This is one of the posts that I wrote on Wednesday during the great NaBloPoMo purge of 2011.
A recurring thought in my mind is what would have happened if I had been born 20-25 years earlier than 1974. Would I have been a protester, a marcher, a sitter-inner, a free-lover, a Weather Undergrounder? Or would I have been a “Get a job, you dirty hippy!” kind of guy? I can see both streaks in me, each conveniently made moot by time and a blanket of post-Watergate political apathy.
In high school I was comparatively liberal and a bit of a spacey free spirit. In college I was comparatively conservative, lacking in small-liberal-arts-college savoir faire and cultural sophistication, and rather disdainful of the sloganeering of the politically active folks on campus. Don’t just tell me, convince me. And, no, shouting loudly (or taping over your mouth in symbolic protest) is not at all convincing. If I had been in college in the late 60s and early 70s, which way would I have gone?
In 2003 I went to the one big anti-war protest in Boston that I heard about before it happened. (Was it just me or did the media do a terrible job covering pre-war dissent?) But I treated it as a sort of anthropological exercise, since I felt very ambivalent about the invasion. Looking back now, of course, I feel like a big dope for ever believing the administration. I took a lot of photographs of what I saw, but I think I missed the point that most of the people there were basically like me, just with more conviction.
So it was interesting when I was in France to hear a few of my fellow travelers relive a similar debate from an earlier generation. The woman whose husband was an Air Force wing commander during Vietnam argued that if we had helped the French with materiel and support at Dien Bien Phu, we would never have needed to go to war in Vietnam. On the other side was the former member of Students for a Democratic Society, who took time off school to protest and was ready to go to Canada to avoid the draft. He obviously saw things a bit differently. In the middle was the thermonuclear physicist who didn’t express much of a political opinion at all but just argued the facts.
That’s me. I’m the thermonuclear physicist, just 20-25 years younger.
So now that we have Occupy protests/camp-ins going on everywhere and local officials and the police moving against them in scenes straight from 1972, I’m torn again. I support the message of the Occupy folks. (I’m the 99%, too.) And I support many of the progressive causes that have glommed onto the original anti-plutocracy movement. But they’re often being presented in a way that makes them seems to me (at best) uncoordinated and (at worse) silly, vapid, elitist, or out-of-touch.
Maybe that’s it. I probably would have been a marcher but not an occupier/draft-card-burner. I can see myself having gone to protest along with the sensible people that I know and respect, rolled my eyes at the hippies, and then gotten on with the rest of my life.
Whew. I’m not a reactionary or freeloader (but just barely).