Sunday, November 13, 2011

America Started as a Protest

Chicago Police, 1968
By Alan Caruba

So I am watching the police in Portland, Oregon drive the Occupy protesters from some area they choose, tearing down the makeshift living quarters, tossing the signs onto a pile to be carted off. All across America mayors have decided that the pattern of disease, crime, and uncivil behavior has lost its charm. “They’ve had enough time to make their point,” said one.

Most of us are still trying to figure out what the Occupy protests were all about. There was a lot of whining about having to actually pay back a college loan, a general unhappiness with banks, but it was both leaderless and unfocused. A protest just to have a protest.

“It was the best of times. It was the worst of times” said the narrator of A Tale of Two Cities, but it is always the best and worst of times, depending on whether you are old or young, have a roof over your head, and most of all a means to earn a living. Interesting phrase, “earn a living.” Pull it inside out and it says that life is not free. No matter what you want, there’s a price on it. It’s called the free market. Or taxes. Or both.

In my seventy-plus years, I suspect there was always a protest going on somewhere in America. Indeed, if you think about it, America started as a protest. “No taxation without representation.” The Revolution was six long years of protest, interspersed by a number of battles from Bunker Hill to Yorktown.

One year in particular stands out for its protests, 1968. I had just entered my 30s. My Army service was well behind me and I had no concerns about being called up to go to Vietnam, but that war was raging in 1968 and so were the protests against it.

On a parallel track the Civil Rights movement, despite the passage in 1964 of federal laws, was still going strong and had been joined by a feminist movement and a nascent gay rights movement. It was hard to keep track of who was protesting what, but in1968 they all seemed to come together during the Democratic Party convention in Chicago and that turned into a police riot against the protesters.

It was the best of times. It was the worst of times. Occupy Wall Street has gotten is measure of media coverage, but in 1968 people were talking about Resurrection City, a protest to demand attention on behalf of the rural and urban poor. A shantytown was put up parallel to the National Mall in Washington, D.C. It was organized by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. In April, Dr. King was assassinated in Memphis. The Resurrection City protest was all but over when, in May, rain of biblical proportions turned it into a slum, a very muddy one at that.

As the nation grieved Dr. King’s assassination and in the wake of President Lyndon B. Johnson’s announcement that he would not run for the office again, Kennedy’s brother, Robert, entered the race in mid-March. On June 4, after celebrating a primary win in California, a Palestinian named Sirhan Sirhan shot him in the hotel’s kitchen. He died twenty-six hours later on June 6. Barely two months had passed since Dr. King’s death.

On August 26, the Democratic National Convention opened in Chicago. It would nominate Hubert H. Humphrey, LBJ’s Vice President as its candidate. The battles with anti-war protesters in Lincoln Park and a few nights later in Grant Park were the real news.

In November 1968, Richard M. Nixon, a Republican, was elected President. How close was it? Nixon received 43.4 percent of the popular vote. Humphrey won 42.7 percent. An independent candidate, a racist Alabama Governor named George Wallace, received 13.5 percent.

As 1968 wound down, Douglas Engelbart and fellow researchers at Stanford University announced the invention of the world’s first word processor that included something called “a mouse.” Elvis Presley made a comeback with a TV special on NBC. On December 24th, the crew of Apollo 8 sent back the first images of Earthrise and read from the book of Genesis.

There were 549,000 U.S. troops in Vietnam as 1968 came to an end. Nearly 17,000 had been killed in action that year.

It was the best of times. It was the worst of times.

© Alan Caruba, 2011

1 comment:

Guy in Ohio said...

At least the protestors in the 60's had a valid reason to protest. Of course, the spitting on our troops as they came home, the burning of cars and buildings, and the rioting were completely out of line, but at least they were trying to save lives in a war that a large percentage of Americans felt was unjust and unnecessary.

Unfortunately, we set a very bad precedent in the sixties when we caved in to the violence. We reinforced a misguided belief that's common among radicals ... that violence and anarchy are a useful and effective tool with which to effect change in a society.

We're paying the price for that mistake now.

The OWS protestors have very few valid points, and the few they do have certainly don't warrant unleashing civil insurrection and violence in our cities. The things they're upset about can easily be resolved through political and legislative action.

I've lost any empathy I ever felt toward them now, and I think most Americans share that sentiment.