What makes Mayor Castro especially interesting is the interaction of his pragmatism with the early radicalism of his mother Rosie, his first political mentor. She was a founder of La Raza Unida Party — she eventually returned to the Democratic fold — and a poster from his mom’s unsuccessful 1971 city council race hangs proudly in the mayor’s office.When I read that I immediately thought of the recent work of Ellis Cose to define the generational differences in the modern movement for civil rights.
Between his mother’s past and his own present, Castro embodies the full range of progressive impulses, from the most activist and visionary to the most practical and middle-of-the-road. Castro says it’s not surprising that his approach is different from his mom’s.
“I had the blessing of opportunity,” he says. As a result, he sees a balance in what is required to achieve change. “You need the folks in the boardroom who have consciences and the people in the streets who can picket at the right time.”
Then he gets to his own role: “And you need public officials who can listen. I see myself as a bridge-builder who can understand both sides.”
He calls the first generation The Fighters. They would encompass those leaders who - beginning in the 1950's - fought the legal battles against discrimination. The list is long, but includes people like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, Malcolm X, Rep. John Lewis, Ella Baker, Cesar Chavez and Delores Huerta.
The next generation were The Dreamers. This is the generation that were the first to walk through the doors opened by the Fighters and continued the struggle for equality within the systems they entered. That generation - of course - includes President Barack Obama. But other public figures include his wife, Michelle Obama, Eric Holder, Sonia Sotomayor, Deval Patrick and Kamala Harris.
A few years ago Helen Cooper wrote a fascinating article about this generation - noting that they are the first to benefit from the Ivy League's attempts to aggressively recruit students of color in 1969.
But the children of 1969 dwell in a complex world. They retain an ethnic identity that includes its own complement of cultural, historical and psychological issues and considerations. This emerged at Judge Sotomayor’s confirmation hearings. And it emerged again last week, when Mr. Obama joked in the White House East Room that if he ran afoul of the police, “I’d get shot.” In saying this, he seemed to draw on the fears of black men across the United States, including those within the new power elite.Julian Castro and his twin brother Rep. Joaquin Castro are representatives of the third generation - The Believers. We have yet to see what this generation can accomplish, but perhaps Mayor Castro's vision of being a "bridge-builder" says something about the role they will play.
What Mr. Obama seemed to be demonstrating was what Mr. Lemann of Columbia calls a “double consciousness” that allows the children of 1969 to flow more easily between the world which their skin color bequeathed them and the world which their college degree opened up for them.
Social change happens most effectively when cross-generational coalitions tap into both the wisdom of the elders and the passion of the young. That requires being willing to listen on the part of the young and a willingness to pass the baton on to the next generation by the elders.
I believe that the ugliness we see from people like Cornel West towards our President can be best understood by his unwillingness to let go of his role as a Fighter and pass the baton onto the next generation. By doing so, he is depriving them of the wisdom he might otherwise share.
I've posted this quote before. But to me, it captures exactly the kind of awareness that is required for a passing of the baton. Here is Rev. Gordon Stewart (a Fighter) reflecting on his reaction to the first inauguration of President Obama.
They are strange tears, like none other I have ever felt. It confuses me. I wonder what they're about. It feels like joy. A joy I have not felt for a long time. Joy... and hope... that something really new is happening. Joy that all the struggles and all the marches that wore holes in my generation's shoes on behalf of civil rights and peace have brought us to this indescribably holy moment that transcends the old divisions.Each generation must take on the battles of their time. And it doing so - are likely to bear the scars that can become a prison if not released to the passion of the next generation. When we won't let go, they become the seeds of anger and cynicism. Rev. Stewart was able to release himself from that prison by recognizing the grief - and almost simultaneously opening himself up to the joy and hope of the next generation. That's what it means to pass the baton.
For sure, the tears that rise up in me are tears of joy. But they're also about something else. They feel like the convulsing sobs of a prisoner released from prison. They come from a hidden well of poison -- the well of deep grief stuffed away over all the years because of all the marches, all the beatings, all the blood, the well of buried anger -- the silent tears of grief over the America we had almost lost.
Then I realize: Only the appearance of joy and hope can release such deep grief. It was the joy on Yo-Yo Ma's face that finally released the poison locked inside my soul. It is the joy and hope of a new generation that's able to take us where my generation cannot -- free of the taint of sore feet and scars and old grudges the new President says we must move past.
We are in the era of the Dreamers. Rather than the post-racial world some predicted, the struggle continues as the dying beast lashes out in its death throes. But it won't be long now until the Believers are ready to take up the cause and face their own unique challenges.
One of the reasons I wanted to include Ella Baker in the list of fighters is that - as much as anyone - she understood the importance of passing the baton. Here's Ella's Song...