institutions the boomers were told would keep them safe and free had broken down, and no one was going to help unless they helped themselves first.
Sound familiar? Turning 20 two decades after 1968, I interpreted that statement as baby boomer entitlement. They felt that it was their turn, that they had the numbers to take the world and make it their own, and to hell with whatever came before them. I’m sure some of that was present, but seeing the negative reaction to the Parkland High Schoolers from people my own age has given me a sense of what it must have been like in 1968. Kids coming of age feeling like the world had failed them (and in many ways it had), and adults threatened by change they never saw coming.
The phrase “Don’t trust anyone over 30” was coined by Jack Weinberg when he was interviewed by the San Francisco Chronicle for his involvement in the Free Speech Movement.”I was being interviewed by a newspaper reporter, and he was making me very angry,” Weinberg told the Chicago Tribune in 1990. “It seemed to me his questions were implying that we were being directed behind the scenes by Communists, or some other sinister group. I told him we had a saying in the movement that we don’t trust anybody over 30. It was a way of telling the guy to back off, that nobody was pulling our strings.”
Taken out of context, the phrase went viral and took on a more “Us vs. Them” connotation, especially as more peaceful movements like the Free Speech Movement morphed into more heated antiwar protests. An important moment came in 1968 during the Democratic National Convention, when what started as a peaceful protest escalated into a police riot. Really, the riot was a forgone conclusion, since Mayor Richard J. Daley had orchestrated 18,000 police and National Guardsmen to meet 10,000 protestors, while simultaneously depriving those protesters of permits that were requested months in advance. Police routinely beat and tear gassed protestors during the multi-day event. The idea that you couldn’t trust anyone over 30 to protect your First Amendment rights (or your very life, given the rising body count of the Vietnam War), became frighteningly real to the young boomers in 1968—and even more so, a few years later at Kent State, when four students were killed by the Ohio National Guard during a protest.
Of course, these events weren’t entirely new in America. People of color have been dealing with this throughout our history. The Civil Rights movement was inspirational to the college-age kids of the 60s, but they hadn’t yet faced strong institutional backlash themselves. Earlier in the century, participants in the labor and women’s suffrage movements had encountered violence as well. As had Native Americans. Well, we can go on and on, but for the kids of the 1960s, generational differences had gotten lethal. Meanwhile, these kids had become a new focus of hatred for anti-progressive adults and institutions.
Yet for all of the hatred being cast against the youth, and their own motto (“Don’t trust anyone over 30”), the reality was that they had plenty of alliances with their elders. The Free Speech Movement, environmental activists, gay rights activists, women’s rights activists, and the antiwar movement were following the lead of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., Saul Alinsky, and others. University professors, lawyers, writers, celebrities, artists, and all kinds of older Americans backed the kids as they increasingly spoke out (and consequently, increasingly drew the ire of conservative pundits, politicians, and Americans fearing the change in culture they were bringing about).
Fast-forward 50 years, and many of the same dynamics apply today. When seventeen kids were gunned down in a Florida high school, something surprising happened. As America had all but given up on applying sensible gun control measures to curtail gun violence, and seemed numb to the death that came with it, the very kids who were attacked struck back. They recognized that the adults had failed them, that their country was out of balance, and that there seemed to be no one around who could stop it. So they took it upon themselves. Within days they called into question the status quo—not only on gun control, but on our political dysfunction in general. And they didn’t just worry about themselves. They called upon Chicago kids who were already living through a steady stream of gun violence to join them, so that together they could tackle the larger problems facing all youth in America. Within a week of the tragedy, the Parkland students had the nation’s attention.
The backlash wasn’t immediate. It took a while for the adults to get their footing and organize their messaging. The tactics of suppressing dissent has morphed since the 1960s. There is still institutional control, but having learned the power of countercultural messaging, the anti-progressives of today have organized into propaganda culture warriors ready to arm anyone with the tools to shout down their enemies. They create armies by sparking outrage in folks—not in response to actual facts, but to raw emotions: to feeling that their very way of life is jeopardized by a perceived threat. Liberals are destroying Christmas, taking God out of the schools, allowing immigrants to take jobs from small towns—and now the Parkland kids have become their enemies too, because these kids are coming for your guns.
Over the years, messaging groups that fundraise for conservative politicians’ elections have blended in with our right wing media. The harshest attacks on any perceived threat come from them. The NRA was the first group to come out swinging against the kids, calling them misguided puppets of the liberal media. Tying a new group to an existing established enemy of your base is the easiest tactic to discredit them. Just like how Weinberg reacted when the San Francisco Chronicle accused him of being controlled by Communists.
In today’s 24-hour cable babble and nonstop meme-sharing on social media, many followed conservative lead in creating vicious story lines and untruths about the Parkland kids. Photoshopped photos of a gaunt Emma Gonzalez ripping up the Constitution arose, and so did videos of David Hogg, purporting that he was a paid actor and not a student—the type of crazy conspiracies that surely also existed in the 1960s, only social media didn’t exist to propagate them widely. An image search for Hogg predominantly brings up one nasty smear after another, from having little arms to eating Tide pods to (of course) being a crisis actor working for the vast liberal conspiracy. Many adults in America have fallen so deeply into a rabbit hole of delusion and conspiracy theory that they are no longer able to discern reality.
Exhibit A: The ultimate meme for our times. It’s not the guns, it’s society, actually it’s the kids. A whole generation has been raised by delinquent parents to be devoid of morals, addicted to prescription drugs and video games, and dangerously out of touch with reality. They actually flipped the narrative. Now, you can’t trust anyone under 30. The NRA has adopted this narrative, and social media producers have embraced it. The memes are being shared by adults who think that the kids are the problem, not the guns. But there’s an interesting twist, because: whose kids are we talking about? Their kids? Of course not. Just everyone else’s kids, and the screw-ups who raised them. So, basically: everyone they don’t know. Anyone not in their tribe. A significant part of the American adult population watched a bunch of kids speak out for change after seeing their friends slaughtered in their own high school, and the reaction of these adults is that the kids are dangerously screwed up. Why would any rational kid trust anyone over 30, in the face of that?
Is this how the adults felt in 1968? That the natural order of their existence was being threatened by these kids who refused to go to war? Obviously, it was mixed—just like today, where there are as many supportive adults as ones endeavoring to shout the kids down. The difference seems to be in the sobriety of the arguments. In the 1960s, there were conspiracies, but truth was knowable. You could dig it up, and people would still accept it. Walter Cronkite, for example, went to Vietnam in 1968 and deemed that the war, from his experience in WWII, was at best a stalemate: an assessment at odds with the US government’s narrative and popular opinion among adults.
Now the dynamic is different. People don’t change their minds with new information. Known empirical facts and reality are outright denied by anti-progressives as false—and people are buying it, regardless of the mounting evidence. Guns don’t kill people, people kill people, against all empirical evidence that guns make it a lot easier for people to kill people (or themselves). Climate change is a hoax, even if essentially every scientist on Earth says otherwise. In some cases, dinosaurs co-existed with humans. The Clintons are murderers who killed dozens of people. And now, for many people, we can’t catch our president in a lie because to them there is no truth to weigh it against. It’s this group of Americans who have decided that the kids are a problem.
So how can the kids trust anyone over 30 when they can’t even trust them to know what reality is? Luckily, enough kids can see what reality is, and they can tell which adults can see it and which have fallen down the rabbit hole. During an interview on the New Yorker Radio Hour, Emma Gonzalez laughed off the social media attacks, especially ones that changed her looks to make her into a drug addict. David Hogg found it frustrating but ultimately harmless that people think he’s a crisis actor. Why? Because enough people are rational enough to know that these attacks are ridiculous and don’t deserve the time it takes to respond. As Hogg said to Vox back in April, “If you continue to pursue whatever path they’re leading you down, which is a dead end, it’s going to distract you and drain your resources.” (A noble statement given that more tangible threats have also been happening.) David Hogg’s house was SWATted, and other Parkland kids have received numerous death threats.
However, the kids aren’t deterred, and they are now taking the lead on issues that affect their lives. They want and need help, but also they are calling the shots. The March For Our Lives events across the nation were aided by Everytown for Gun Safety, which is largely financed by Michael Bloomberg. Celebrity support is off the charts, with money flowing in from George Clooney, Oprah Winfrey, Paul McCartney, Jimmy Fallon, Stephen Spielberg, and countless others. Having been behind the scenes during the Chicago MFOL events in March, it was obvious to me that the kids were taking the lead while accepting the support. And their message was succinct: they have heard the anti-progressives’ arguments, and they hold no power with them. As Marley Rosario, an organizer for the Chicago MFOL event said on Windy City Live, “We’re not going to stop here. We’re going to say enough is enough until the law changes, until the culture changes.”
While today’s kids have plenty of reason to distrust the adults, they also have every reason to pick and choose how they accept support. And like the kids of 1968, they see past the old arguments, and they won’t be boxed in by reporters asking lame questions about who is controlling them. The answer is: they’re in control. They’re charting their own course—because just like their counterparts of 50 years ago, they realized that no one was coming to help them until they helped themselves first.