Am I the only person who sees similarities between the political division and social protest we are experiencing today and the protest and division related to the Sixties? There was unrest as African-Americans oh so slowly gained SOME Civil Rights and social justice. Protests became violent as civil rights marchers were opposed by fire hoses, police dogs and batons. Inflammatory rhetoric was spoken on all sides – the far reactionary right and radical left…AND BY PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATES. Both the KKK or Black Panthers resorted to bombs, bank robberies, riots and assassinations in an attempt to slow down or speed up the process depending upon their particular world view. Riots in major cities were sparked by MLK’s assassination. I am sure no one of my age can forget the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago. Young people violently protested the Vietnam War along with other social issues. They burned draft cards or American Flags while facing down policemen in riot gear and Mayor Daily’s political machine. The drug culture of the Sixties with the “Make love not war” Hippy movement gave our parents pause to shake their heads in dismay. Appalled conservatives believed we had a real problem of lacking respect for authority and law and order.
The names of the wars have changed as have the names of the politicians who wage them and the names of the young people who are dying in their stead. Today we are not fighting over political dogmas but rather over religious beliefs…supposedly. The only people winning are those who are paid off to promote war and those who actually sell the weapons of death. It was the same in the Sixties as it is today- war mongers and arms dealers rake in the cash. Even though the weapons have become more efficiently destructive, death certainly has not changed nor has the sorrow or cost in life and devastation caused by those weapons.
We still do not have a religious, political or economic system inclusive to all. The extremists are either still battling to move things along more quickly or to insure that they move back to the way they were. Even the motion picture industry is under fire with protests and a call to boycott the Oscars over the issue of diversity. I hear the same arguments that highlighted the Civil Rights movement in the Sixties reverberating from both sides. These arguments now include lesbians and gays or Christians and Muslims or gun control. Instead of being about societal concerns, student protests seem to be more “me” oriented. I both hope and fear that my perception is one that has been packaged and perpetuated by the media “trolls” on both sides for a deeper, more ominous reason, perhaps for increasing ratings or possibly to create more unrest. With recent police-involved shootings and the “Black Lives Matter” reactions to them, I can hear the distant cries about “police brutality” and to “barbeque a pig” echoing through the fog of time. Our own population seems to be hell-bent on self-destruction …just as it seemed to be in the Sixties and for many of the same reasons.
The ’68 Presidential election experienced some of the same disunity we see in debates for the upcoming 2016 election. The leading Democratic candidate Bobby Kennedy was assassinated by a Jordanian Arab, Sirhan Sirhan, over Kennedy’s pro-Israel position. The left anti-communist, pro-civil rights liberal Democratic candidate Hubert Humphrey attempted to unify a party divided over a “civil rights plank” in the party’s platform and failed to do so. Pro-segregationist and state’s rights candidate George Wallace took five Southern states in the election and many other votes away from Humphrey and helped hand “Tricky Dick” Nixon the presidency. Nixon even had his own “Southern Strategy” to pull Southern Democrats into the Republican fold, expediting the Democratic Party’s “liberalization” that began with Truman’s desegregation of the Army in the early Fifties and which gained momentum after Johnson’s signing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Earlier there was a “liberal” court ruling overthrowing Plessy v Ferguson for Brown v Board in 1954 that wasn’t fully implemented until the late Sixties and early Seventies. It is both interesting and disconcerting that during the past fifty years, we still haven’t moved past division caused by sectionalism, race, executive orders, liberal courts and the Middle East.
I once stood in front of a US History class and remarked that it was my belief that 1968 was the most polarizing and divisive year since the Civil War. Assassinations, Tet, riots over Civil Rights and the war all boiled over and did not conclude during the Democratic Convention. Later the massacre at Mai Lai would come to light and create more discord over the war…justified I would guess. I also remarked that, as I look back in retrospect, I am surprised we were able to survive it as a country. I don’t know if I could make the same statement today about 1968. With things as turbulent as they are right now, I can only hope that we survive until 2018 to celebrate the fifty years since 1968. The scary thought is that conditions may get worse before they get better.
As the Watergate scandal was still a few years down the road after 1968, what do we have looming in our present day world? Will we be faced with a confrontation with Iran or with Russia or with more race riots? Let us learn from history that names may change but the same thing will continue to happen again unless we have a spiritual revolution… Maybe what we really we need is another Woodstock, world-wide, to finally get people to whole-heartedly desire love and peace and harmony!