Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Anger or Enlightenment?

When I was in the tenth grade there was the National Moratorium Against the War in Vietnam.  I had recalled it being in May 1970, but I looked it up and it was a day in November 1969.  I mention this as an alert to anyone reading the piece who might have similar memories.  Mine are very likely off, and not just a little.  Now, back to the story.

By fall 1969, everyone I knew was against the War.  Ending it was a no brainer, though it would take more than three years for that to really happen.  But a few years earlier, when I first learned about the War in Junior High School, and seeing some of my classmates against it, I recall that being surprising.  My initial reaction was to support my country and therefore to support the War.  My feelings weren't America - Love It Or Leave It.  I don't know that I was reading a newspaper yet when I learned about the War, or if I was reading a newspaper then I had only recently started, so it wasn't that.  It was more that if you do the Pledge of Allegiance in class every day then when you hear about your country at war, your instinct is to be for your country.  It would take a while to come to the point of view that you could be for your country but against the War.

On the day of the Moratorium when I got to school, like everyone else, I found that somehow school was closed for the day.  I should add here that my school was on split session.  My first class was at something like 11:40 AM.  So school may very well have been open at 8 AM but closed down by the time I arrived.  Whether school was open earlier I don't know.  At the usual arrival time we were all hanging around outside the school and word spread that there was going to be a protest rally that afternoon in Bryant Park, behind the NYC Public Library Building.  One or two of my friends decided to go.  I believe that was James and possibly Henry.  There's that memory thing again; I'm not sure.  It was both a bus and a subway ride to get there, an hour or more in each direction, so going meant it would be for the rest of the day.  But school was closed so why not?

When we got just outside the park it was jammed pack and hard to get it in. I recall a few of those that were already in pulling up others who wanted to get in over a concrete railing, because the regular entrance was just impossible at that point.  I was a pretty big guy and unsure they could get me over the railing, but somehow they did and we were in.  We found a place to sit and pretty much hung out there the rest of the afternoon.  There were speeches from some luminaries - Mayor Lindsay, Representative Shirley Chisholm, and a few others I don't recall.  They were inspirational.  You felt as if you were part of something big and important and that being there mattered.  I was told later that I made it onto the evening news.  This wasn't for doing anything special.  My leg fell asleep from sitting cross legged for a long time.  I stood up to get some circulation in going.  The camera panned the crowd then and there I was, the only one standing.

The point I want to draw from this recollection is that protest then was an act of solidarity, organized in a way where some of the political establishment were leaders of the protest.  Yet with all the feel good that the protest engendered, the motive was nonetheless anger.  The War was unjust.  We as a country should never have escalated the conflict.  Having done so, we should stop it ASAP.  This was a simple message with a simple solution, both of those unifying.  Nevertheless, it is hard to see looking backward that the protest had much consequence. given how events unfolded afterward.

It just occurred to me as I was writing this that May 1970 was when the shootings at Kent State occurred.  I wonder why I conflated the two events.  

* * * * *

I want to turn now to the Occupy Wall Street movement and a piece in Today's New York Times by David Brooks that bothered me, a lot.   Brooks seems to be fed up with anger from the left, though I don't understand why.  He is six and a half years younger than I am so he missed being a teenager during the anti Vietnam War period.  He seems to only want wonkish solutions to America's problems.  Simple expressions of anger will not do.  He hasn't figured out that solidarity must precede any solution and the basis of solidarity, especially now, has to be anger with the system, which is totally screwed up and rigged to benefit those at the top.  We've seen this from The Right already, though as many have pointed out that movement had rich financiers feeding it support.  There hasn't been an organized expression of anger from The Left up to this point.  Why not have such a grass roots expression?

Having myself written a variety of pieces that fall into the wonkish solution category and seeing them go nowhere, while now seeing a fair amount of attention in the mainstream media focused on Occupy Wall Street, I've got to admire their stick-to-it-ness and good sense (from a marketing point of view) of not going down the policy path too early.  It is much easier to know what you are against - that's what drives the anger - than to know what you are for.  Hendrik Hertzberg in the New Yorker has a piece, A Walk in the Park, that seems much more descriptive of what Occupy Wall Street actually is.  Near the end he writes (note OWES is Hertzberg's own acronym for the movement):

What OWES doesn’t have—and is under some pressure, internal and external, to formulate—is a traditional agenda: a list of “demands,” a set of legislative recommendations, a five-point program. For many of its participants, this lack is an essential part of the attraction. They’re making it up on the fly. They don’t really know where it will take them, and they like it that way. Occupy Wall Street is a political project, but it is equally a cri de coeur, an exercise in constructive group dynamics, a release from isolation, resignation, and futility. The process, not the platform, is the point. Anyway, OWES is not the Brookings Institution.

Following this Hertzberg concludes on a hopeful note because what OWES should be doing is not solving all the problems, but rather kindling a spirit of trying to solve them in a much larger sympathetic community, and that seems possible, though at this juncture still improbable.  

This gets me back to Brooks.  The question to ask is do we really not have a road map of what should be down to put America again on sound footing?  Or is it that like peace between the Israelis and Palestinians, everyone knows the elements of what a solution looks like.  That's not the problem.  The problem is that there isn't the political will to get there.   Last year, their was a longish piece in the New Yorker about Chuck Schumer and Wall Street.  That piece illustrated the problem.  Why doesn't Brooks write about it?

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