Chris and I share the same birth date - his in Eastern Canada and mine in Knoxville,TN. We first met around the time the events chronicled in this website happened and then spent some time in his native land as participants in a community of ex-patriots and like minded (in some ways) souls. He describes his outlook as "existential" while I was looking for something more concrete like community. And even though we were born on the same day it isn't surprising that we have some differences in our points of view having shared a similar experience.
Christophe Caron now lives in a fairly remote area of Guatemala near Tikal on Lake Peten while I am back in Knoxville - the scene of the events described in this site.
My thanks to Chris for adding this to my history and Carroll Bible's memories.
I was surprised by Barry Bozeman’s initiative to keep the memory of the events of 1970 alive: Kent State, the Graham-Nixon propaganda show at the Knoxville U.T. stadium, etc. It all seemed light years away, buried by the memories of subsequent years and events. Pretty vague in my mind.
I have perhaps a somewhat jaded perspective on those times, and our actions over the course of 5 or 6 years (68 to 74, more or less). Not that we weren’t motivated by a strong sense of what democracy is supposed to mean, and an innate, intuitive, sense of what justice and equality imply.
But our idealism, if it can be called that, co-habited with a certain cynicism, a certain smugness that implied that we were morally superior to the ruling class. The years following the protests, demonstrations, rallies, etc., on the other hand, showed how easy it was for so many of us to relegate ideals to the back burner and concentrate on… making money and living in comfort and conformity.
Which is not to say that we threw everything into the dustbins of history. Only that we again intuited that we were growing up, and had to get jobs, or some alternative to a job, that would provide us with cash. And as the song goes, “diamonds are a girl’s best friend”. Or Pink Floyd’s “money, it’s a drag….”
The money thing is relative (isn’t everything?): few of the people I know have become wealthy. But a certain level of comfort was always a motivating factor.
The 60s were indeed a special time in the world. That ferment that we experienced in Knoxville, Tennessee, was a tiny ripple in a global context born of post-war affluence and cold war angst (the shadow of the Bomb lurking in the wings). And yet, as is doubtless normal, we felt we were at the heart of things, in the eye of the hurricane.
We probably raised consciousness a bit in our very reduced little universe. We did what should have been done: protest that dirty little (???) war in Vietnam and Cambodia; the obscenity of racism; the corruption of the politicians (Nixon-Agnew-Mitchell: how low can you go?); the criminalization of drugs (any late-breaking news on victories in the war on drugs, 40 years after Nixon launched that other dirty little war?). Etc., etc., etc….
Whether or not we achieved any concrete results is another question altogether. The war dragged on, Cambodia was carpet-bombed, Israel occupied Palestine and installed a kosher version of apartheid, Nixon flew away to a golden, if discreet retirement, and the condition of the great majority of Afro-Americans and Latinos remained the same or got worse.
But history works slowly, and it’s ultimately the big picture that counts. Societal change doesn’t happen because of a few chronic leaders, a bunch of illuminati, a handful of charismatic orators. Change comes when there is a critical mass of people in any society whose values or sensibilities have shifted from those of the preceding generation. Change comes when there are enough like-minded people who –inarticulate speech of the heart- want things to be different, or who sense that certain conditions/policies are wrong and must be changed.
Which explains the spread of environmentalism, feminism, gender politics, a shift away from racism and xenophobia, the pre-Irak invasion protests worldwide, the outrage over the BP oil flood (oil spill is a sanitizing euphemism of the media and the corporations) and Israel’s murder of people taking cement, paper, toys, etc. to Gaza (will Netanfuckingyahu tell us there were weapons of mass destruction on board?)
Size counts: ask Jared Diamond (Guns, Germs, and Steel). Major cultural shifts happen when there are enough people who share a given point of view. Charles Dickens’ portrayal of the industrial revolution did not in itself provoke a change to laws, public health policies, industrial methods, unionizing: he was just the guy who articulated what so many felt was not only unjust but untenable.
That’s us, the 60s gang. A generation whose destiny was to provoke change on some levels, and fuck up big-time on others. A generation among which many were oh-so-ready to ditch the ideals for the seductive murmurings of ambition and power and money. Not to underestimate those who maintained their principles, even as their lives mutated into the often humdrum banalities –and challenges and joys and frustrations and, and, and -of adulthood and parenting.
Historical memory IS important. It’s important to inform those who follow us about what happened and why. That is the message of the Jewish holocaust survivors and their children and grandchildren (I precede the noun with the qualifier Jewish simply because there have been other holocausts that happened to other people: ask the Armenians, the Kurds, the Cambodians, the Russians who remember Stalin, the Chinese who remember the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution. Ask…the Palestinians….)
The difference is that this historical memory thing has led to quality prison time for the former dictators of Argentina and a few other countries, while in the home of the brave, the war criminals like Kissinger, Rumsfeld, Cheney, Wolfowitz et. al. are all enjoying a comfortable retirement… If they’re not” pundits” for Fox News or Op-Ed contributors for the New York Times…
To wrap up what could easily turn into a rant, I don’t see us as heroes, or as anything exceptional. People like us were tearing up the cobblestones of Paris and Berlin, demonstrating and getting gunned down in Mexico City prior to the 68 Olympics, listening to the Doors in Manila.
And then, of course, there were the Weather Underground, the Baader-Meinhof gang, the Brigatti Rossi and Japan’s Red Army Fraction. They were pretty much like us, right? Only, a little more militant, more radical, more…disconnected from reality.
So, in a nutshell, I have no romantic feelings about the 60s, no nostalgia for the good old days, “the way we were” (oi veh!!). It happened, it was interesting for those who were there, it passed. “It will pass, whatever it is.” –old Sufi saying.
Things changed, indeed they did. But really now, folks, on a scale of 1 to 10, how much really changed? Where are the mass demonstrations against BP and the entire oil industry? Where are the mass demonstrations against the oppression of the Palestinians (60 years after the fact and still going on)? Where is the activism in favor of the millions of Afro-Americans and Latinos living in supposedly Third World conditions in North America –and their African, Asian and Latino counterparts in Europe? Where is the activism against the fact that the “top” 2% of the population controls 90% of the wealth –isn’t that obscene?
Ain’t happening, unless I’ve gone blind. We’re in the Age of Survivor, of Lady Gaga, of American Idol, of Sarah Palin and Rush Limbaugh (or whatever his name is) and Armani and Victoria’s Secret and Martha Stewart, and government by Goldman Sachs.
As I said at the beginning, I have a jaded perspective on the 60s and 70s. Mostly because it seems that what has happened as we have aged, is things have only gotten worse. How much of that mess is the result of our malfeasance, or misfeasance, or nonfeasance, I’ll let you be the judge.
P.S.: Surgeon-General’s warning to the younger generations: pathological navel-gazing (whether as an individual or as a member of a collectivity -country, generation, religion, political faction) produce mental and cultural disorientation and may lead to more serious consequences.
There is no Revolution. Change is slow, incremental. But if you never look beyond yourself, you’ll never be part of the change. That’s where being part of a community is important: collective effort to make things better. Ideology is pretty much just so much bullshit. No matter what label it disguises itself as.