The protesters of my generation (we came of age in the 60s and early 70s) have two lessons for the powerful generation standing up for all of us these days: 1) by uniting around solid ideas, you can be effective, and 2) the forces against you are powerful, militant, and may overcome you.
We marched, wrote music, poetry, books, and movies that have changed lives around the world; women threw away their girdles and lipstick, men grew their hair long and wore plaid pants. We died at Kent State and in Mississippi, were beaten and jailed, most publicly at the Chicago Democratic Convention, some chose exile over fighting in a misguided war (we learned only recently how thoroughly the creators of the Vietnam War knew that it was unwinnable). Splinter groups like the Weathermen grew violent. The Black Panthers did charitable work and raised black pride, but they scared everyone and were slaughtered in the end. Racism both flared and receded. Family dinner tables became battlegrounds, but many parents came over to our side.
But in the end, we lost. The turbulence of change split my generation into two easily identifiable factions: those who tolerated men with long hair and those who stuck with their crewcuts, and the crewcuts won. The Vietnam War exhausted everyone, and put in place a cadre of militaristic chicken hawk Republicans, most of who have never served in combat. (Clinton didn’t serve either). They have become more and more extreme over the almost five decades since our iconic gathering at Woodstock.
We caused many salutary changes to be made in American culture. But the militarism defeated us. Resources which should have gone toward education, housing, healthcare, cultural institutions, and infrastructure have gone to war after war (Vietnam, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Dominican Republic, Lebanon, Grenada, Libya, Panama, Iraq, Somalia, Syria, Sudan, Afghanistan, and so on).
Beware young ones. History never repeats itself exactly, but a lot of familiar trends are reappearing. Be sly. Be strategic. Solidify your victories and analyze your defeats. Don’t sacrifice unity for purity. And most importantly, use your allies. Railing against the failed older generation is useful up to a point, but there are also many of us who have strength, experience, and dedication to your goals. You’re doing great, and we are here to help.