Tuesday, October 18, 2011

A '60s protester rejoices at "Occupy Wall Street"

I was a student protester in the late ’60s. My small cell of anti-war activists lived and breathed protest. It began in the last days of the civil rights movement—sit-ins, getting taunted, spit on, and threatened by football players and frat guys—but quickly shifted to the Vietnam War. The war was never-ending and the death toll was on the evening news every day.

“Why Are We In Vietnam?” Norman Mailer asked, and he provided the answer. It was our pride, our short-sightedness, our blindness to the greedy among us, our macho, parochial view of the world that saw or cared only for America—and America was these United States, not that Spanish-speaking part or Canada.

I was a student at East Carolina University, a school in North Carolina's poorest and blackest region, not the much-lauded (and certainly very fine) University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, North Carolina State, or Duke, but the “other” school, the one that had to clamor and claw its way through a state General Assembly full of Chapel Hill-trained lawyers to attain its university status in 1967. So protest was in the air at ECU in the late 1960s. Not that everyone liked shaggy-haired anti-war protesters, some of whom stunk suspiciously of cannabis, and other sign-carriers who were either art or philosophy majors, and, well, just weird anyway.

It was intense, too intense, with lots of burn-out potential. We devoured Soul on Ice, The Wretched of the Earth, and I.F. Stone, talked "movement" endlessly over pitchers of beer at the Rathskeller, planned and plotted the “revolution” that would change this country from a take-from-the-poor-and-give-to-the-rich war monger to something closer to what Jefferson envisioned. Despite protests, marches and sit-ins, however, the war wore on until its final, inglorious end. Before it was over, I was even drafted and sent to Vietnam myself—Canada was not an option—and when I got there, I found a whole new set of buddies who survived, like me, by simply accepting as best they could the theater of the absurd we had all entered.

So how wonderful and gratifying is it to this old ‘60s protester that the “Occupy Wall Street” protest has now spread from New York to across the nation and world? What do you think? Even the old, conservative South so scrutinized in this blog has joined in! From Raleigh, Memphis, and Shreveport to Jackson, Miss., and McAllen, Texas, Southerners are adding their voices to the chorus of protest against the plutocracy that has entrenched itself in this nation, corrupting and compromising Democrats as well as Republicans to the point that it is Wall Street that is served in today’s economy, not the 99 percent of the rest of us.

The glory of this protest is that labor unions are now marching side by side with students, professors, activists, and just plain folks who’ve had enough of give-to-the-rich politics. That’s what was sorely missing in the late ‘60s. Let’s hope Barack Obama is listening. I hope and think he is, but my friends will tell you I’m the last optimist in the room.

I haven’t marched yet in this protest, but I’ve contributed monetarily and spiritually, and I plan to march just as soon as I can. Can’t find those old protest signs anymore, but that’s all right. It’s a new day, even if it’s, in its heart of hearts, the same protest.

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