“If you can remember the 60s, you weren’t there.”
“We have to be careful not to allow this (the Occupy Wall Street movement) to get legitimacy. I am taking this seriously in that I am old enough to remember what happened in the 1960s…”
Peter King, Congressional Chair of the Homeland Security Committee
“Don’t trust anyone over 30.”
Jerry Weinberg during Berkeley’s Free Speech Moment in 1965
The forgotten 60s of Robin Williams is a legacy of the hippie era. Tune in and drop out became the rallying cry. Flower children flocked to San Francisco, Timothy Leary became the high priest of LSD and the Grateful Dead emerged out of the Bay Area. Ken Kesey, Neal Cassidy and the Merry Pranksters hopped on their psychedelic bus and toured America. “It is the dawning of the Age of Aquarius,” the Fifth Dimension sang and some 500,000 people trekked to Woodstock to see if it were true.
I skipped the drug-induced haze of the hippies, for the most part. I assume Peter King did as well. Our similarities end there. While he worked his way through private colleges in the East, became a lawyer and joined the National Guard, I went to UC Berkeley, majored in International Relations and joined the Peace Corps.
The challenge to become involved was what captured my passion in the 60s. “If you are not a part of the solution, you are part of the problem,” Pogo asserted.
John Kennedy kicked off the decade with his “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.” Later, his perspective was broadened by Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream,” Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring,” and Betty Friedan’s “The Feminine Mystique” as well as others.
Like tens of thousands of young people across America, I felt that the times were changing, that we could make a difference, that there were solutions to international relations beyond endless war, that America could live up to her dreams of equality, that we could reverse and repair the damage we were doing to our earth, and that there were motivations to action beyond greed.
In other words, what was happening then with the civil rights, human rights, environmental and anti-war movements of the 60s, bears a strong resemblance to what is happening with today’s Occupy Wall Street Movement.
Then, like now, a massive, nation-wide grass-roots movement was founded on the concept of creating positive change, young people played a major role, and the establishment fought back. Those with wealth and power saw us as a direct threat to their ability to gain more wealth and power.
We were labeled as leftists, radicals and communists even though the vast majority of us were not. We were told we were anti-American bent on destroying the nation. And the police and the National Guard were called out to ‘restore order.’
Thus it is when the Peter King’s of the world describe participants of the Occupy Wall Street movement as “anarchists” who are “a bunch of 1960 do overs trying to create chaos” and that “ they have no sense of purpose other than a basic anti-American tone,” I feel compelled to respond.
What happened in the 60’s is relevant to what is happening today.
But the relevance lies in the vision of creating a better nation, not in Peter King’s McCarthy like posturing. I am proud of what we able to accomplish in the 60s. I am proud of how so many young people of the 60s and 70s would go on to create positive change throughout their lives. And I am proud of the folks who are now participating in the Occupy Wall Street Movement.
Over the next two weeks I will revisit the early to mid-60s and reflect on how these years impacted my life and thousands of others who shared my experiences. And I will strive to make those experiences relevant to today.
I will start with how a small community college in the Sierra foothills changed my world-view and then move on to look at UC Berkeley in 1963. Next I will provide an inside look at Berkeley’s Free Speech Movement in 1964 and give an overview of the nation’s first major anti-Vietnam War protest at Berkeley in 1965. I will conclude with my thoughts on how the Berkeley experience reflected and influenced what was happening in the nation.