(11:00AM EST – promoted by Nightprowlkitty)
Way back in the olden days – 1968 – there was a nasty big war going on in a godforsaken little country in southeast Asia called Vietnam. In those days there wasn’t an “All Volunteer Force” full of high school dropouts, petty criminals who bought off jail time by enlisting, way too many hopeless kids from the rust belt and impoverished heartland with no other options, etc.
In those days we Baby Boomers, the largest chunk of humans ever to gift the planet with our presence, were enjoying our youth and our freedom immensely with what our parents who fought World War II at home and abroad were able to buy us with their rewards for suffering through decades of economic depression and war. We were the best educated generation ever, a huge percentage of us went to college because our parents were hell bent on giving us all the opportunities they never had.
So in order to have an ample rotating pool of millions of young men to fight their war, they had a system called “Selective Service.” Conscription. Now, this system and the Last Great Opium War it supported were not very popular with the young Boomers who got to be cannon fodder whether they wanted to or not. As resistance and protest against the war grew among the young and disrupted college campuses all over the country, the huge ‘bubble’ of humans that comprised my generation began looking really dangerous to the Powers That Be who like to run things from some basement in or near Washington, D.C.
The situation looked pretty grim to me too, though I tended to have a lot more faith in my generation than the wigs in D.C. did. I figured it would eventually come down to revolution, but I also figured we’d win. Sheer force of numbers. I joined the local NAACP Youth Council, thinking we were going to need the boomers who weren’t WASPs, as much or more than we needed boomers who were. We also had some luck recruiting Native American kids, which I considered a very hopeful sign. Our revolution would need us all, so I actively went to work rounding up as many “all” as I could find. It being Oklahoma (Muskogee, in fact), they weren’t hard to find.
My sister who was a year older had joined the SDS while away for her first year of college in Kalamazoo. She wasn’t at all shy of trying to recruit me into the fold every time she came home on holiday. She too was convinced that a revolution by our generation was inevitable, and despite serious inborn intellect (she was Valedictorian in high school, eventually got a PhD in plant physiology), seemed totally under some kind of spell cast by some older people – pre-WW2-born Beatnik generation – who were trying really hard to manage the great desire for change and a better world for their own purposes. By manipulating us.
She came at Christmas that year with a suitcase full of badly typed and copied revolutionary screeds and calls to action she got from an SDS agitator she was in love with. Wanted me to pass them out at school – Muskogee Central High, for God’s sake! – and at our NAACP meetings at the AME church. Basic rock-and-bomb throwing rhetoric, how-to on Molotov cocktails, contact numbers for at least a dozen much older professional agitators that would ‘help’ us bring chaos to the streets and campuses, and a little paperback book entitled “First Aid for Radicals.” Which I admit I still have, keep right next to my Merck Manual on the office shelf, and have referred to more often than anyone would like in a world of lousy-to-none health care. Go figure.
My vision of how the revolution would go didn’t look a whole lot like the one my sister’s new boyfriend had implanted in her well-developed brain. I was more a stand-strong, resist and then take ’em over from the inside sort of revolutionary. I don’t think it was too shocking that her “take to the streets and make a big mess” group split within just a few months, spawning those violent Weathermen. I wanted a bloodless coup. She wanted a bloodbath.
Yet… yet… I’d shared a bedroom, a number of houses, some other brothers and sisters, a couple of parents and my entire life (so far) with this person. We were barely 14 months apart in age, and I loved her like… a sister. I could understand getting all caught up in her sudden freedom and independence, I could understand falling for the wrong kind of guy. And I sure as heck understood her desire to be a mover and shaker in the revolution we both knew-hoped-wished-believed was coming. I wanted that too. So I set about trying to talk sense into her.
My NAACP group was really very cool, full of very smart kids with a dream and a plan. We were fond of actions and events that no one could argue with if they didn’t want to come across as racist haters, and even our elders didn’t want to be that kind of person in those days – at least, not since MLK was assassinated and everybody was ashamed. We’d succeeded in getting the segregated bathrooms and drinking fountains at city parks and buildings done away with, the mayor loved us. We gave speeches at area churches weekly, covered all the denominations and were well received. Did the same with the Lions and the Masons and the Rotary and the Elks – the captain of the high school debate team (now my hubby of 40 years) was our ‘talking head’, and he was very, very good. We were busy negotiating desegregation of the high schools too, which finally happened in the fall of ’69 after I’d graduated. But I’d helped lay the groundwork, and it went very smoothly. The changes we wanted were incremental, but constant. Get this one, move immediately to demanding that one. The changes my sister wanted were drastic and fraught with violence.
She told me I was a fool for trying to work with ‘The System’, that it had to be utterly destroyed before real change could come. “Tear It Down!” she said forcefully with her fist in the air, as if she were talking to somebody else. It made me sad, because I knew it wasn’t her doing the talking.
“Okay,” I slowly responded. “I can see that things are so bad that this ‘system’ has to go away.” Agreement tends to open ears to hear, I’d learned the hard way. “I know they’ll fight to their last breath to salvage it, too.” Her turn to agree with me, as blood-colored imaginings danced in both our heads. Now to turn it, against that older boyfriend I’d never met (and never did meet) who had such a stranglehold on her brain…
”This is still Muskogee, Oklahoma, U.S.A,” I reminded her. It sure as hell wasn’t Kalamazoo, Michigan. She nodded, her eyes downcast as if she realized what I’d be up against if I took her material to school. They’d kick me out faster than they’d kicked our brother out for wearing his hair too long just months previous. He was a year younger than me.
I listed our victories so far, which while not atoning for King’s ugly death, did count for more than our failures. I told her I was going to marry that talking head we’d recruited. She widened her eyes, but wasn’t really surprised. She had no such plans for her radical boyfriend. Informing her that I knew she was being used, and making her realize it herself. “It’s not your revolution, is it?” I asked gently.
She sighed and shrugged, a bit distressed that I saw through her so easily. It had always been thus.
“Say you tear it down,” I conceded. “There’s enough of us to do that, if it comes to violence in the streets I and all my friends will have to finish what you start. And we will,” I said most seriously. Then I hit her hard…
Whoa. It was definitely like a slap in the face, something that for some unfathomable reason she’d never even considered before. So she got defensive, of course.
“Our job is to tear it down. That’s enough, it has to be done.” Those were words coming from that shadowy boyfriend, I could tell.
“You are the smartest person I’ve ever known except for Dad,” I told her honestly. “You’re my hero. I spend my entire life trying to live up to your example, and I always fail.” She smiled a little, we knew each other so well. “Revolutions need foot-soldiers, yes. But unless your leadership is willing to tell you what comes next, you’re a bigger fool than me. SOMEBODY knows, you can be damned sure.”
That made her pull back a bit and think. Good. Now for the kill…
“If they won’t tell you what comes next – what you’re fighting for – then you can be sure that it’s not something you’d approve of.”
Shades of Che and Castro! Ghosts of Bolsheviks and every other revolution we’d ever learned about in school that turned out bad.
The deed was done, she broke up with that boyfriend shortly after getting back to school, met a great guy who spent a whole career in the foreign service working from the inside, they lived happily ever after.
America came about through revolution too. But it was a revolution of a kind the world had never seen before, and its leadership was meticulous in letting their troops know what, exactly, they were fighting for. They had nothing to hide, they weren’t just looking to make rivers run red with blood. The troops – We The People – stuck it out to the end because they had a real stake in the outcome. A real reason to fight. That’s something our “Founding Fathers” – traitors to England all – understood and used for their benefit. Best of all, their benefit was the benefit of all (except for those slaves and women and assorted others it took awhile to recognize). Nobody’s revolution is perfect.
If it must be revolution now, and there are ample indications that we may indeed be ripe for it, I would still wish a bloodless coup. We boomers drifted away when we finally ended the war, with not too many dead to count (~50,000 + 4 at Kent). Jerry Rubin went off to Wall Street. So much for tearing it down! We got lazy, we had jobs to work, kids to raise, marriages to pretend we were satisfying. We fell prey to the same trials of life that have defeated more revolutions in history than were ever waged or won.
I am beginning to realize that Obama is a clever front-man for the anti-revolutionary forces. Someone nice and eminently likable, to keep us distracted and placated so we don’t notice that nothing has changed. So to those generations that followed mine and would be numerous enough added together to supersede mine, get your act together. Be smart, know your enemy, don’t ever fall for the “tear it down” crap without knowing what will come next. Don’t be dumb, and don’t quit the moment you get some small and comfortable concessions.
If you pull it off, I’ll meet you on the barricades. I may be old, but I’m mean as hell. You need me, so don’t write me off. Change is what we make it. Don’t trust ‘The System’ to gift you with it, don’t be fooled by the clever rhetoric, don’t go off half cocked. Organization and honesty are your most powerful tools, use them. We’ll finish what you start.