Looking Back at the 'Change Agent' Generation

Commentator and Baby Boomer Betty Baye celebrated her 60th birthday this month. She recalls the triumphs and travails of what she calls the "change agent" generation. Baye is a columnist for The Courier Journal in Louisville, Ky.

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ED GORDON, host:

At the top of the show we discussed the challenges facing baby boomers, many of whom are now on the verge of retirement.

Commentator Betty Baye says, as this generation starts to look back, they'll see they lived through a time of drastic change.

Ms. BETTY BAYE (columnist, Courier Journal, Louisville, Kentucky): It's often said that a woman who would tell her age will tell anything.

Well writers tend to tell everything about ourselves, even when we couch our autobiographies as fiction. So I'm telling it.

I turned the big 6-0 on April 12th. And so did 7,917 other Americans on that day. Demographers say that 7,918 Americans will turn 60 on each of 2006's 365 days--including President Bush, former President Bill Clinton, Donald Trump, Al Green, Steven Spielberg, and Bill Clinton's nemesis, the former special prosecutor Kenneth Starr.

We, who turn 60 this year are the oldest of the so-called baby boomers, defined as persons born between 1946 and 1964. Collectively, we're 75.8 million strong. Our parents' generation has rightly been crowned the greatest generation. I describe mine as the change-agent generation, and as Frank Sinatra famously crooned, we did it our way.

But then, what choice did we have? Baby boomers born in '46, for example, were just 17--or newly minted 18-year-olds--when Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his I Have a Dream speech at the march on Washington; and when four little black girls were blown up by white supremacists in their church in Birmingham; and when later in that same bloody year, 1963, President John F. Kennedy was assassinated right before our eyes on television.

What choice, than to be or to aspire to be, change-agents--when kids our age were fighting in Vietnam for reasons that escaped us then, and still do to this day? When the shooting finally stopped, 58,000 Americans, and many more thousands of Vietnamese were dead? What choice, than to be for change, even if quietly, when throughout the American south, governors and sheriffs and mayors and white citizens councils, sicked dogs, and trained high-powered water hoses, and bloodied children, even younger than ourselves, with billy clubs, and then stood defiantly in front of public buildings chanting, Segregation now! Segregation forever!

Don't get me wrong. Growing up a baby boomer wasn't all pain and suffering. We had our music. We had our hot pants, and our mini skirts, and our bell bottoms, and sometimes we partied as if we didn't expect to be alive in the morning. And though it's true, that not all baby boomers actively fought for change, in general I believe that we can legitimately claim the mantel of being a generation of change-agents. With one of the biggest changes being, that we've turned 60 into the new 50, and 50 into the new 40.

Meanwhile, I would have loved for some of those ladies back in East River projects, who because I was always fighting while I was growing up, to have been at my 60th birthday bash in Las Vegas. Many of them didn't even believe I'd even make it to 21.

(Soundbite of music)

GORDON: Betty Baye, is a columnist for the Courier Journal in Louisville, Kentucky.

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