Monday, March 30, 2009

USH23: Social Movements in the Seventies

The activism of the sixties didn't end with the decade. The changes that were wrought resonated throughout the seventies. In fact, some of the social movements of the sixties spawned more movements over the course of the seventies.

First of all, there was a change in the thinking of the general public. For example, a University of Michigan research team had been asking people: "Is the government run by a few big interests looking out for themselves?" In 1964, 26% said yes; in 1972, 53% answered yes. A Catholic group doing a survey in 1975 found that 83% of the people they interviewed agreed with the statement that "The people running this country (government, political, church and civic leaders) don't tell us the truth." (Of course, Watergate was a big influence on that.)

The events of the sixties led to new ways of thinking and being, much of which continued well in the seventies. As Howard Zinn put it: "There was a general revolt against oppressive, artificial, previously unquestioned ways of living. It touched every aspect of personal life: childbirth, childhood, love, sex, marriage, dress, music, art, sports, language, food, housing, religion, literature, death, schools." A counterculture came to life and was nourished. Todd Gitlin points out: "The thousands of communes, underground papers, free schools, food 'conspiracies', auto repair and carpentry collectives, women's centers and health groups and alternative publishers, required commitment. Where there were thirty free schools in 1967, there were as many as eight hundered in 1973, not counting the versions implanted within official school systems. ... Counterinstitutions were ways of settling in for the long haul." And some of those counterinstitutions are still with us. I know of 'women's centers and health groups and alternative publishers' that were founded in the late sixties or early to mid-seventies that are active now. The 'food conspiracies' are today's food co-ops. While many of the real communes have disappeared, some like Twin Oaks and The Farm go on. More popular than communes in the seventies were co-op houses and other group living situations. I live in a co-op founded in the seventies (most of us are aging hippies) but I have also lived in more recently birthed co-ops filled with young people. There is a decent sized network of co-op houses in the Boston area.

Some of the movements of the sixties dissipated at the end of that decade or early in the seventies. The anti-war movement hit a peak in 1970 with a nationwide student strike. In 1971, there were dozens of actions including a huge protest where thousands of activists tried to shut down the federal government, an action where nearly a thousand Vietnam vets camped out in the Washington Mall and threw their medals onto the steps of the Capitol, and a raid by Catholic group, the Camden 28, on a New Jersey draft board which led to a 1973 trial where they were all acquitted--seen by some as a referendum on the war. But with their success at ending the war in 1973, while many peace groups went on, the anti-war movement faded away. Little happened on the peace front until late in the decade, 1977, when a new group, the Mobilization for Survival, was founded, linking nuclear weapons with nuclear power. (I'll have more on nuclear power later.)

The the Civil Rights/Black Power movement seemed to disappear even before the sixties ended. Piven and Coward claim that "While there is no way of marking an exact time when the tide of unrest turned, the year 1968 might be considered such a point. It was the last year of major urban rioting (in the wake of Martin Luther King's assassination); it was also the year that the presidency passed from a liberal to a conservative leadership. With Nixon's accession to power the class and racial injustices that had figured so prominently in the rhetoric and action of earlier administrations, and that had encouraged protest among the black poor, gave way to rhetoric and action emphasizing law-and-order and self-reliance, with the effect of rekindling shame and fear among the black masses." With Malcolm and Martin gone and some civil rights gains having been made, much of what was left of the movement turned to electoral politics, voting for black politicians (at least some, locally) and as well as others who seemed supportive of civil rights goals. The Democratic party was a major beneficiary. In 1968, 87% of blacks voted Democrat. In 1976, it was 94%. There were still some activists that continued the work. A group called the Black United Liberation Front in Philadelphia, set up in 1970, took over work that had been done by the Black Panthers, running a free breakfast program and a free clothing program, and over the course of 1971 and 1972, redirecting street gangs from fighting each other to demanding that the city turn over abandoned buildings to the Black community and give them money to rehabilitate them. In 1972, Shirley Chisholm, became the first African-American (not to mention first woman) candidate for president. In fact, the women's movement (see below) inspired many black women to look at the multiple oppressions they were facing (unfortunately this often happened by their encounter with the racism of white feminists). In 1974, the Combahee River Collective was founded in Boston, and was key in developing the concepts of Black feminism and 'identity politics'(they have been credited with coining the term). And during the decade some of the concepts of Black pride developed in the sixties entered the mainstream. 1976, for example, saw both the publication of Alex Haley's book, Roots, and the start of the tradition of Black History Month.

The work of African-Americans for liberation also inspired other groups from the late sixties through the most of the seventies.

The Chicano Movement grew during the sixties and early seventies. The Brown Berets, a youth group that modeled themselves on the Black Panthers, began in LA and spread up the west coast. They set up a free health clinic in Chicago in 1972, and worked with SNCC in Texas. And during the height of the anti-war protests, a group called the National Chicano Moratorium Committee organized demonstrations throughtout the Southwest, including protest in East Los Angeles, in 1970, where 30,000 people marched. Also in 1970, the Raza Unida Party was established--a Chicano third party that continues today, with chapters active in California, Texas, Arizona and New Mexico. And the work of César Chávez and Dolores Huerta with the United Farm Workers in the '60s, '70s, and '80s, inspired many.

Puerto Rican nationalist groups also learned from the black movements. The Young Lords were a street gang that turned themselves into an organization focused on achieving self-determination for Puerto Rico, as well as dealing with local community issues--they also modeled themselves in part after the Black Panthers. The Puerto Rican Independence Party, an US electoral group which had been around since the 1940s, saw their largest growth during the '70s when they ran a socialist, pro-worker, pro-poor campaign.

But perhaps the largest identity group to grow from the thinking of the '60s were the Native Americans. In 1968, a group of Mohawks began a journal entitled Akwesasne Notes, filled with vibrant, radical articles. In 1969, a group of "Indians of All Tribes" occupied Alcatraz Island in the San Francisco Bay and proposed that it be turned into an education center, an ecology center, and a cultural center. After eighteen months US forces invaded the island and removed the Indians. In 1970, the United Indians of New England began a yearly protest in Plymouth, Massachusetts, they call a National Day of Mourning--an alternative to the traditional, sanitized Thanksgiving celebration. And in 1973, the American Indian Movement seized the town of Wounded Knee, South Dakota. In response the US government sent out a large military force that included "federal marshals, FBI agents, and armored vehicles". It became a siege lasted 71 days. The American Indian Movement continues to this day, although the organization has split into two factions. And as far as I can tell, Akwesasne Notes has continued to publish.

Also inspired by the Civil Rights movement and the anti-war movement was the Women's Liberation movement, also known as Second Wave Feminism. I talked about the start of it in my post on the late sixties (3/14/09). 1969 saw the founding of such groups as Redstockings and New York Radical Feminists. In 1970, two books came out that became a huge influence on the movement, Sexual Politics and Sisterhood is Powerful. One of the most well-known feminist publications, Ms. magazine, first appeared as an insert in the New Yorker magazine in 1971. And support groups and consciousness raising groups were flourishing everywhere. Things really seemed to be happening when the Equal Rights Amendment waspassed by Congress in 1972--unfortunately, as many of you know, it was never ratified. The feminist movement opened up many issues. Sex workers (primarily women), a group that includes prostitutes, strippers, phone sex operators, etc, began organizing. A group called COYOTE (which stands for Call Off Your Old Tired Ethics) was founded in 1973. Other groups followed. In 1975, a book called Against Our Will, which was a feminist work on the politics of rape, was published. And, as I mentioned, those women's centers continue on.

A movement that was influenced by Civil Rights movement and the Women's Movement was Gay Liberation. I talked about Stonewall in my post about the late sixties (3/14/09). In 1969, just after the Stonewall riot, the Gay Liberation Front and the Gay Activists Alliance were both founded. The next year (1970) found a variety of anniversary marches around the date of Stonewall, including the Christopher Street Gay Liberation Day March in New York City. The parades were held annually, called things like Gay Liberation Marches and Gay Freedom Marches. It was only in the 1980s, as the politics shifted in the GLBT community, that these parades became named Gay Pride. The early Gay Liberation movement was a radical, passionate, and flamboyant happening that was politically aware and able to connect with other struggles but like the homophile movement of the fifties (see my post of 3/6/09) it became more conservative and assimilationist as it went along. Other groups emerged from the gay shadows as the seventies went along. In 1973, Lesbian Nation, a lesbian/feminist/separatist book, was published, making it clear that there were women in the movement and they weren't going to take a back seat to the men. Bisexuals also made themselves known, to the point that the term 'bisexual chic' came in vogue. The 1972 film Cabaret featured a man and a woman admitting that they shared the same male lover. And in 1978, that potent GLBT symbol, the Rainbow Flag, was created. In 1974, Kathy Kozachenko became the first openly GLBT candidate to win election when she took a seat on the Ann Arbor city council. In 1975, Elaine Noble was elected to the Massachusetts State House as an open lesbian. And in 1977, Harvey Milk was elected as a city-county supervisor in San Francisco--unfortunately, he was assassinated in 1978 by a former supervisor. (Of course all this is in the film Milk, released last year.) And the decade ended on a more radical note with the first gathering of the Radical Faeries, an attempt to create a spiritual GLBT entity, in 1979. One of the founders of the Radical Faeries was Harry Hay who founded the Mattachine Society in 1950 (in my post of 3/6/09).

The modern Environmental/Ecology Movement came to public consciousness on Earth Day, April 22, 1970. Although environmental concerns can be traced back to Thoreau's work in the 19th century, and Rachel Carson's book Silent Spring awoke many in the late sixties, the seventies made it mainstream. Some of this can be traced to the energy crisis of 1973 (see my post of 3/22/09), but there were many movement highlights during this decade. Greenpeace was founded in 1971. In 1972, the book Limits to Growth was published which pointed out (to the dismay of many) that our current rate of growth wasn't sustainable. Also in 1972, astronauts took a photo of the earth from space that inspired many to think about the whole planet--the image was later put on Earth Flags. In 1973, Small is Beautiful was published, again echoing the theme that our current economy isn't sustainable. Several new eco-terms were coined in the seventies, including Acid Rain (1972) and Deep Ecology (1973).

From the Environmental Movement, another movement sprang up in the seventies: the No Nukes/Anti-nuclear Movement. It may have had its start in 1971 when Dr. John Gofman wrote the book Poisoned Power. In 1974, Sam Lovejoy, a member of a communal organic farm in Montague, Massachusetts, knocked over a weather tower that was built to test conditions for building of a large twin nuclear reactor complex nearby. In his trial he argued that the reactors were a threat to the health and safety of the community--and he was acquitted. The event was recorded in the 1975 film Lovejoy's Nuclear War. Soon anti-nuclear organizations sprung up around the country. The first could have been the Clamshell Alliance, which was founded 1976 to protest nuclear power in New England and became famous for their demonstrations against the Seabrook Nuclear Power Plant in New Hampshire. The Abalone Alliance was founded in 1977 with the goal of shutting down the Pacific Gas and Electric Company's Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant. 1978 saw the founding of the Nuclear Information and Resource Service and, in 1979, the Musicians United for Safe Energy held the famous No Nukes concerts.

Two political groups in particular that both started at the beginning of the seventies and had a major influence on me in the eighties were Movement for a New Society (MNS) and the National Organization for an American Revolution (NOAR). While there were some real differences between these groups (among other things MNS had a commitment to nonviolence that NOAR didn't have and NOAR was much more racially diverse than MNS--and many other movement groups of the seventies) both groups were different from other social organizations in seeing the need for personal change as well as social change (see my next paragraph), dedevelopment--realizing most Americans needed less stuff not more, and decentralized leadership--MNS was consciously egalitarian, NOAR was deliberately moving away from a Marxist-Leninist 'centralist' position. Both groups ended in the late eighties, MNS 'laying itself down' in 1989, and NOAR just 'fading away' between 1985 and 1987. These were no longer revolutionary times. (I was a member of MNS in the eighties and read NOAR's books and literature as well as attending one meeting--when I was out in Detroit--and meeting some of their leadership.)

A social movement that was less political but nevertheless influential and, I think, important was the 'Human Potential Movement'. While the movement has its roots in the fifties and began flowering in the sixties, the seventies saw a flood of encounter groups, sensitivity training, meditation techniques, and workshops and books on Gestalt Therapy, Bioenergetics, Primal Therapy, est, Rolfing, yoga, tai chi, and more. As Todd Gitlin put it: "In the early seventies it seemed that no movement house was complete without meditations, tarot cards, group therapies, the Tao Te Ching, and the writings of Alan Watts on Zen, Fritz Perls on Gestalt Therapy, Wilhelm Reich... R.D. Laing... Baba Ram Dass... and most of all, Carlos Castaneda's parables..." While Gitlin saw this as a political downfall, I saw it (and I was pretty involved with all this at the time) as a way of working on ourselves so we'd be better at changing things. I've seen too many activists whose 'stuff' gets in the way of their work. As the NOAR people (see the paragraph above) used to say "Change Yourself to Change the World".

As the seventies became the eighties, I was hoping that the new decade would be a time when we could merge the inner work with the outer work, that the 'Me Decade' would be replaced by a 'We Decade'. Of course, that's not what happened.

Quote of the Day: "Never in American history had more movements for change been concentrated in so short a span of years. But the system in the course of two centuries had learned a lot about the control of people. In the mid-seventies it went to work." - Howard Zinn

Dick Cluster (ed), They Should Have Served That Cup of Coffee
Todd Gitlin, The Sixties: Years of Hope, Days of Rage
Frances Fox Piven and Richard Cloward, Poor People's Movements
Wikipedia, lots of articles (some linked from their article on the 1970s)
Howard Zinn, A People's History of the United States

Thursday, March 26, 2009

USH22: The Rest of the Seventies

With Nixon's resignation in 1974 (see my last post for events leading up to it) and Gerald Ford at the helm of the country everything was supposed to be hunky-dory. But the echoes of inflation and the oil crisis lingered on. Ford's motto ('WIN:Whip Inflation Now') just didn't make it. It also didn't help that one of Ford's first acts in office was to pardon Nixon.

The defeat in Vietnam weighed heavy on the US as well. In 1975, the North Vietnamese took over the entire country (now that the US wasn't around to prop up the South). Henry Kissinger (who stayed on in the US as Secretary of State despite the departures of Nixon and Agnew) suggested: "The US must carry out some act somewhere in the world which shows its determination to continue to be a world power."

Three weeks after Vietnam fell, an American cargo ship, the *Mayaguez, was detained by the Cambodians. The US responded by strafing Cambodian ships and their mainland, and invading tiny Koh Tang Island, looking for the crew--who had been returned, safe. All this would have been funny if forty-one Americans (and who knows how many Cambodians) weren't killed.

And when David Popper, the US ambassador to Chile, complained in 1974 about the junta's (which we helped install--see my last post) brutal behavior, Kissinger's response was: "Tell Popper to cut out the political science lectures." In other words, it was business as usual for the US--we learned little from the Vietnam War.

In 1976, Democrat Jimmy Carter was elected president. I think that he has been one of our most underrated presidents. It's true, as people have said, that he has been more effective as an ex-president than he was as president. And, unfortunately, as Howard Zinn reports, when Carter was asked why the US didn't give reconstruction aid to Vietnam, he claimed there was no reason to do so since "the destruction was mutual". (I can't even begin to make sense out of that.)

But Carter dealt with the 1979 energy crisis by really facing it. He saw becoming energy independent as 'the moral equivalent of war'. Under his administration Congress funded the development of solar and wind power, and Carter had solar panels installed on the roof of the White House and put a wood burning stove in the living space. He wore sweaters and turned down the heat and he suggested citizens do the same--along with using car-pools and public transportation. They grumbled, but they did it. He pointed out that a good bit of the problem stemmed from worshipping "self-indulgence and consumption." All too true, but most Americans didn't want to hear it.

On his first day in office, Carter issued an unconditional amnesty for all Vietnam era draft dodgers. He talked about eliminating the "Imperial Presidency" and reduced the size of his staff, made his Cabinet members drive their own cars (instead of being chauffeured), and sold off the presidential yacht. He tried advocating for human rights (quite a change from his predecessors), and stopped US support for several governments that violated those rights, including the Somoza regime in Nicaragua. He negotiated a peace treaty between Egypt and Israel (the Camp David Accords). And he began the process of turning the Panama Canal over to Panama.

But Carter's administration dealt with a lot of difficult issues. Besides the energy crisis, he was dealing with a period of 'stagflation', a situation where inflation is compounded by economic stagnation. While he pushed for price controls on energy and medicine, Congress wouldn't go along with it. And worst of all was the situation in Iran--the Shah who we supported was overthrown in 1979. When diplomats were taken hostage at the US Embassy in Tehran, Carter worked hard for their release--he applied diplomatic and economic pressure on Iran. The ending of oil imports from Iran was a cause of the energy crisis. The US tried a rescue mission to retrieve the hostages but everything went wrong on it. Carter did support a diplomatic mission to secure their release, and it was ultimately and ironically successful, but too late to help Carter.

Carter lost the 1980 election with 91% of the electoral vote going to Ronald Reagan. Literally minutes after Reagan was inaugurated, the hostages were released--due to the work of the Carter administration.

Quote of the Day: "Human identity is no longer defined by what one does, but by what one owns. But we've discovered that owning things and consuming things does not satisfy our longing for meaning." - James Earl Carter

Kenneth Davis, Don't Know Much About History
Wikipedia, various articles (especially the Presidency of Jimmy Carter)
Howard Zinn, A People's History of the United States

Sunday, March 22, 2009

USH21: 1973

Yes, I'm spending an entire post on one year of US history. And not even one of the exciting years of the sixties (like 1966 or 1968), but a year in the early seventies. And why? Since my original question was how we got from the sixties to the eighties, everything that I've seen indicates that 1973 was the pivotal year between the decades. In fact, I think that 1973 may be one of the key years of the 20th century, at least as far as the US goes.

Five very important things happened in 1973, and most of them are still having an effect now.

The first was the end of the Vietnam war. The Paris Peace Accords, officially ending the war, were signed on January 27th. By the end of March all of the US troop were out of Vietnam. To a large degree, this was a victory for the anti-war movement.

Along with this was the continuing revelations about the Nixon administration's involvement in what is usually referred to as the Watergate affair. While the actual break-in and arrests occurred in 1972, the general public was unaware of the ramifications of Watergate at this time and, in fact, Nixon was re-elected in 1972 by a large margin and carried every state in the Union except Massachusetts (which led to a lot of 'Don't Blame Me, I'm From Massachusetts' bumperstickers being displayed during 1973). Things began unraveling in January of '73, with the trial and conviction of G Gordon Liddy and E Howard Hunt for planning the burglary of the Democratic National Committee headquarters at the Watergate Complex in Washington, DC, as well as the trial of Daniel Ellsberg on charges of leaking the Pentagon papers. (See my post of 3/18/09.) During Ellsberg's trial it came out that his psychiatrist's office was burglarized--by the same folks that were involved with the Watergate break-in, all of whom worked with the Committee to Re-Elect the President (also known as CREEP). Slowly but surely it became apparent that their orders came from the top. As the investigation unfolded, resignations and firings begin occurring at top levels of the government. In June, John Dean told the Watergate investigators that he had talked with Nixon about the cover-up multiple times. In October when Archibald Cox tried to subpeona Nixon, Nixon told Attorney General Elliot Richardson to fire Cox--and Richardson resigned rather than do the firing. Nixon then told William Ruckelshaus to fire Cox, and Ruckelshaus resigned. Finally Robert Bork did the dirty deed. The firings infuriated Congress and are one of the main things that led to articles of impeachment being brought against Nixon and Nixon's resignation in 1974. Also in 1973 Vice-President Spiro Agnew resigned after being charged with money laundering and tax evasion. In 1973 America learned what a corrupt administration was. (And, of course, this was the year that Richard Nixon announced "I am not a crook!") The good news was that the American people also learned that we could get rid of top level politicians who thought they could get away with anything.

More important (for us now anyway) than the end of the Vietnam War or the revelations of Watergate, was the recession of 1973-1974. This was the worst recession in the US since the great depression and it was accompanied by a stock market crash that it took the US twenty years to completely recover from. The roots of the depression were in Nixon's decision to take the US off of the gold standard and the subsequent collapse of the Bretton Woods agreements (which I talked about in my post of 3/18/09) as well as the continuing inflation. As I will detail in future posts, the recession had a significant and expanding effect on the national outlook. I believe this is key in understanding the transition from the 60s to the 80s. It led to a major shift in economic and corporate policies which is still unfolding.

Compounding this was the October Oil Embargo. The embargo came out of the aftermath of the Yom Kippur war between Israel, and Egypt and Syria. Arab nations were upset about US support for Israel and refused to sell oil to the US. This led to the first energy crisis in the US, complete with gasoline rationing and a December truck drivers strike. It also led to a real search for energy alternatives, many of which we are only rediscovering now. But it made the on-going economic situation worse, fueling and lengthening the recession.

A final event, which occurred in September of 1973, was the overthrow of the Allende government in Chile. While this had much less impact on most Americans than the stuff above, it had an impact that was most significant in retrospect. The coup, which the US backed, led to a repressive regime being installed. Although there is a documented history of US interference in the governments of Latin American countries, when documents revealing the US involvement in the coup were declassified in the 1990s it was a revelation for many. The US had always claimed that the problem it had with Communism was that it was not the legitimate will of the people; however, when the people actually elected a Communist leader, the US incited his overthrow. There is evidence that Nixon ordered the CIA to make sure Allende was deposed.

Quote of the Day: "I don't see why we need to stand by and watch a country go communist due to the irresponsibility of its own people. The issues are much too important for the Chilean voters to be left to decide for themselves." — Henry Kissinger

Many, many Wikipedia articles (including ones on 1973, the Paris Peace Accords, the Watergate Scandal, the 1973–1974 stock market crash, the 1973 Oil Crisis, and the 1973 Chilean coup d'état)

Friday, March 20, 2009

An Equinox Break

It's the Spring Equinox--and, as usual, it doesn't quite look like spring in New England.

At this point my blog is running very far off schedule. My usual plan to complete a topic in a quarter year just isn't going to happen. I have a bunch more posts to do on US history if I am going to get anywhere near answering my original question. (For anyone just tuning in, what got me started on this rather strange obsession with history was when I was trying to figure out how the social activism of the sixties became the consumerist bent of the eighties. It led to me studying and laying out the entire history of the United States.)

When I sat down and planned out my remaining posts, I figured out I could finish what I want to do about the end of April. Then it hit me--starting on the quarters is a good pagan thing to do, but going by the cross-quarters (roughly the beginning of May, August, November, and February) is an even better pagan thing. So that is the plan--for now.

I'm still going to post every four days (this post is an interruption of that, coming directly between the four day posts) until May. I'll see what I want to do then--on one hand, I have a bit more time now (my full-time job has become part-time again--and once again it has become quiet enough to allow me to do things at work) but I also am doing a bunch these days. (I have finally found some people who want to do similar things and we are planning to start by doing some sustainable projects together. I'm very excited but I'll see where this leads.)

And an announcement: I've met a bunch of people who don't have computers--and some of them don't want computers--or have computers but don't like reading long tracts on the screen. So this blog is becoming a zine. (For those who don't know what a 'zine' is, it's a roughly put together little periodical--a 'DIY' endeavor--that is a way for anyone to publish their thoughts/ideas/interests/obsessions.) While many zines are punk/anarchist creations, I feel like this could be a way for me to reach out to a new audience. No, I am not abandoning this blog--rather I am turning my old posts, from last year, into articles/chapters in a new zine/book. I will have more about this in the future--probably in my 'Beltane'/MayDay post.

Quote of the Day: "Life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans." - John Lennon

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

USH20: Starting the Seventies

On a sunny May day in 1970 I was woken at the boarding school that I was attending by a house manager going around saying that they had declared war on the students. What I found out later was that four students were shot on May 4th during at protest at Kent State University in Ohio. This was followed by another shooting on May 14th at Jackson State College in Mississippi that killed two students (one of them a high school student). This was how the seventies started.

1970 was a year that seemed determined to prove the sixties were over. In January of that year the Beatles recorded their last song together and Diana Ross did her last concert with the Supremes. In February Jeffrey MacDonald killed his wife and kids and claimed it was done by a bunch of hippies on acid. Later investigators figured out that MacDonald had been reading about the Manson murders. In February the Chicago Seven were all found not guilty of conspiracy but five of them were convicted of crossing state lines to incite a riot.

In contrast to the successful moon landing in 1969, 1970 featured Apollo 13, a mission where it all went wrong (inspiring the quote "Houston, we have a problem")--fortunately everyone survived.

On the other hand, some new things began in the early 1970s. In April, 1970 the first 'Earth Day' was held, which helped launch the enviromental movement. In January, 1971, the first episode of All in the Family was shown on TV--a comedy that depicted real social issues.

Then in 1971, Richard Nixon made a number of changes to US economic policy. These were to have a significant effect on American economics. In response to inflation and a growing US trade deficit, on August 15th Nixon ordered the largest wage and price controls imposed since World War II. At the same time, he took the US off of the gold standard developed during the post WWII Bretton Woods Agreements, which led to a collapse of the agreements. Nixon supposedly spent more time worrying about when to make the announcement than he did on coming up with the plan.

In 1970 the US began an invasion of Cambodia--seeming to be widening the war. (In fact, the US had already been bombing Cambodia. Nixon and Henry Kissinger, his National Security Advisor, had begun secretly bombing the country in 1969. And we had been bombing Laos since 1964--secretly, of course.) The invasion wasn't successful and Congress ruled that it couldn't happen again without Congressional approval. It had become obvious to all that we were losing the war--and over the course of the early seventies, Nixon began withdrawing American troops, a tactic he called the "Vietnamization" of the war.

Just how messy the situation in Vietnam had been became apparent in 1971 with the publication of the "Pentagon Papers", secret documents that revealed the lies and duplicity that had accompanied the war. Although the Papers (which went as far back as the Truman administration) didn't cover the time since Nixon's election, they frightened Nixon and Kissinger enough that they tried to stop their publication. When the Supreme Court affirmed that Freedom of the Press covered the Papers, Nixon formed a small group to stop leaks from happening inside his administation. They were quickly nicknamed the 'plumbers', and their first assignment was to go after Daniel Ellsberg, the man who leaked the Pentagon Papers.

These 'plumbers' would be the undoing of Nixon. But first, in 1972, he got himself re-elected.

Quote of the Day: "When I first arrived in Laos, I was instructed to answer all press questions about our massive and merciless bombing campaign in that tiny country with: 'At the request of the Royal Laotian Government, the United States is conducting unarmed reconnaissance flights accompanied by armed escorts who have the right to return if fired upon.'
"This was a lie. Every reporter to whom I told it knew it was a lie. Hanoi knew it was a lie. ... Every interested Congressman and newspaper reader knew it was a lie. ...
"After all, the lies did serve to keep something from somebody, and the somebody was us." - Jerome Doolittle

Kenneth Davis, Don't Know Much About History
Wikipedia, various articles (including Events of 1970 and the Nixon Shock)
Howard Zinn, A People's History of the United States

Saturday, March 14, 2009

USH19: It All Breaks Loose

By the middle of the sixties, the trickle of strange news had become a torrent.

Remember the Beat Generation? (See my post on the Not-So-Fabulous Fifties, 3/6/09) In 1965, a San Francisco journalist used the term "Hippies" to describe a new generation of beatniks that were gathering in the Haight-Ashbury area of SF. The hippies had been gathering around novelist Ken Kesey (as the 'Merry Pranksters'--see the book The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test) and because of various musical events in the SF area. According to Wikipedia, by 1966, around 15,000 hippies had moved to the Haight-Ashbury area. That year, a guerrilla theater group called the Diggers organized Free Stores, began providing free food and medical care to the gathering crowds. Also in 1966 were held a 'Trips Festival' and a 'Love Pageant Rally'--these were music festivals fueled by psychedelic drugs. These were just the prelude to the 'Human Be-In' held in January of 1967 in the Golden Gate Park--billed as a 'gathering of the tribes'. This inspired as many as a hundred thousand people to head to San Francisco by summer of 1967, which was became the 'Summer of Love'. When the 'Flower Children' left San Francisco, they brought new ideas with them. Many started 'communes', some began a 'back-to-the-land' movement.

Music was a big influence in the sixties. Protest songs became important--songs like "Waist Deep in the Big Muddy", "Universal Soldier", and "Eve of Destruction" . The music of Bob Dylan and the Beatles came to define a generation. (John Lennon claimed in 1966 that the Beatles were "more popular than Jesus".) Not to mention the Woodstock Music Festival (1969) where somewhere in the neighborhood of a half-million people gathered in upstate New York for "three days of peace and music".

The Civil Rights movement became Black Power, and riots in Newark and Detroit (in 1967), and the Black Panthers. In 1968, Martin Luther King, who was now talking against the war in Vietnam and the causes of poverty, was shot in Memphis. And after the Civil Rights Act was passed in 1968, the first one prosecuted under it was a SNCC leader, H Rap Brown, who was accused of starting a riot because one followed an angry speech he made.

The Civil Rights movement also spawned the the women's movement as women in the movement, and in the antiwar movement, and in the SDS, began to realize the ways they were being oppressed, even in these so-called radical movements. 1966 saw the founding of the National Organization for Women. In 1968, hundreds of women staged a 'Burial of Traditional Womanhood' in the Arlington National Cemetery and held a major protest at the Miss America contest. The Women's Movement had begun.

And in June of 1969 a police raid on the Stonewall Inn, a gay bar in Greenwich Village, New York City, turned into a riot. Transvestites, 'flaming queens', hustlers, street kids, and butch lesbians had had it and turned on the cops. That was the beginning of the Gay Liberation Movement.

In 1968 even the presidential election process turned surreal. It started in March of that year when Eugene McCarthy, an anti-war candidate won nearly as many votes in the New Hampshire primary as Lyndon Johnson, the President. Then at the end of March, as Robert Kennedy jumped into the race, Lyndon Johnson dropped out. Robert Kennedy dropped out as well, when he was shot to death that June. Meanwhile, George Wallace, a segregationis from Alabama, announced he was running as an independent. And then there was the Chicago Democratic Convention. The mayor of the city wanted to make sure there was no trouble and so there was a total of well over twenty thousand police and National Guards in the streets. There was also a good ten thousand demonstrators, brought by the Yippies, the SDS, and the Mobilization against the war--many for a 'Festival of Life'. It turned into a riot. A quote I remember from the time was that Mayor Daley was supposedly asked if the police, themselves, were creating disorder, and he was said to have replied, "The police were not there to create disorder, the police were there to preserve disorder." There were dozens of arrests, including that of 'Pigasus', the Yippie mascot and an actual pig. The police used tear gas, mace, and beat people with batons--even reporters like Dan Rather and Mike Wallace got roughed up. Afterwards, eight movement leaders were arrested and charged with conspiracy and inciting a riot. In an anticlimax, Hubert Humphreys was nominated for the Democratic presidential candidate, and eventually lost to Richard Nixon (and George Wallace actually carried five states).

One of the reasons Johnson dropped out was that the Vietnam war was going badly. By 1967, antiwar protests were going strong. The Tet Offensive at the beginning of 1968 made many Americans believe we weren't going to win this war, and Robert McNamara's resignation as Defense Secretary in February (claiming he had concluded we couldn't win), didn't help. Then came the My Lai massacre, where a troop of US soldiers, frustrated that they couldn't tell who was Vietcong and who wasn't, slaughtered a village of women, children, and old men. A photographer caught the whole thing on film and the images revolted many in this country. Unfortunately, it was hardly the only atrocity. Not to mention napalm and Agent Orange... And yet the war would go on into the 1970s.

But all this chaos was hardly confined to the US. There were so many protests around the world in 1968, that Wikipedia devotes an entire page to them. There were protests in Mexico, Jamaica, Brazil, Britain, Germany, France (particularly Paris), Spain, Italy, Poland, Czechoslovakia, and Yugoslavia among other places. At the time it seemed like a world-wide uprising.

The decade ended with a few bizarre notes. Neil Armstrong and Buzz Alrin landed on the moon in July of 1969. Where the Soviet Union began the fifties by launching Sputnik and starting the space race, the United States ended the sixties with a lunar conquest. And all that peace and love seemed to go up in flames in 1969 when Charlies Manson, the anti-guru, started his 'family' on a murder spree, and the Altamont Festival, the anti-Woodstock, in December of that year, featured a day of drinking, drugs, Hells Angels, and violence. There was worse to come as the seventies began.

Quote of the Day: "At noon of one day coming, human strength will fill the streets, Of every city on our planet, hear the sound of angry feet, With business freezed up in the harbour, the kings will pull upon their hair, And the banks will shudder to a halt, and the artists will be there..." - Ferron

Kenneth Davis, Don't Know Much About History
Todd Gitlin, The Sixties: Years of Hope, Days of Rage
Wikipedia, various articles (on Hippies, Protest songs, and the Stonewall riots among many things)
Howard Zinn, A People's History of the United States

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

USH18: Starting the Sixties

There were a lot of things going on 'under the surface' in the Fifties--in the early Sixties they began to emerge. Given the turbulence and turmoil of the decade, I am going to split the sixties into two posts--one on the early sixties: 1960-1966 and one on the late sixties: 1967-1970.

I'm sitting with a stack of books and three of them have a line that begins:"On February 1, 1960, four..." and go on to describe the black college students in North Carolina who sat at a Woolworth (simply described in one source as a "variety store") lunch counter and were refused service. A fourth source says almost the exact same thing except the line begins "In Greensboro, North Carolina, on February 1..." Wikipedia's entry from the events of 1960 reads: "February 1 - In Greensboro, North Carolina, four black students from North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University begin a sit-in at a segregated Woolworth's lunch counter." It was a seminal event to start the decade. The civil rights movement burst above the ground with other sit-ins following within days across the state and within weeks across the South. (The title of one of the books illustrates how important the event was to what was to follow in the sixties. The book is called They Should Have Served That Cup of Coffee.) As Howard Zinn put it, within a year "more than fifty thousand people, mostly black, some white, participated in demonstrations of one kind or another in a hundred cities, and over 3,600 people were put in jail. But by the end of 1960, lunch counters were open to blacks in Greensboro and many other places." And in November of 1960, after a close election, John Fitzgerald Kennedy defeated Richard Nixon to become the first Catholic (and the first non-Protestant) president in the US. Some analysts believe that the debates between Nixon and Kennedy--the first televised presidential debates--made a difference as confident, photogenic Kennedy did for TV what Roosevelt had done for the radio. (Another event that made a difference was Martin Luther King's arrest just prior to the election. Nixon declined to get involved but JFK called Coretta King to express his concern and his brother Robert helped secure MLK's release--and that won Kennedy a large number of black votes.)

And one event that occurred just before the sixties, in 1959, was to have a dramatic effect on the whole decade. In July of that year, two American soldiers were killed in Vietnam. These were the first deaths in what would turn out to be a long running war.

To keep this post from being a small book, I will simply list some of the events of the early part of the decade, many of which are pretty well known. In 1961 came 'Freedom Rides' throughout the South, the Bay of Pigs Incident, and the establishment of the Peace Corps. 1962 brought the Cuban Missile Crisis and the Port Huron Statement (the SDS manifesto which criticized the complacency of America and called for "a new left"). With 1963 came Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech, John F Kennedy's assassination, and the publication of Betty Friedan's The Feminine Mystique (which was an awkward beginning to the Women's Movement). By 1964 things began rolling with the Gulf of Tonkin 'Incident' (which revved up the war in Vietnam), the Mississippi Freedom Summer campaign, a presidential election where Lyndon Johnson defeated Barry Goldwater, and the passage of the Civil Rights Act, which not only outlawed racial discrimination and segregation but also outlawed discrimination by sex. Ironically, this last bit was slipped in by an ultra-conservative congressman who assumed that no one in their right mind would approve of sexual equality--when the bill passed, a generation of women were given a tool to claim their rights with.

And by 1965 things had come to a full boil, with the shooting of Malcolm X, riots in Watts, California, marches from Selma to Montgomery, the signing of the Voting Rights Act, and the first major protest against the Vietnam War (sponsored by the SDS) which took place in Washington, DC. The whitebread facade of the fifties had been lost in a flood of violence, protest, and societal change. And then things really took off...

Quote of the Day: "The first person I remember talking about 'The Sixties' was my junior high school principle. He was speaking to a school assembly sometime soon after the Christmas vacation of 1959-1960. 'We had the Fighting Forties and the Fabulous Fifties,'" he told a bored audience of Black and white teenagers in Baltimore, Maryland, "I hope that the decade we are beginning now will be remembered as the "Serene Sixties."'" - Dick Cluster

Dick Cluster (ed), They Should Have Served That Cup of Coffee
Kenneth Davis, Don't Know Much About History
Todd Gitlin, The Sixties: Years of Hope, Days of Rage
Frances Fox Piven and Richard Cloward, Poor People's Movements
Wikipedia, various articles (especially the category page for 1960s in the United States)
Howard Zinn, A People's History of the United States

Friday, March 6, 2009

USH17: The Not-so-Fabulous Fifties

As I pointed out at the end of my last post, in a way the fifties began in 1947 with Truman's anti-communist speech. A lot of the 1950s in the United States seemed to be defined in reaction to communism--containment policies, aiding countries we didn't want to see go communist, worrying about atomic war with the commies (and building fallout shelters and practicing air raid drills), and seeing communists everywhere--a practice perfected by Joe McCarthy. The fifties seem obsessed with communism. Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were two of a bunch of people charged with passing secrets to the Soviets--but everyone else cooperated with the government and got prison sentences; the Rosenbergs took the fifth amendment when asked if they were communists and proclaimed their innocence, and they got electrocuted. There were pamphlets like "One Hundred Things You Should Know About Communism", books like I Married a Communist, and magazine articles like "Communists are After Your Child". Captain America went looking for "...commies, spies, traitors, and foreign agents!" Even the American Civil Liberties Union was reluctant to defend communists in the fifties. And then there was Sputnik--the communists were first in space. Not to mention the Korean War, the hot part of the cold war, which was fought from one end of the Korean peninsula to the other, and ended up at the same boundary line as it started--except that over fifty thousand Americans and over two million Koreans died in it. All to save it from Communism.

Over this core of red paranoia was pasted a layer of suburban, whitebread contentment. The fifties can be seen as a bland paradise, a land of 'everything's fine and don't ask any questions'. (This is what the movie Pleasantville took aim at.) But there were cracks in the reality of this don't ask, don't tell facade.

World War II opened a period of questioning for some. For example, in 1948, a young writer named Jack Kerouac first used the term 'the Beat Generation' to describe his circle of friends--friends who included writers like Allen Ginsberg and William Burroughs. According to Burroughs, they were seeking a "supreme reality"--they were looking for spontaneous, visceral engagement with the world and to do this they tried drugs, sex, and spirituality (Buddhist, Taoism, Catholicism, and Judaism). Influenced by jazz musicians and criminals, not to mention Dada, Surrealism, and the Symbolist poets, they wrote novels and poetry that redefined a generation. The beats eventually included writers like Gregory Corso, Gary Snyder, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Diane DiPrima, and LeRoi Jones (later known as Amiri Baraka). In 1958, Herb Caen wrote a column in the San Francisco Chronicle referring to the beats as 'beatniks' and the name stuck (and as I said, everything out of the ordinary in the fifties was tarred as commie--Sputnik had just been launched and therefore the term 'beatnik' had an implication that there were communists involved). By the early '60s, the beatnik was the stereotype for those questioning society.

And in spite of the very straight image, there was a lot of gay organizing going on in the fifties: the Mattachine Society, the first longlasting nationwide 'homophile' organization was formed in 1950--but a bunch of other groups also emerged, among them: the Knights of the Clock, a support group for interracial gay couples in Los Angeles (also founded in 1950); ONE Magazine, an early gay publication (founded in 1952); and the Daughters of Bilitis, the first US lesbian rights group (founded in San Francisco in 1955. And, like everything in the fifties, communism played a part in all this: several of the founders of the Mattachine Society (including Harry Hay, a lifelong gay activist) and early leaders were communists (they really were) and were ousted from leadership as the group grew--and red scare in the US grew.

Another affect of World War II on some people was a renewed commitment to nonviolence. The Peacemakers was a group founded in 1948 following a conference on “More Disciplined and Revolutionary Pacifist Activity” which advocated nonviolent resistance. A J Muste (see my post of 2/26/09) was one of the founders. In 1952 Muste wrote an influential pamplet entitled *Of Holy Disobedience. Partly in response to this pamphlet, the Committee for Nonviolent Action was formed in 1957 by Muste and other pacifists. CNVA engaged in such protests as trying to enter nuclear proving grounds in Nevada, and most famously, the sailing ships The Golden Rule and the Phoenix of Hiroshima were used to enter nuclear testing areas in Pacific in 1958.

But probably the most notable contradiction to the 'all's well' attitude of mainstream, white America, was the civil rights movement, which had its start in the fifties. One of the beginnings of that movement was in 1951 when Reverend Oliver Brown tried to enroll his daughter in an all-white school in Topeka, He and his daughter were black. That resulted in a court case that went to the Supreme Court and in 1954 the court ruled in his favor in the landmark case, Brown v the Board of Education. In 1955, a seamstress named Rosa Parks sat down on a bus in Montgomery, Alabama. She was arrested when she refused to give up her seat for a white person. This led to the Montgomery bus boycott, under the leadership of a young minister named Martin Luther King. (However, both Rosa Parks and MLK had been training for this moment at the Highlander School, a leadership training center in Tennesee founded in 1932. In the thirties and forties they trained labor leaders. In the fifties they started training civil rights leaders. This didn't go unnoticed in the South. In 1957 a Georgia Education Commission labeled them--what else--a "Communist Training School".) The desegregation of the southern US did not go easy. In 1957 President Dwight Eisenhower had to send over a thousand paratroopers into Little Rock, Arkansas, to allow eight black children to attend Little Rock Central High School. This was only the beginning of the civil rights movement, but the rest of the story goes into the 1960s.

Quote of the Day: "The so-called Beat Generation was a whole bunch of people, of all different nationalities, who came to the conclusion that society sucked." - Amiri Baraka

Kenneth Davis, Don't Know Much About History
Staughton Lynd, Nonviolence in America
Wikipedia, various articles (particularly the one on the Beat Generation and articles on the Mattachine Society, etc and links from them)
Howard Zinn, A People's History of the United States

Monday, March 2, 2009

USH16: World War Once More

The Second World War could be looked at from a variety of angles. My intention here is to explore its causes, costs, opposition to it, and the aftermath. Above all, I don't intend to go over battles, strategies, etc. If that's what interests you, there are plenty of books about that.

In the aftermath of World War I (as I pointed out at the end of my post of 2/10/09), Wilson tried for a progressive treaty but the British and the French had other ideas. France, in particular, wanted to make sure Germany never bothered them again and made sure that the treaty was incredibly punitive. Large sections of Germany were carved off and they were obliged to pay harsh reparations. The Germans were humiliated; they felt 'stabbed in the back'. In addition, their economic situation was dire--there was a period of hyperinflation from 1921 to 1923 caused partially by the reparations, and though there was a recovery from 1923 to 1929, the world wide depression of the thirties (see my post of 2/22/09 for the depression in the US) hit Germany very hard. There are stories of people needing wheelbarrows full of cash to pay for anything during the hyper inflation of early twenties. There was little political stability during in Germany during the twenties and early thirties, and many Germans wished for a strong leader. They got Adolf Hitler. Hitler's rise to power was consolidated by the burning of the Reichstag building in 1933 which was blamed on the Communists. The decrees that followed promised more security to the German people but actually took away their civil liberties. (There are some nasty parallels to the Sept 11th attack and the Patriot Act...) Hitler 'empowered' the German people by creating an empire--and basically steamrollering (or rather stormtroopering) all over Europe.

Did the US go to war because Hitler was taking over Europe? Did the US get involved because the Nazis were rounding up and killing Jews, Catholics, Gypsies, gay men, lesbians, prostitutes, etc, etc? When Roosevelt and Churchill met in 1941, they claimed that they supported "the right of all people to choose the form of government under which they will live." But, in fact, the US had no intention of challenging any of the colonial powers of the UK or France--rather the US actually supported the French having 'sovereignty' over territories like Indochina. And the US, itself, made major inroads into the Middle East. When the war was over, the US had cemented a major connection with Saudi Arabia (and its oil). As far as humanitarian concerns, Roosevelt apparently knew about the destruction of the Jews and other groups, but that wasn't a concern for him. If it was, we would have gotten involved much sooner than 1941. We did start building up our weapontry at the end of 1940--the major thing that accomplished was ending the depression. Roosevelt was concerned about the gobbling up of Europe by the Nazis and initiated a 'Lend Lease' program at the start of 1941--lending some of those newly made tanks, planes, ships, and arms to British, making the analogy of loaning a garden hose to a neighbor whose house was on fire. It took the Japanese attack at Pearl Harbor to actually get us involved in the war. In fact one historian (Gabriel Kolko, quoted in Zinn) claimed that "the American economic war aim was to save capitalism at home and abroad."

The war seemed popular and patriotism ran high, but not everyone was on board. Only one member of Congress voted against the war in 1941, Jeanette Rankin, who was the first woman elected to Congress (she was originally elected in 1916) and one of only 50 Representatives to vote against World War I. But, as wages were frozen and business profits soared, workers began striking (in spite of pledges by the AFL and the CIO not to do so). According to Zinn, there were fourteen thousand strikes during WWII, involving 6,770,000 workers. WWII had its conscientious objectors, although unlike WWI objectors, COs weren't automatically imprisoned. Instead they were offered Public Service alternatives. Some objectors refused to support the war effort in any way, including refusing to register, and they were sent to prison. One of them was a theology student named David Dellinger, who became a lifelong opponent of war and the capitalist system and was one of the Chicago Seven/Eight in 1968. There were 43,000 COs during the war and about six thousand went to prison. In prison these men began using and refining the tools of civil disobedience. (There were also hundreds of thousands of draft evaders--this was not something that began with Vietnam.) Although the Communist Party and most socialist groups supported the war, a few groups (mostly pacifist and anarchist) opposed it, including the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom and the Catholic Worker movement. The Socialist Workers Party was just about the only socialist group to oppose the war.

The cost of the war was high: 7.5 million Russian soldiers; 3.5 million Germans; 2.2 million Chinese; 1.2 million Japanese; hundreds of thousands of British and French soldiers and almost 300,000 US troops. This doesn't even count civilian casualties--for instance, as many as twenty-two million Russians were killed during the war. Then there is the millions of Jews, Slavs, gypsies, gays and lesbians, etc, that perished in the holocaust. On the other hand, the US and the British ended the European war by bombing German cities mercilessly--including Dresden which was firebombed until over 100,000 people died. And then there is Hiroshima and Nagasaki--bombings that occurred when Japan was almost ready to surrender and Russia was about to enter the war. Some theorize that the bombs were more about sending a message to the Soviets about the US military might, than about ending the war. For all our fears about nuclear warfare, the US is still the only nation on earth to use atomic weapons in a war--and we did it twice.

And that massacre of millions to show nuclear superiority, was the prelude to the war after World War Two--the Cold War.

The Cold War began with a speech by Winston Churchill on March 5, 1946 at Westminister College where he claimed 'an Iron Curtain' had descended on Europe. (However, the term 'Iron Curtain' was had been in use for a while, most notably by Joseph Goebbels, the Nazi Minister of Propaganda, in 1945.) The Cold War became US policy with Truman's speech in 1949 where he outlined a policy of containment, to stop the spread of communism and support the governments of Greece and Turkey--ie, stop them from going communist. The US was at war with the USSR--but at this point it was more a war of words and defensive actions than a military war.

One thing that I had seen as a positive aftermath of the war, the Marshall Plan (technically known as the European Recovery Program) can be seen in the light of this as a frantic effort to make sure that the rest of Europe didn't go communist. I had imagined that we helped rebuild Germany because we had learned from what happened after World War I, but it seems the reason that we helped rebuild Germany was to stop Soviet expansion. General George Marshall, who the plan was named after, proposed it, citing 'national security grounds'.

The other aftermath of WWII was the Bretton Woods Conference which established the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF), and helped establish the World Bank.

Quote of the Day: "Concerning World War II, there can be no doubt that international fascism was a catastrophic evil that had to be resisted. But it is my contention... that for those who understand that social evils are created less by bad men than by bad systems... it was also catastrophic for people who believed in human dignity to think that they could resist fascism under the leadership and by the methods of big business, big government, and the military." - Dave Dellinger

Kenneth Davis, Don't Know Much About History
Dave Dellinger, Revolutionary Nonviolence
Staughton Lynd, Nonviolence in America
Wikipedia, various articles (particularly one on Jeannette Rankin and the article on Germany and links from it)
Howard Zinn, A People's History of the United States