Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Reflections: Who's Boomin' Who?

Boomers tend to hear a lot of vapid shit laid down against them by those who came after. They call us selfish and self-absorbed; we know that that's not where it’s at. We know that we put our actual, physical butts on the line--and we did it for others. If we talked, we also walked, and we marched, and we sat-in, and we got gassed, and jailed, and beaten, and harassed, and busted, and verbally abused by morons wearing Nixon buttons. Some of us got killed.

Today, there’s 24/7 blogging and incessant talking. Walking? Not so much.

We were brave and we were creative. We transformed pop music into an art form. We made movies that were worth watching. Many of us were spiritual seekers. We bequeathed to subsequent lame ass generations their sex, drugs and rock ’n’ roll. Say 'Thank you.' You know you love it.

Today everybody runs. Everybody’s a hard-body. They all got the six-pack. But inside (where it counts) they’re soft, self-pampered pussies and impotent whiners. Mom-my! The liberals stole my lunch money! Wah! Wah!

Two of the books I’m currently reading, Black Glass, by Karen Joy Fowler and Flying Close to the Sun, by Cathy Wilkerson, both fellow Boomers, are bringing back to me the danger and excitement of just being on the streets in the ‘Sixties as a young person engaged in the movements for civil rights and against the war in Vietnam.

Here is an excerpt from Flying Close to the Sun which is a graphic and typical example of why I remain so fond of cops to this day:

On January 17 [1969], John Huggins and Hunchy Carter, leaders of the LA Panthers, were gunned down at a meeting of UCLA students, called to establish a black studies department. The Panthers had been invited by some students to provide a counterbalance to members of another black organization, Ron Karenga’s US (United Slaves), because some students had felt intimidated by the armed men from US that had recently insisted on speaking on their behalf to the administration. Several people at the time saw who had done the shooting, but those identified were not arrested. Instead, police jailed seventy-five members of the Panthers that night. One was the widow of slain John Huggins, even though she was the nursing mother of a three-week-old baby. John Huggins was a Vietnam vet who had left Lincoln University in Pennsylvania to work with the Panthers. Many suspected at the time that US had been infiltrated and as being used by the LAPD to get rid of the Panthers.
When news of the shooting reached us (SDS members), I was stunned. The police response, to do a sweep of Panthers and not arrest anyone from US, seemed strong evidence that informants or agents were somehow involved.
[Flying Close to the Sun, pp.246-247]

And here is an episode that explains in part the genesis of my great love and respect for Cowboy Ronnie:

Militant demonstrations erupted on several campuses that April [1969]. In Berkeley, black students and white supporters went on strike, demanding an autonomous black studies department. Governor Ronald Reagan called in the National Guard. [Flying Close to the Sun, p.248]

Wilkerson writes of the aftermath of the disclosure of the secret and illegal bombing of Cambodia. Check out the amazing words of the governor of the great State of Ohio, anticipating the kind of hyperbole that today is used to characterize al-Qaeda, spoken to vilify the sons and daughters of ordinary Ohioans who were demonstrating against the escalation of the war:

…Nixon announced the US bombing of Cambodia. … The response by hundreds of thousands of students on hundreds of campuses around the country is now legendary.
The government reaction to these uprisings is also legendary. Ohio Governor James Rhodes derided Kent State student activists, already in the midst of antiwar demonstrations, saying, "They’re worse than the brownshirts and the communist element and also the nightriders and the vigilantes. They’re the worst type of people we harbor in America. I think we are up against the strongest, well-trained, militant, revolutionary group in America.” Days later, the nervous young National Guard troops under his leadership shot and killed four young students, shocking the country.
[Flying Close to the Sun, p.356]

In her story “Letters From Home” in Black Glass , in which she imagines writing to a boyfriend who has disappeared in Vietnam, Karen Joy Fowler, who was an undergraduate at UC Berkeley from 1968 to 1972, recalls what it was like to be a college student on an activist campus in those days. (More reason to love cops. More reason to love Ronald Reagan):

By the spring of 1970… I had gone out to protest the Cambodian invasion and come home in a cast. The police had removed their badges, donned their gas masks, and chased us down, catching me just outside Computer Sciences. They had broken my ankle. Owlie [one roommate’s boyfriend] was gone. His birthday had been drawn seventeenth in the lottery, and he’d relocated to a small town in Oregon rumored to have a lenient draft board. Gretchen had acquire a boyfriend whose back had been injured in a high school wrestling match, rendering him 4-F with no tricks. …We heard that the National Guard was killing people on the campus of Kent State. I heard nothing from you. [Black Glass, p.111]

Long before Iran-Contra, more reason to love the memory of Ronald Reagan:

They didn’t want me at any more demonstrations. “When you could run,” Lauren pointed out, “look what happened to you.” But I was there with them when the police cordoned off Sproul Plaza, trapping us inside, and gassed us from the air. …Governor Ronald Reagan and all the major networks assured you that we had been asked to disperse but had refused. Only Poncho [PBS reporter] told the truth. We had not been allowed to leave. Anyone who tried to leave was clubbed. A helicopter flew over the area and dropped tear gas on us. The gas went into the hospital and into the neighboring residential areas. [Black Glass, p. 116]

So, go ahead—mock the Boomers. We can take it. We’ve heard worse than you’ve got. To steal a line from SNL, “We got chunks of guys like you in our stool.”