WHAT MADE THE SIXTIES THE SIXTIES?

Harris cropped copy    In 1960 a black rebellion against lunch counter segregation quickly spread across the South. Within days of four Raleigh college students intentionally being arrested for sitting down at a “White Only” lunch counter of Woolworths, hundreds, then thousands of other black students repeated this action across the South. By the summer of 1963, the South was in flames, with 14,000 arrests, many of them of high school age students, students that marched singing and clapping out of their classrooms and high schools, straight into paddy wagons. That is how the 1960’s began.
Then something else happened. Young men, black and white together as the movement used to say, began to be drafted and die in Vietnam. And the more that died the more that middle class students realized that they were next in line. The movement had spread to white people. A huge anti war movement, much greater in numbers than the civil rights movement, developed, fueled by chants like, “Hell no, we wont go.” As anti war demonstrators became more militant, police and soldiers fired directly into crowds of mostly students, killing people. Fringe groups grew within the anti war movement using violence against the government. One president (Johnson) quit, another (Nixon) who was facing crimes and impeachment, resigned. The hippies, an alternative culture to the materialism and the capitalism that ruled America grew and flourished. Marijuana was widely used.
What is happening now? The faux election of Trump immediately sparked demonstrations across the country. The size and speed of the organization of the Women’s March of 2017 was unprecedented.
Then the exposure of Harvey Weinstein as a sex predator sparked the #Me Too movement which like the sits -ins spread with unprecedented fury, bringing down alleged predators right and left, almost all without trial. Power was passing to these movements. Then a deeply troubled nineteen year old boy in Florida took an AR 15 to his former high school and murdered everyone he could reach, changed hats and walked out the back door leaving blood and chaos behind.
This time the kids are fighting back. Like the students that began the anti war movement they didn’t want to die. The endless series of mass shootings have been numbing for any intelligent person to witness. If one of our definitions of government is that it is here to protect us, then there has never in my life time been such a total failure of government and I am seventy five years old. Like the sit-ins, the fight of the Parkland High kids has spread to other schools. Money has begun to pour into their cause, as it did in the civil rights movement where many people in the North, unable or unwanted on the front lines in the South, organized themselves and sent financial support south. A March is schedule for March 24 in Washington. Similar to the August 1963 march, half a million people are expected. The NRA is the enemy, just as the KKK and the White Citizens Council was in the 1960’s. Loathsome as these names sound today, membership was accepted, even honored, in the South, and many of the best white citizens and white business people belonged to these hate groups. Major corporations like First National Bank of Omaha, Delta, United , Met Life and Avis have severed ties with the NRA.
We live in a small western town of 5,000 located between two Indian reservations. We have a gun shop located in the fenced back yard of an elderly couple’s home with a sign outside saying “Guns”. I went there yesterday to buy fishing bait. Inside were two signs advertising “Bayonets for AR 15s”. An older customer was leaving holding a long white box. As he left he said, “I can’t wait to blow something up.” When I asked the store owners who are about my age, about Parkman, they said the only “change” would be that no one under 21 will be able to buy an AR 15.
Then they told me what they really thought. We don’t have enough prisons. Children are coddled and should be beaten in school. (“I was,” the owner proudly said.) The local police are lax on crime. Crime is up in America. They complained about a burglary at a son -in –law’s home. Yet they have children and grandchildren. “How can you compare the theft of a material object to the murder of children?” I asked..
Julian Bond told me you cannot argue with people that disagree with you. You’ll never win. These people are ignorant. Their ultimate complaint is that the government will take away our guns. No serious person anywhere has ever proposed this. I have a twenty two caliber rifle over my mantle, and my best friend here hunts deer and elk. You are not allowed to hunt elk with a machine gun .
Every statistic these people site is wrong. They are idiots. The second amendment is ridiculous. It was written in the 18th century and might have made sense for a decade or two after the Revolution. Washington hung the leaders of Shay’s Rebellion. It didn’t matter how well they were armed. The second amendment was meant for a citizens’ army to be able to defend itself from a tyrannical government armed with blunderbusses. No one can stand up to the armed forces of our government no matter how many machine guns they keep at home.
I wish I had the guts to throw a rock through the window of that gun shop. I dream of painting “NO!” across their gun sign in the street. Nancy thinks we should remove our license plate and throw a paint bomb at it as we drive by.
Pray for the Parkland kids. Send them money. And if you have more guts than I, wrap a brick with a note saying “AR 15” and toss it through a gun shop window.

Comments
3 Responses to “WHAT MADE THE SIXTIES THE SIXTIES?”
  1. Michael Guenza says:

    Brilliant truthful and inspiring as always. I am a middle school teacher in SF and the kids are getting more and more inspired to RISE. Stay tuned for more youth rising up in force.

  2. David Zuniga says:

    Thank you for these words

  3. Mike Turek says:

    Dear Mr. Lyon, I learned of your work tonight from the NYRB. Your essay Smoke, Wind and Fire was excellent. Having lived in the West for 50 years and traveled in New Mexico I enjoyed your descriptions of the Land and waters. But I was happily surprised by your discussion of traveling in the West in an electric car, a Bolt. I leased a Volt two years ago and have found it to be the best car I’ve ever owned and I’ve owned far too many. After reading your essay I am now a follower.

    The 60s. I’ve been thinking a lot about the 60s. Fifty years ago I enlisted in the US Air Force. In my neighborhood, a white working class suburb of Detroit, Michigan, the military was a right of passage. My Father, all of my uncles except one and most men on my block were veterans, World War II. In high school we didn’t talk about the college we were going to we bragged about being Marines, Soldiers, Sailors and Airmen. The Vietnam War made that a certainty.

    I entered the Air Force a politically conservative democrat. My experience in the military changed that. By 1970 I was going to meetings with GIs against the War and clandestinely distributing anti-military literature on base. Of course the Vietnam War was the primary reason I became politically active while in the service but what likely disgusted me most was the Doomsday Machine. I was a communication technician in the Pacific Command Center on Oahu, Hawaii and witness to the madness of our military, I looked into the dark soul of America at 20. The annual War Games always concluded with the end of the world. After a nuclear exchange with China and Russia all that was left were some nuclear submarines. I knew then that the world is run by Mad Men.

    On a bright Sunday morning in May of 1971 some seventy soldiers, sailors, marines and airmen dressed in hippie garb demonstrated against the war and militarism at the front gates of Schoffield Barracks. Fortunately we were not beaten or arrested and after about an hour we broke up and headed back to barracks and ships. Within a couple of weeks I received orders for Thule Air Base, Greenland. Every morning since then I’ve woken to hopelessness and despair.

    Perhaps I should just be glad that I, we, are all still alive.

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