Chicago Transit Authority – “Prologue, August 29, 1968”
There have been only a handful of times where I have looked around and wondered what the hell is going on and how did we get there. I expect that many are at that point as we watch what has unfolded over the past several days. Aside from the unnecessary deaths that have occurred following and including the murder of George Floyd, most disheartening is the fact that if we were really paying attention, none of this should be surprising at all.
I am now well past 60 and three-quarters of the way to my 70th birthday. Interesting how age provides perspective that one never thinks they don’t have in their younger years. Not sure I’m that much smarter – just more experienced and more aware. As I watch what is going on in our country at this time, I can’t help to be brought back to some of the earlier times where our country seemed to be splitting in two. I’m sure it wasn’t the first time for the US but I remember how the 1960’s was playing out. While the long and arduous civil rights journey has started decades earlier, it was the first decade and time where civil rights was actually taken seriously – by some – and change was underway. President Johnson had begun the effort to move the country forward, signing and putting into law the Civil Rights Act of 1964, soon followed by the Voting Rights Act in 1965. Even for a young teenager, it just seemed right. But this was too much for many, leading to the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr and Bobby Kennedy in the latter part of the decade.
We, as a country, were also well into the Viet Nam conflict and the country’s appetite for what was becoming seen as an unjust war was reaching most of us as we watched bodies piling up – on both sides. It had taken it’s toll on President Johnson and was severely impacting any unity in the country. I was coming of age, so to speak, in the later 1960’s and I remember distinctly the events at the 1968 Democratic National Convention, taking place in Chicago that year. We all sat and watched on TV as Chicago police, under orders from Chicago Mayor Richard Daley, beat demonstrators with nightsticks as they arrested them. I believe this is where the idea of the “Establishment” leading to an “Us vs. Them” mentality worked its way into our young minds. This was just the beginning. It is now over 50 years since then where the chant of the Chicago demonstrators “The whole world is watching” was picked up by a new group in their first album – Chicago Transit Authority – soon to be known as Chicago, one of the most popular groups of the 70’s.
On May 4, 1970, members of the Ohio National Guard fired into a crowd of Kent State University demonstrators, killing four and wounding nine Kent State students.
Another “Us vs. Them”. Demonstrations grew across college campuses around the country. We became more distinctly aware of our generation vs. theirs. For many of us, racial division wasn’t really a big deal. Not sure why but I don’t recall any issues in college because someone was a different color or because they didn’t look the same as most of us. We had bigger things to do. It was a great time – our generation had moved into a space unoccupied by our parents – and the Establishment they represented. Sex, drugs and Rock and Roll, so to speak. But we got pulled back into it on occasion – Vietnam kept us engaged. As freshmen, we sat in the dorm watching TV as the Selective Service Draft Lottery was going on, each one of us knowing that if our number (birthday) got picked early enough, our lives would be dramatically changed as we would likely find ourselves embroiled in the Establishment’s Vietnam War. We had bigger concerns than the skin color of those around us. But we were college kids. For many in the country, the impact of the Civil Rights movement and what followed just solidified the racism and hatred that remains strong today.
Most of us have labored under the thought that in the past 50+ years the racial divide had been closing and that we were always moving forward. Donald Trump has brought that idea to a screaming halt. While he himself hasn’t caused the hate and discord, he has given it a platform and the energy of resurgence. This false sense of progress most of us have had is probably worse than if the reality of race inequality was obvious all along. Maybe we wouldn’t have taken our eyes of the ball. Maybe it would not have been so easy to assume. Maybe more real progress could have been made. Maybe we should have paid more attention to the riots we’ve seen over the years.
Our great country isn’t really so great after all. Making America Great Again has been shown in all it’s glory to make it a return to a time of demonstrated intolerance. It isn’t really a surprise when we look at those most responsible for Trump’s victory. They are those people most threatened by change. These are the people who never really accomplished much personal growth. Some might be “successful” in terms of what they have but they are stunted human beings. If someone else succeeds then they don’t believe they can. In comparison to others, they always fall short so they need someone a few rungs down on the ladder. I still don’t understand the mindsets or the attitudes but they would likely have criticisms and reservations about me. Am I always right? Not by a long shot. I can be an asshole and I can be intolerant but I am an equal opportunity asshole and intolerant. But I can judge myself to some degree by looking at the children we raised and the adults they have become…and I think their intolerance of hate and inequity speaks volumes.
There is still no other place I would want to have grown up and raised my children but I am disheartened by what we have not accomplished as a people who have generally had it much better and much easier than most other countries. But this is not the America on which our values have been based for much of our existence. It is time that we actually need to get a leader who knows how to lead (where is Obama when we need him?) and we need that person quickly. Without leadership, we are like an orchestra without a conductor – a lot of noise and everyone on their own. Not music I want to hear. No matter what, the path forward, assuming we get our act together at all, is a long one.
But here we are again – The Whole World is Watching…