Their March on Washington

Now I get it: This is their generation's March on Washington.

My son Adam Konner is a senior at the University of Michigan who, like so many other young people, has been working to elect Barack Obama.

For eight years I kept asking him, his sisters, and all their friends, "Where's the movement? Where's the movement? All you kids do is complain about how bad the government is. In the ‘60s we did something." It wasn't until I read Adam's piece below—published in the Michigan Daily and reprinted with his permission—that I understood what they were waiting for.

We did what we could in our way, but their way was going to be different. They bided their time and guarded their spirits until the chance came along not just to march and chant and try to grab headlines and maybe influence an election here and there. They waited for a chance to take over the reins of government. With hundreds of thousands of others, I marched in the nation's capital for jobs and freedom in 1963 and against the Pentagon in 1967. We made our statement loud and clear. And then we went home.

I don't say we didn't make an impact. We got headlines. We helped change laws and end a war. But this was their March on Washington, and the very big difference is that they are not leaving anytime soon.

A generation coming of age

            The most amazing thing that happened in Ann Arbor on Tuesday night was not Barack Obama winning the presidential election. It was the reaction to it. Late into the night, people were marching down the middle of the streets, unplanned, through the diag, to the stadium and back, singing, dancing, hugging, playing drums, horns and didgeridoos, waving American flags, shouting the pledge of allegiance and singing the national anthem with tears running down their faces. For students at this university and at universities all over the country, Tuesday night was more than a landslide Democratic victory and a swing of the left-right pendulum. It was the coming of age of a generation-a generation born on 9/11 and raised under an unjust war.

            I've been a student at this university on and off for eight years. I was a freshman, just beginning my politically aware life, when George W. Bush was elected to his first term. In his first few months in office, Bush had already begun systematically destroying our civil liberties, dismantling our economic regulations, expanding our global hegemony, and thoroughly embarrassing us in the eyes of the rest of the world. At that time, a friend of mine said to me, "All we need is some kind of major disaster to bring us together, and we'll have a movement. It'll be like the sixties again."

            It's laughable now, but at the time it already seemed like things couldn't get much worse. And then one morning I woke up in my dorm room at East Quad, turned on the television, and watched the towers crumble. And I said to myself, "This is it. This is the wake up call we've been waiting for. Now we will have a movement." And indeed, a movement began, but it was a movement in the complete opposite direction from the one I had imagined. It was a movement based on fear and hatred rather than peace and love. In the coming years I found out just how much worse things could get. And each time something really terrible happened, I said to myself, "Surely now, our movement will begin." And I kept being disappointed. I did my part. I joined student activist groups. I went to protests and rallies in Washington D.C., Chicago, Ann Arbor and elsewhere. I tried to organize. And I kept saying to myself, "Where's the movement?"

            Then on the morning of November 3, 2004, after finding out that Bush had been reelected, I buried my head in the sand. I swore off newspapers and magazines for almost two years. Every news story I heard, read or watched made me so angry it hurt. I lost hope. And even when I reemerged, I was so jaded that I thought things would never change.

            But Tuesday night I saw something I've never seen before. For the first time in my life, I saw people chanting, yelling, and marching in the streets, not out of rage, but out of joy. Not fighting, but celebrating. Not trying to change an unchangeable system but rejoicing in the change we had already made. And for probably the first time in my life, I felt proud to be an American.

            For us, Barack Obama is more than a president. He is more than a milestone in civil rights history our parents could only dream of. He is a symbol-a symbol of equality, a symbol of cooperation, and most importantly, a symbol of hope. He is simultaneously the Franklin D. Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King of a new generation. Our generation.

            Maybe this is the movement I've been waiting for. Maybe our generation will finally finish the work our parents started. I believe that this movement has been wanting to happen for a long time, and this may very well be our chance. Because for the first time in my life, it's not something terrible that is bringing us together, but something wonderful. Bush's most successful political achievement was killing the hope of his opposition. Obama's, so far, has been nursing it back to life. Maybe this is our moment. But we have to make it happen. We can. 


  1. It is a pleasure to read of your pride in your children in this blog, as well as of the behind-the-curtain conversations you have with your wife and friends regarding real life applications of anthropology, sociology and psychology. Ever since I first read The Tangled Wing a decade ago, I have wondered…”How does this guy’s knowledge of evolutionary psychology play out in his everyday life at home, with his family, in his relationships?” It is, I am assuming you will agree, essential to get an evolutionary understanding of human behavior into the minds and biological spirits of our children, if we are to build a foundation for believable faith in the future of mankind and the evolution of ‘mini-saints’ (as Jane Goodall would say). Congratulations on sending a couple of them out into the world, even if we are apparently still waiting for them to migrate out of the cool climates of the northern midwest to share their praiseworthy toolkits with the rest of the world!

    I once asked your colleague at Emory, Frans de Waal, how we would ever unite creationists and evolutionists. He answered without hesitating…”By emphasizing family values.” That, I think you will agree again, is the ‘human face’ science must speak to in order to be heard, which is the reason I fully expect, in your blogs to come, a few lessons regarding: 1) secrets of romantic intimacy, and 2) what to teach our children about sex!

    I once read a great essay from E.O. Wilson to his daughter about how people know what they know. I can’t help but wonder how helpful and lyrical a couple of similar essays from ‘the sage of the !Kung San’ might be!


  2. Dear Ted,

    Thank you for this kind and interesting post. I do agree that fostering an evolutionary understanding of human behavior is essential for our future as a species. The great evolutionary biologist Ernst Mayr, who I was privileged to study with, spoke and wrote about “evolutionary humanism,” a kind of humanistic ethics based on that deep perspective. I’ve tried throughout life to impart that to my children, my students, and my readers throughout my life, and it is a main purpose of my blog. I appreciate your suggestions for future blogs, and will put them on my list!

    I have tried to find Ed Wilson’s letter to his daughter that you mentioned but have been unsuccessful. Can you remember where you saw it?

    Thank you again for participating in the ongoing discussion about the human future,


  3. Ted says:

    Dr. Dr. Konner,

    I apologize for sending you off in the direction of Dr. Wilson when the letter I misremembered was from Richard Dawkins to his daughter, Juliet. I came across it in the appendix of a somewhat strange, but ultimately helpful book by Michael Dowd, Evolution and God. It is, I believe, also printed in Dawkins’ 2003 book, A Devil’s Chaplain.

    My sincere apologies.


  4. Allison Coker says:

    Love the blogs, Dr. K! Pushing right into the 21st century, huh? 😉 I miss hanging out and talking with you. Anyway, here’s a link to the Dawkins letter. After being forced to go through the motions of my family’s Catholic religion, I was absurdly jealous when I read this. If only he could be this even and rational when representing the scientific community in public forums. 😛

  5. Ted and Allison,

    I will read the letter from Dawkins to his daughter and get back to you. Ed Wilson is intensely private about his family, so I would have been surprised if it had been him.

    My son Adam, who wrote the piece above, shoved me into the 21st century, saying if I didn’t stop writing books and start writing blogs I would be hopelessly left behind. So now I am way cool.

    However, don’t tell anyone, but I have two books coming out in the next couple of years. I’m still a recovering book author.

  6. Usha says:

    I saw you on CNN (here in India) and went to your website. I happened to be in Manhattan around Union Square ..the heart of NY University area on the day Barack Obama was elected President ..and I experienced first hand what Adam has described. His (so readable) writing puts what I saw that night totally in perspective. when I read something like this, so optimistic, so sincere that it moistens my eyes, it makes me so hopeful of today’s youth. But one knows that this kind of world view is limited to only a certain (perhaps small) group of young people in today’s world. I live in India and the world knows what we are going through these last couple of days here. Is that going to be the way forward for youth in other parts of the world? I would be interested to hear what you think about th

  7. Usha, I am touched by what you say about Adam’s writing and will tell him about your comment. I’m not sure if you also visited my other website,, where there has been a lively exchange of views (my blog on the day I was on CNN, then over 75 comments, then my reply in another blog). If you get a chance to look at it, you’ll find out a lot about what I think about India and the recent events. As for the youth of the world, I am very impressed and hopeful. This is the best educated, most cosmopolitan, most democratic, most enlightened generation of young people in the history of the world–I am thinking of Asia especially, but also Latin America. True, there is devastating widespread poverty and ignorance in these same regions, and things are even worse in Africa, but I am talking about the young people who will become the leaders of tomorrow’s world, and they make me very optimistic. Take care and do great things, Mel Konner

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