Monday, October 03, 2005

The Sixties - Back to the Future

"This was a spontaneous arising of an American spirit set within enough people—not a majority, not an awful lot—but enough to change the course of history, in the same way that the Revolution had a few hundred years earlier.

“Because we had reached a peak. We had reached a moment in history where our traditional thoughts and traditional adherences—to custom and to authority—had brought us to the brink of a global disaster, the likes of which the world had never even thought about." Arlo Guthrie

I missed the original airing of the PBS documentary The Sixties. Clearly I've been living under a rock. But I finally caught the rerun this weekend and for two hours I sat transfixed as images and phrases and scenes and oh, the Music from my Boomer past rolled across the TV screen. And as the chillingly ironic parallels with today's world were revealed in stark detail.

We could nitpick about flaws, how much was omitted. No documentary about a defining period of history could possibly be as comprehensive as we'd like ... unless it were made by Ken Burns. Wow. That would be something. A 6-hour, 12-hour retrospective by a master documentarian of a decade that changed the world. How do we get him to do it and why hasn't he already?

Because as I watched the two-hour PBS effort, too brief but still credible and enlightening, I kept thinking, Our children must see this. Especially the older ones, those in college and just after. There are such valuable lessons to be learned from living history ... particularly when it repeats itself within one generation. Very soon they will be running this world. Which has almost changed back again. And they can have an enormous impact on what happens next--right now--if only they knew it.

Come to think of it, we know it ourselves. And we're supposedly running the world now. Knowing what we know, empirically, from conscious, lasting memories, why aren't more of us getting up off our middle-aged asses and doing something about it?

Why were there only 100,000 people protesting in Washington with Cindy Sheehan against the godless war in Iraq -- why not a million?

Why haven't more Americans spoken out in fury over the outrageous racism and classism displayed by our government in New Orleans after Katrina?

Why is no one calling for a serious, independent public accounting of the billions of dollars spent on defence and pork and bridges to nowhere?

It's not impossible. We know how. We've done it before. And we can do it again. We must do it again.

Activist and author Barbara Ehrenreich said this about the antiwar, civil rights and equal rights movements of the 60s, "The powerful had ceased to be responsible. So the powerless decided to take responsibility."

Many of us are not powerless any more, and it's time we acted on behalf of those who still are. We've seen all too recently and often how the leaders in power have abrogated--hell, denigrated--their responsibility to the people and the future of our country. We've got to find a way to help the powerless find their voice -- and the strength to demand meaningful change.

There's a lot to learn from The Sixties ... the documentary and the era. Of all the historic information presented in the documentary, there were four moments of pure clarity that spoke as much of today as yesterday.

War Lies
We watch President Lyndon Johnson solumly state on national television that the enemy had attacked American ships in the Tonkin Gulf, forcing him to ask Congress to make a major troop commitment to Vietnam for the safety of the country.

Then the narrator tells us how later documents and interviews provide irrefutable proof this was an outright lie to get us more fully engaged in the war.

Sound familiar? Perhaps President Bush studied that speech to better craft his own outright lies about Iraq.

Media Lacking
No less an icon than Walter Cronkite tells us how he went to Vietnam himself in 1968 because he didn't believe we were getting the whole story. He came back to report to the country in stunned shock that we would never win the war, that it was "mired in stalemate."

Yet mainstream media moguls, many of whom were hearing the same thing from their own reporters in the field, did virtually nothing to follow up on such appalling information. It wasn't until the Washington Post broke the Watergate scandal that the media suddenly seemed to wake up and make an effort to look beyond the canned sound bites and spoon-fed press releases to find the real stories we had every right to know.

Sound familiar? The Downing Street Memo. Judith Miller. Katrina. Thousands of war dead. Billions of dollars spent ... and misspent. Crime and corruption at the highest levels. And warm pabulum from a media who gives us more on Brad and Jen than on Karl and Tom. When will the American press find their own cojones and do the job without being pushed by far more conscientious Bloggers?

A Hawk, A Dove, A Conscience
Robert Kennedy was damn tough. As his brother's Attorney General he took on organized crime, corrupt unions, even the cancer crippling the FBI. As a Senator he was a determined hawk on the war in Vietnam. Until we began to demand real truths, real answers, the real story ... and that story began to come to light.

And then, in the middle of his presidential campaign he switched positions, began excoriating the war and those who championed it. Was his change of heart written off as a flip flop, undermining his election chances? On the contrary, there are many who were moved by his conscience driven position shift and who believe he would have been our next president if he hadn't been brutally murdered.

John Kerry, Hillary Clinton and all potential presidential candidates who deny today's realities and their own consciences in fear of jeopardizing their potential candidacies should take a page from Bobby's book. Changing your mind, admitting you were wrong and stepping up for what is clearly right and in the best interests of the country ... these aren't weaknesses, they're indications of strong character.

Wrong Man, Right Take
It was Richard Nixon of all people who summed up the Democrat's fatal flaw, as true today as it was during the bitterly contentious 1968 Democratic Convention. "If they can't even unite the Party," he said, "How can they unite the country?"

This is a theme the Republicans used to their advantage in the last presidential election. It's a message we cannot afford to ignore again. We need leaders with Gravitas and the stones to stand up and say: We were snookered by Bush and the Republican mendacity machine, but we won't be again.

Democrats have a message -- stop the lies, stop the war, stop the spending, stop the corruption. They need to get it out there and urge Americans to join together to stop the Republicans from ruining our country.
The documentary won't air again for a while. But it's on video and DVD. And a wealth of information and critical ammunition is all there online The Sixties PBS. We need to take a long hard look at it. There are lessons we can remember, and others can learn. Maybe, just maybe, they will inspire us to fight again for a new generation, and new hope for America.

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Blogger Cynthia Johnston said...

This post reminds me of a story I like to tell about when Bob Dylan heard Jimmi Hendrix sing All Along the Watchtower, he told Hendrix, "That's what I meant."

I meant to write this same post, or at least I was thinking much the same things as I watched only part of the Sixties series... Get Up Stand Up and the Dylan flick... all during the same week that I marched for peace with at least 150,000 other people on Saturday, and demonstrated in front of the White House the following Monday.

You got your finger on MY pulse, my dear Daily Sally. Keep on truckin'...

3:47 AM  

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