Thoughts on the invisible generation

A little over a month of daily posts and part of me is thinking "wow, that went quickly" and another part is wondering how the hell I'm going to manage to keep this up for another 11 months.

I've been thinking a lot lately about how Generation X has become, in many ways, an invisible generation. We were so much smaller than the generations before and after us that in many ways we seem to get lost in the blur between the Baby Boomers and Millennials.

Nowhere is this more clear than in digital archives of newspaper coverage of activism during our college years. Most newspapers that covered the campus anti-apartheid movement; anti-militarism movement; Central American solidarity movements, etc used freelance reporters. We were worth covering, but not worth the assignment of staff writers.

At first glance this was no big deal. The coverage we got was not compromised by this. But years later so much of that coverage has ended up down the memory hole.

Unless a researcher or student is willing to go old-school and use printed indexes to look up articles, so much of that content is missing from their search results.

I remember when a friend was in law school in the late 90s and I had access to his lexis/nexis account -- I could find hundreds of articles about actions I had participated in during my years at SUNY Buffalo, there was a rich and detailed history of what my generation tried to do and what we managed to get done.

If I do that same search now, almost nothing shows up. My history has been erased.

This happened when the Supreme Court ruled on the case of The New York Times v. Tasini in 2001.

The Association of Research Libraries' history of Copyright Law has some details on the case and the unintentional result

On June 25, 2001, the U.S. Supreme Court issued its decision in the case of The New York Times v. Tasini. In a decisive 7-2 ruling, the Justices upheld an appeals court ruling that the reuse of a freelance author's work on CD-ROMs and in commercial electronic databases without the author's permission constituted copyright infringement. In its ruling, the Court rejected the publishers' argument that a ruling for the authors would have "devastating" consequences, requiring them to delete freelance writers' works in commercial electronic databases. The Supreme Court explicitly noted in its opinion that deletion of the freelance writers' articles was not necessarily the only outcome and that publishers could explore other alternatives. The Justices pointed out that there are "numerous models for distributing copyrighted works and remunerating authors for their distribution" such as the system of blanket performance licenses for musical compositions.

The New York Times now requires permission for electronic republication of works by freelance authors, but this was not standard industry practice until the 1990s. Equally important, implicit in the Court's decision was the recognition that the nation's libraries and archives continue to provide access to the historical record of periodicals and newspapers. In addition, the Court's ruling recognized that certain archival media, such as microfilm and microfiche, do not infringe freelance authors' copyrights. Ultimately, The New York Times and other publishers chose to remove the freelance writers' works, as many as 115,000 articles, from Lexis/Nexis and other full-text databases

I totally understand why the writers were upset; I support their desire to be compensated for use of their content in the new media of the internet. I however fail to see the logic of the Court. How could they ever think that the media giants would do anything but remove this content from digital databases?

Oh well, I guess its up to us to fill in the gap and start to tell our own stories.

Over the next year, I'm going to try to do that. I'm going to try to tell some stories. I know that my memory is not as good as it once was; I'm sure I will forget some people, attribute one person's actions to another, combine some people into one character. I wish I could be more accurate, but those minor failings are nothing compared to letting us remain an invisible generation of activists.

Next week's initial post on this will be a story that touches on 3 Mile Island, the Shoreham Nuclear Power Plant and my first political arrest.

Until then, enjoy the photos: