Demographics of a Revolution

In the 1960s, when Bob Dylan first wrote The Times They Are A-Changin’, revolutionaries were often led by people like Dylan. He wrote most of his most iconic songs in his early 20s, and pitted himself against an older generation that was resistant to change.

Like Dylan, most civil rights leaders began their involvement in resistance efforts early, and it was the young who energized the protests and marches that revolutionized the nation. Even John F. Kennedy, though, far older than Dylan was one of the youngest presidents ever elected at 43. He did not survive long, but his election and assassination were both pivotal events for the decade.

More the half a century later, we have our own seeds of revolution brewing; or, call it a cultural war, if you prefer. The central themes are some of the same that emerged in all the others — racial equality, women’s rights, LGBTQ rights, and the compassionate view of immigrants. These movements preceded the election of one Donald J. Trump and his band of Christian-right henchmen, though, Trumpers pushed what was already in motion into a full-on revolt. Black Lives Matter formed during Barack Obama’s presidency, but the status of Black lives took on an entirely new level of urgency when Trump’s rise to power sparked a reappearance of chanting, tiki-torch carrying racists that he appeared to support. 

Trump’s election also sparked a newly-energized women’s movement, inviting millions of women and girls nationwide into the streets to march for equality and an end to sexual assault. Women and girls stood in unified opposition to Trump and his administration.

The Demographics of this revolution seem more cross-generational than ever before. Many who marched in the ‘60s and ‘70s — now in their 60s and 70s — are still around to march in the 2000s. Rob Reiner, who played Archie Bunker’s liberal son-in-law Meathead in All in the Family, remains an outspoken liberal voice in today’s political firestorm, as does Jane Fonda. Ed Asner, who played Mary Tyler Moore’s grumpy boss Lou Grant on The Mary Tyler Moore Show, is 88 now and Tweeting up a storm, along with everyone else — mostly anti-Trump Tweets.

The age of street protesters is also broad, ranging from small children, often, to grandparents. Unlike the youth-driven movements of the 1960s, protesting is now more often a multigenerational family affair. Many more elementary school-aged children seem to know what LGBTQ rights are, and have some awareness of racial inequity and gender bias, so when they take to the streets with their parents and grandparents, they know what they are protesting. 

And the overall spirit of the movement gripping the old, middle-aged, and young alike is social equality for all, with respective emphasis given to whatever groups you most closely identify with.

Stumping for the rights of the community you belong to is something Republicans like to call “identity politics.” In broad form, however, we are talking about several different movements all rallying for equality, none of them negating the other. Most — but not all — are Democrats. Political commentator Ana Navarro is a Republican who has been more fiery in her opposition of the administration than many Democrats. 

Most of those who oppose these movements do not claim the opposite sentiment, and they resent the accusation. Opponents of Black Lives Matter often do not consider themselves racists. Those who do not identify as feminists, also do not think of themselves as anti-woman. And those opposed to LGBTQ rights often do not consider themselves homophobic. It is more that they do not see the point of these movements, or find them destructive. In their view, things are fine. Women are fine. Black Americans should be grateful for what they have. The demographic of the not-very-interested-in-a-revolution set seems to include mostly non-college-educated whites. Although Trump garnered a large number of votes from white women, his more sweeping demographic was older white men, and those without much education in the lower income brackets.

Democrats, on the other hand, are the party of the majority of people of color, women and the college-educated. While there is certainly some fluidity in this demographic breakdown, that is how it shakes out overall. 

And what side of this revolution you stand on seems slightly more dependent on gender, sexual orientation, and race than age; if you are a white man, age matters. The older a white man you are, the less likely you are to identify as liberal, or understand what anybody’s complaining about.

I guess no one told Ed Asner. Keep up the good fight, Mr. Grant.