View from a Room: A friend of mine sent me an email in response to my waxing morose about the fact that those things I thought were so important in the Sixties had gone and the hope I placed in Barack Obama emanating from those times has not been realized. He said to me, in essence, the Sixties were not all that great because his wife who went to Berkeley during those turbulent years told him so as did another friend who went to the University of Michigan. So I suppose that must be proof positive that the Sixties were not so wonderful and had no impact. He said I should not pine away for something that is gone and will never be again but rather I should concentrate on good works in the present.
I thought about that for awhile and decided I would take issue with him. While I agree one should not get stuck in the past and do good works in the present, I believe the Sixties was a time that had a crucially important historical impact on the present. Every historical period has an impact upon those who come after it. History is a continuum, after all, of human behavior and events. World War I had a direct impact on World War II and World War II had an impact on the generations that separated these events.
In truth, the Sixties have never been over but simply morphed over time much like rock formations which in the past were one thing but in the present evolve into something else. The liberalization of the culture as we know it today is an outgrowth of the Sixties. There are many examples of how important that era was:
The fact I can go anywhere dressed in most anything I like without fear I will be ostracized for dressing “incorrectly” is liberating. Human rights gained much of its impetus from the reality of the Sixties. Rights for blacks, the disabled, women, homosexuals, and others came out of the Sixties. The environmental movement may, if progressives get the chance, save the planet, also came out of the Sixties. The anti-war movement, the end of Vietnam and the elimination of the draft were part of the response to protests of the Sixties. The fact that Sarah Palin was on the vice-presidential slot on a major party ticket is due to the women's movement of the Sixties but she would probably like to ignore that fact. The House of Representatives has many women elected to it. Our Secretary of State is a woman as was George Bush's Secretary of State. Women are Supreme Court justices and in other high offices all due in part to the impact of the Sixties.
Marriages that were abusive and women who bore the brunt of that abuse are treated differently now. They can get help instead of keeping silent thinking they were some sort of societal anomaly that the 1950’s suggested they were. The cookie cutter society that imprisoned many was shattered and, to me, happily so. If in previous eras a girl had become pregnant she went to a home for unwed mothers. That sounds RIDICULOUS now but it was true and I can point to one that existed in Boston at that time. Movies such as “Blue Denim” or “A Summer Place” depicted the utter shame of an unwed pregnancy; the kind of shame which should have been reserved for the most egregious antisocial act. What about the male who impregnated her? No home for unwed fathers? He got a get out of jail free card.
Thankfully, in my opinion, abortion was legalized at least for now. It saved full term human beings i.e. women’s lives. The pill, too, liberated behavior. Of course, the fact that homosexuals finally could feel like they were not pariahs saved lives as well. The Gay Liberation Front had its beginnings in the late Sixties. Many who were renown in Hollywood or politics were mortally afraid their sexuality would be exposed and were subject to blackmail and other threats.
Importantly, blacks owe representation in every sector of society because of the giants of the black power movement and its demands promulgated especially in the late Sixties. The laws against miscegenation fell. The Jim Crow laws fell. De jure segregation fell. If one looks at TV or movies from the 1950's and early sixties one barely sees a black person and if one does they are almost invariably servants of whites. That changed.
There has been no draft since Vietnam. The Sixties, for one of the first times outside of the Civil War draft riots, allowed some to question power and question their country's life and death policies.
Yes, there were drawbacks of the Sixties such as a loosening of the sexual mores and its excesses which had some negative consequences as did drugs. No era is perfect. Moreover, and, in my opinion, worst of all, the radicals of the Sixties created a backlash in the form of Nixon’s Moral Majority, Farwellian uncompromising and extreme right wing religious fanaticism, antiintellectualism and, today, the cerebrally challenged teabaggers representing a most divided nation.
I, though, loved the Sixties for its political statements and because it set me free. Am I thankful for the Sixties? YOU BETCHA. But I can change a little bit of my analysis of it and the disappointment I feel because Barack Obama has not been all I thought he would be … yet. There has been much written on the Sixties such as former radical Todd Gitlin’s excellent book "The Sixties: Days of Hope Days of Rage." Or read as stated in my prior blog Michael Tomasky’s "Against Despair: How our misreading of history harms progressivism today." http://democracyjournal.org/article2.php?ID=6760&limit=0&limit2=1500&page=1 In
MY own final analysis: it all depends on one's perspective and the view from the room where one sits.