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Threecrow: And their children and grandchildren will love them and honor them

I will tell you a story, “and we are speaking now of another time…”

Beginning with Mario Savio* and what came to be called by Time Magazine or some other such establishment entity: The Free Speech Movement, the sand beneath our feet began to shift, although we could not have felt this shifting at the time.  In fact, even the shooting of the young Catholic President who our parents loved meant to us simply that, someone shot the President. I heard it coming out of 8th grade band. A kid in the lunch area told me and I said, “I don’t believe you,” and he said, “go look at the flagpole,” and I did and the flag was flying at half mast and so it must have been true. Tell me, just what the fuck is that supposed to mean to a self involved 8th grader. In the days that followed all I know is that I missed the live shooting of the guy they called Lee Harvey Oswald, and that pissed me off. I could only pretend the next day that I did see it and I doubt I pulled that off even as good a liar as I was. But more importantly and to the point, once again, we did not feel the shifting of the sand.

(The “We” in this case are the original Baby Boomers, those of us born directly after WW II, 1946 through 1952; to extend this group to 1954 is a bit of a stretch for the purposes of this lengthy comment.)

In any event, The Free Speech Movement as presented by the media and as discussed in various households was the first time the boomer’s heard the word: Movement. Sadly, The Beats, if that can be called a movement, for us were co-opted, a parody, represented in Mad Magazine by bongos and on television by Dobie Gillis’ friend, Maynard G. Krebs and in the Beach Blanket Bingo movies as goofs to be snickered at and so we missed whatever they may have offered in the way of wisdom or otherness. (This power of imagery and the use of television to distort, confuse and misdirect will come to us again and again as this essay moves forward. And it will not be an insignificant tool of power.) We missed out on the Beats entirely though many of us had the presence of mind to look back for it later on and say what one will, the true beats did not surrender to the state and reality as represented by state or government.
In fact, for the purposes of this entry it may well be said that they did offer a glimpse of what could be called a “voluntary association,” totally removed from the state and government, a sort of modern day and stoned out Thomas Becket: “Its all too easy, man. You bring the sardines and I’ll bring the wine and we’ll just cool out.”

It seemed odd to us, the word Movement. We had no concept of what a Movement might be. We all acted collectively, but it was a “voluntary association” of sameness, wearing the right shirts from the right stores, the right shoes, etc. etc. The social pressure of junior high and high school in the arid Leavitt Town sameness of de facto segregated Lakewood, California, population 84,000, of the early Sixties can not be overstated. And, as concerns Free Speech, well, truth be stated, to us, we were just learning how to use swear words in a useful manner that suited our macho image that we were all busy cultivating for ourselves. All we knew about Mario and his movement was that it was pissing a lot of WW II fathers of us off. A lot. And that once, he made the cover of Life Magazine. It was all the grownups talked about that week.

And then something happened. The same year that I heard the first Beatles album I was walking up Woodruff Avenue on a bright, sunny blue sky day and a fellow I knew from the neighborhood and all through school, he was quite a few years ahead of me, named Jack came walking toward me. He was wearing what I learned was the uniform of a Green Beret and he was using a cane in his right hand, putting his whole weight on the cane each time his leg moved a step. His was the first thousand mile stare I ever saw. The year was 1964. I was fourteen turning fifteen that year and living the life of the Artful Dodger. I was on my own, no parents in sight. I knew nothing. All I knew about life was that one had to eat, one had to fight or bluff off the fight, one had to steal for bread, and, if one were lucky and I was, one had to fuck. That is about all I knew of this world until that day with Jack. He was very tall and I was short and so he looked down at me with this tight smile as he answered my questions about his injury and appearance. I do not believe he once made mention of the country, Viet Nam.

What a difference four years make. By 1965 another older friend, Bruce Waters, wearing full USMC gear had hit the beach in Da Nang and the nation was suddenly at war. This was of little matter to me as I was still living life as an Artful Dodger. 1966 found me in a safe house with a family who, I don’t know, out of pity perhaps, who knows, took me in to live with them. And that proved to make all the difference. All those other Artful Dodgers with whom I hung out are now dead or in prison or both. By 1966 I was making music on stage with dudes twice my age and getting laid as often as I walked out the door.

There was one vaguely nagging fact that was beginning to interrupt the river’s flow. Viet Nam began to enter our living rooms during the evenings by way of the television. Not every evening, mind you, perhaps only weekly at first, but often enough so that by the end of the year every citizen now knew of a country called Viet Nam. And, there was a draft going on. My older brother was drafted and served in Germany. Good duty that.

The next two years, 1967 and 1968 proved to be the defining moment and nothing less than the shaping impulse of my entire generation.

In June of 1967 The Beatles who had been in the basement mixing up the medicine released the Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album, Pepper as it came to be called and our world wide culture was changed forever, overnight. The total tonnage of the written word as regards this album and its effect does not need to be added to here, but suffice to say the spiritual connection we felt to this work of art was visceral and sublime, and it shattered and rendered moot all our previous views and acceptation of the status quo as regards “the establishment,” freedom to and freedom of, the rigid control of hair, and, most importantly, the collective norms of Norman Rockwell’s America.

This collection of songs and sounds represent the seminal moment of the Sixties; the zeitgeist , if you will, exploded into being with this event. Now there are those who would argue this point but they will not convince. Not me in any event.

All that followed was coda. For our generation this was the beginning of our voluntary association. We grew our hair together, we rolled our joints together using the album to separate the seeds from the grass, we talked of consciousness together and yes, we talked of war and peace together. It was this event that put us on the course of looking back together and realizing that we were a part of something much bigger than ourselves. We had a lot of catching up to do but we did it with a will and with a purpose. We discovered Lenny Bruce together, Tom Hayden and the SDS and the Anti-War movement, we rediscovered Mario Savio and the Free Speech Movement, the Civil Rights Movement, The Charismatic Black Panther Party, the Feminist Movement with a dish at the forefront, and finally gathering all these causes and movements were rolled into something we just began to call: “The Movement” was for us a reality, an entity, and so it was that our political awareness began and developed and evolved out of the initial act of listening to this album. We came to believe that its release was a revolutionary act and that we ourselves were by the end of 1967 becoming revolutionaries ourselves and we began to make the claim and stake ourselves in voluntary association with The Movement. Oh, and there was one other small matter that measured how committed one was to The Movement that had nothing to do with Sergeant Pepper. It was an easy mathematical formula:the closer one came to draft age=the degree one was passionately engaged with radical voluntary association with The Movement.

A minor point to be sure, but one that should be made.

By 1968 we had well over half a million troops on the ground in Viet Nam and were dropping enough bombs and agent orange to eliminate a continent and The Movement was at its zenith and then came the Tet Offensive. We took it to the streets in what Locke called, “An appeal to Heaven.” We chanted and vowed to “hurl our bodies against the machine,” Martin Luther King had a dream and got dead, we chanted “Run Bobby, Run” and Bobby got dead, and it became to seem we were in a death struggle with the government and it wasn’t about leaders now, there were no Robespierre’s, no Tom Hayden’s, we didn’t give a shit if the revolution would be televised or not, we were pissed and now it was just The Movement and we meant to bring this government down and nothing short of that would do, we would go to our deaths rather than go home, which brings us to this rip in the fabric of time and Flash! to the events in Egypt of the past two weeks. It is like an acid flashback to the “happenings and Love-Ins” of yesteryear. I see young Egyptians laughing and dancing in the streets, a bold relief of the Summer of Love. I see them making art out of the stones that just a few days ago were breaking their heads open, an echo of the flower child placing flowers in the gun barrels of the National Guard during the March on the Pentagon. I see in these young people the very same actions and acts of bravery I gave witness to all those years ago. I am extremely proud of them and all they have accomplished thus far, and I am most proud of what they who have spent the entire two weeks on the front lines are saying: “No one now in consultation or negotiations with the government talks for us. We who brought this change about from our actions alone are not represented by anyone.“ These are without doubt bold, courageous and strong words of contempt aimed at anyone who would claim to be representing in legitimate fashion the peaceful revolution of the youth movement that brought down a government that by any standard would have been considered one of incontestable power. Those words were not stated in the form of a complaint mind you, but as a matter of fact. To paraphrase, “You knuckleheads do not represent us. You have yet to hear from us.”

And, it is in these very words from the youth that lend hope, if that is the right word, to those who see in the events of the past few months in the Middle East beginning in Tunisia and culminating in Egypt the possibility of an evolution of thought that edges closer to a stateless society, a society of voluntary association, defiance and revolt gone global.

But I am also extremely weary. Weary and wary.

In the final analysis what did The Movement win? What did it lose?

For me I see it now as through a glass, but darkly. I remained active up and down the West Coast moving from campus to campus, street fight to street fight, was drafted into the USMC with a CO status, pulled a Muhammad Ali after I kicked in Anderson’s ribs with my boot for fucking up the platoon with his sub-par performance; they got to me and that is all I have to say about that, I rejoined The Movement, got busted by the FBI on my way to Wounded Knee, we ended the war, we ended the draft, black folk got a taste of freedom, woman got what ever the fuck woman want, Congressmen grew sideburns and longish hair, Nixon resigned and then it was over, the Sixties ended. I don’t know; I am unable to measure it all.

I tend to my own garden now. I taught my children well and I told them the stories because I believed it made them better men. It did.

Television, the lights and wires in a box that Murrow warned us of is now telling us what the events in Egypt mean and the Secretary of State and that cipher of a President are moving the shadows on the cave wall as best they can, and hope remains where it has always been, at the bottom of Pandora’s Box.  Who can say if her time has come?

But if nothing else of note comes from all this, and the actions of the youth of Egypt are co-opted with the smiles and sideburns of a new and improved version of the status quo this truth will remain: come what may of their efforts and contributions they will be able to say with all truth and certainty to their children and their grandchildren, “I was there on St. Crispin’s Day, we few, we happy few, we band of brothers and sisters.”

And they will roll back their sleeves and show their scars and nothing the future brings will ever take that away from them.  Nothing.

And their children and grandchildren will love them and honor them.  As well they should.



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