Monday, September 18, 2017

It's 1967 All Over Again: The Roots of Our Current Divide Go Back 50 Years



Sunday, Sep 17, 2017 
Published by Salon

As a college student in 1967, “fifty years ago” meant 1917 and World War I, a time and event far from any direct connection with me. To young people today, 1967 must seem as distant and largely irrelevant.

Yet both years were profoundly important turning points in the life of this nation. 1917 marked the entry of the United States into World War I — perhaps the bloodiest, most pointless war in human history — and into a far more significant, militaristic global role.

While 1968 gets more attention from historians, 1967 saw important shifts in the nation’s politics that have shaped the world we live in today.

As the purveyors of public history, mass media reflections on 1967 typically emphasize popular culture and celebrities: Muhammed Ali stripped of his heavyweight title, the release of the Beatles’ “Sgt. Pepper,” the first rock festival at Monterey, the Summer of Love, the release of “The Graduate, etc.”  These brief glimpses fail to convey the historical context that produced events like these.

Yet two new films, Ken Burns’ “The Vietnam War” and Kathryn Bigelow’s “Detroit,” remind us that there are still conversations we need to have and lessons we need to learn from this past. Both films remind us of the roots of today’s Black Lives Matter movement and the never-ending American wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

1967 marked the fourth consecutive “long, hot summer” of urban uprisings, epitomized by the decade’s two most destructive riots, in Newark and Detroit. While the national media had ignored inner-city life prior to the riots, the nation watched in horror as saturation coverage provided staggering footage of the cities burning, residents gleefully looting, and federal troops and National Guard crushing these urban rebellions.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Beyond Resistance: Toward A More Unified Left



March 31, 2017
 
The abominable Trump administration has generated the broadest sweep of active opposition and resistance since the long era of the 1960s.  A quick sampling of The Resistance Calendar reveals the nature and vast scope of this resistance. 

Bold resistance is important in and of itself.  It also becomes a crucial catalyst for mass movement take-off: the sense that change is possible.  The more resistance there is, the more likely it is that others will join in.

But resistance is not enough.  As outrageous and dangerous as Donald Trump is, we need to recognize that much of the current political regime has been in power for a long time, and they represent forces that began to redefine our politics in response to the last time we experienced a comparable surge of public protest across a wide range of political issues— the long era of the 1960s.

By itself, resistance is also difficult to sustain for long in the face of systemic intransigence.  Too easily, its demands will be redefined by the forces that shape our political discourse and our two dominant political parties.  

The issues people are addressing –racism, sexism, homophobia, xenophobia, healthcare, economic inequality, war and militarism, union organizing, fracking, pipeline expansion, gerrymandering, public education, deregulation, and looming above it all, climate change and ecological deterioration— are far too critical to leave to those forces.

We find ourselves at a moment when conditions are so grave that the United States must turn a corner and launch into a new and far more democratic direction.  The time for a continuing see-saw between centrist-liberal Democrats and right-wing Republicans has passed.  The current upsurge of resistance has great potential to be the catalyst for this change of course.

Monday, May 1, 2017

Personal Reflections of an Antiwar Activist on Visiting Vietnam in 2017



While I can’t claim to have experienced the war our soldiers experienced, the U.S. war in Vietnam had a profound and painful impact on my life.  I grew up in the shadow of the glorified role played by the United States in World War II.  I embraced that role and participated in Memorial Day marches and ceremonies as a young Boy Scout.


                When I first attended Oberlin College as a freshman in 1964-65, I encountered a campus highly politicized in the aftermath of Mississippi Freedom Summer.  I joined in idealistic campus activism.  However, in February, 1965, when the United States announced that it had begun bombing North Vietnam, I encountered a very small group of dark-clad protesters against the war at Oberlin’s traditional protest site, the Memorial Arch.  My instinctive reaction was: who were these few people who felt they knew more than the State Department about Southeast Asia?  I acted on that instinct by standing as a counter-protester with a sign that read “Here’s one Young Democrat who supports the Johnson Administration.”


Like most Americans I hadn’t yet encountered anything that might contradict my naiveté, but I began to listen to classmates who read material I hadn’t been exposed to; I began to pay closer attention to the Vietnam “crisis” the media were now calling a “war.”  Before long, I had become a skeptic, a “dove,” who believed U.S. intentions were good in the struggle with the Communist Soviet Union but had been misapplied in a Vietnam struggle where at best our nation’s efforts seemed counterproductive.


It wasn’t much longer before I had learned enough about the war to realize that the stated “intentions” were a cover for an immoral assault on the nation and peoples of Vietnam (and, soon, Laos and Cambodia).  As my learning deepened about the war, it had three effects on me.  One was that it shattered my earlier belief in my nation’s “noble” foreign policy; it shattered the world I had grown up in and left me feeling that my country now viewed me as “anti-American.”  This was and is an enduring, painful part of my coming of age –like learning some terrible dark secret about a family member you have loved and looked up to as a child.

The Tragedy of the Two Americas

Published on Tuesday, November 15, 2016

   It may not happen soon, but the deep social fractures must be acknowledged, and then healed, if progress is ever to take hold. (Photo: Brendan Hoffman/Getty Images)
As the world struggles to make sense of the 2016 election, my mind traveled back to two books I read recently: Eddie Glaude’s Democracy in Black: How Race Still Enslaves the American Soul, and Arlie Russell Hochschild’s Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right.
Reading the two books simultaneously, I was immediately struck by this reality: these are two very different communities of people who feel great pain.  For a variety of valid reasons, they both feel like outsiders in what they perceive to be mainstream American culture.


Glaude’s community of outsiders, of course, also includes people of color generally, along with LGBTQ folks and women, as well as their allies in the white male Left.  Hochschild’s outsiders include much of the white working class and many who live in rural America.  In some respects these two communities are at the heart of the split between so-called “blue” and “red” America.

Despite sharing the pain of being outsiders, however, the two communities are completely isolated from each other.  Not only that, but many in each community probably view the other group as at least indirectly responsible for their pain.

Living with repeated reminders of their pain, both communities are largely cut off from feeling empathy towards the other.  The tragedy of this empathy gap—of the two Americas—is that it not only prevents these communities of people from coming together and understanding that they do have significant common interests, but it also entraps them in a system that perpetuates rather than heals their wounds.