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A Generational Difference

In 1968, as a graduate student, I remember marching in the streets shouting “Hell No, We Won’t Go,” and “Hey, Hey LBJ, How Many Kids Did You Kill Today?” when demonstrating against the Vietnam War. We not only blocked the use of the U.S. 5 Freeway going through Seattle, we occupied the ROTC building on campus. After police killed students at Jackson State University in Jackson, Mississippi, we tried to shut down our own campus by marching and shouting “Jackson State, Police State” until our university administration acknowledged the injustice of the killing and succumbed to other demands, most of which I can no longer remember.

Then there was the election. Because of the country’s opposition to his own policies in Vietnam, sitting President, Lyndon Johnson declined to run for a second term.

Even more than by his older brother, Jack, I was enthralled by Robert F. Kennedy. Like Barack Obama today, he called for us to be better Americans. Although he was a critic of American involvement in the Vietnam War, I remember when he had the courage to address a crowd of students and ask us, if we believed in equality, why were we letting poor and Black Americans fight the war while we protested from the safety of our academic deferments from the draft. Then he was killed.

By the time of the Democratic convention I had become a die-hard supporter of Eugene McCarthy. He was anti-war, a populist, a far-left liberal (at least for the times), and he was opposed by the Democratic Party establishment. He lost at the convention while thousands of anti-war demonstrators marched in the streets and battled the police. I was furious that Hubert Humphrey, Johnson’s Vice President, who didn’t even oppose the Vietnam War, was nominated.

But in the end, I voted for Humphrey. To me, Nixon was a much worse alternative.

Bernie Sanders has been a more dynamic version of Eugene McCarthy. He has talked straight, demanded progressive choices on taxes, college tuition, health care, trade deals, and the environment. He has wanted to take down Wall Street and remove money from politics. His supporters are every bit as passionate—but not more so— as I was in the 1960s.

And now they’ve lost the nomination to Hillary Clinton, a modern version of Hubert Humphrey: classically liberal in philosophy, centrist in solutions (although, as a woman, a pioneer).

Sanders’ supporters are angry. Some are marching in the streets outside the convention. Not in the numbers of 1968, not with the suicidal abandon of 1968, but also not with the media attention of 1968. But with energy and dedication. They refuse to support Clinton. In the convention, the die-hards continue to try to shout down speakers whom they oppose, such as former CIA Director and Defense Secretary, Leon Panetta. In 1968, those of us who “lost” at the convention simply felt we were up against a Party establishment that was too conservative to back our candidate and made decisions in smoke filled back rooms. Sanders supporters believe, with some justification, that the Democratic primary process was “rigged” and they have actual proof of bias within the DNC.

I watch what has gone on in the primary and the convention. I have been a vocal Bernie Sanders supporter until the results were in from the California Primary. Then I switched to Clinton. I regard it as a matter of our country’s survival to not elect Donald Trump to the presidency. But during the primary battles, I have been appalled by protestors blocking streets to stop cars from arriving at Trump rallies, by protestors attacking Trump supporters as they left his rallies, at Sanders supporters shouting down Democratic Party leaders in Nevada’s Democratic State Convention and preventing them from speaking. At the convention, I have felt nothing but irritation when Sanders supporters try to drown out speakers with their chanting of “Bernie” or “No More War” or “Lies.”

If I am honest, I must admit that some of my reaction is due to my age. What seemed reasonable as a way of expressing political opinion when I was in my 20s seems suspect when I am in my 70s. What seemed a moral obligation—to speak my mind in the face of those in power—in the 1960s, I now see as immature in 2016. I want to hear what speakers say, even when I don’t agree with everything they are telling me, and I am irritated and sometimes even outraged when someone tries to stop them from speaking.

Have I matured and gained wisdom or have I simply gotten old and more conservative with regard to my views of what is acceptable behavior? I need to be honest in trying to answer this question.

My belief that everyone, including those whom I oppose, has the right to express him or her self is something I refuse to doubt. I even tell myself that I must have felt the same way when I was 25 years old, but I can’t be sure. But other than that, I think my view that those who don’t agree with the decisions of the majority or the machinations of the power brokers within the Democratic Party, or that  those who march in the streets and yell slogans that might inflame the unhinged as much as they might enlist the support of those who oppose injustice, should tone down their behavior and rhetoric so it does not jeopardize overall progressive goals, is simply my age speaking.

More power to the protestors. When I was young, such activities shaped my political beliefs for the rest of my life. The memories of group solidarity in the cause of justice, even when most of America disliked what we were doing, stayed with me as a representation of noble actions and political engagement instead of mental laziness and blind acceptance of the status quo. You can point to the numerous oldsters who are part of the protest movement (even in my 60s I took to the streets and carried a sign to oppose our invasion of Iraq), but they are a decided minority. Most of us, even those who were passionate when we were young, are watching from the sidelines. And we are often uncomfortable watching people do exactly what we did at their age.

We have to remember those days when we were young. What we did was right back then. What those who are passionate are doing today is also right.

Reader Comments (2)

I'm sorry, Casey, but I disagree with you on this one. I too was involved in protests in the sixties and early seventies, and I continued the marches to Washington on behalf of reproductive rights into the nineties. Anthony and I, with my daughter and her spouse, went to the rally for sanity in 2010. After Kent State, the "activists" on our campus shut down the university in the most brutal manner, shoving disabled people and bullying everyone who was not moving out of buildings fast enough. I told the leadership then that behaving like fascitsts was not a way to protest people behaving like fascists. I feel the same now. Shouting down speakers instead of booing them after the speech seems to me counterproductive. And do they really mean "No more wars"? Even against police states or the self-styled Caliphate? Is this sane?

I'm also really surprised by your comparison of Clinton and Humphrey. Humphrey was a champion of working people to an extent that working people themselves did not understand, so taken were they with hatred of black people and the civil-rights movement. I'm generalizing, but I was in the trenches, working for Democrats, knocking on doors trying to get votes, and I was subjected to extraordinary abuse both in 1968 and 1972, when I was a precinct delegate for McGovern. Clinton has worked for children's rights--and they don't vote!--all her working life. She's championed women's causes, from equal pay to reproductive rights to maternity leave. Maybe these don't seem important to men? She's not sat back in collusion with a president who escalated an unpopular war, which is what made Humphrey so unpalatable to us at the time. Had I been able to vote in 1968, I would eventually voted for him over Nixon because I had a little more political savvy, even at that age, than a lot of his "silent majority" who hated hippies and blacks.

I don't think there's any evidence that Sanders was prevented by some chatter on email from getting the votes. Was the DNC partial to Clinton? Why should it not be, to someone who's been a Democrat her whole career in politics as opposed to someone who decided to be a Democrat so as to enter the Presidential election? Where's the integrity in that? But did the DNC do anything nefarious? Clearly not. His own campaign chief said as much.

I have supported Clinton all along. And now, when the choice is between someone who, as the President said last night, is the most qualified person to lead the nation and a fraud indebted to Russia and getting out of his debts by making concessions to it even before being elected, that the "passionate" supporters are still at it seems to me a pathetic sign of our signal failure to educate people in critical thinking.

July 28, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterAnca Vlasopolos

Anca: I'm glad that you disagree. I agree with virtually all of your points. Except I do believe that Humphrey was a classic, and leading liberal for his day, a champion of civil rights among White politicians, and ultimately a centrist on many issues where a consensus was needed. Clinton is from another era and the issues are different. But my commentary reflects my personal thoughts about my judgments on the protesters - Bernie supporters and others. For me, personally, some of my negative reactions have been because I am getting older and less open to radical forms of protest, which I wasn't as a younger person. If I were young again... who knows?

July 28, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterCasey Dorman

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