Half a century ago, the grandparents of today’s protesters were protesting. It was the glorious ’60s. Jane Fonda and Peter, Paul and Mary egged the protesters on as did John Kerry, fresh from the fields of Vietnam. On late night TV, Kerry told host Dick Cavett how murderous our troops in Vietnam had been during his tour there. The future presidential candidate and secretary of state was as viciously anti-war as any of the college kids who were blocking access on college campuses and pledging allegiance to our enemy’s leader, Ho Chi Minh.
There wasn’t just one summer of love during the ’60s. There were at least three: ’67, ’68, and ’69. The New Morality (which was simply the old immorality) was afoot. The Sexual Revolution was moving in. Universities were just beginning to lose their footing as places of learning, inquiry and respectful dissent. Much like George Orwell’s animals that were running the farm, students across the country were stating their demands and college presidents were caving.
Guess what the demands were. Better cafeteria food? No. Shorter classes? No. Changing the curriculum? Yes, because “Western Civilization 101 was all about old, white, European men.” More student activities? No. Acknowledgement of racism? Yes.
Forget that the Civil Rights Act had been made law in 1964, that segregation was coming to an end, and that Martin Luther King was successfully awakening the nation’s conscience to racial inequality. According to student protesters, America was still a sordid place. Sound familiar?
In 1967 San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury district was the epicenter of student protest. Over 100,000 students gathered there to the strains of “If you’re going to San Francisco / be sure to wear flowers in your hair.” Thus, the Flower Children or hippies whose level of idealism was matched only by the loudness of their scruffy dress, much hair, and bloodshot eyes.
1968 would bring a more subdued summer. Martin Luther King had been assassinated in April. We at all-black George Washington Carver Jr. High School in Meridian, Mississippi, were numb the rest of the school year. Excellent leadership from our principal and a stellar faculty helped students deal with sorrow and crisis. The beginning of the 1968 summer was marked by the June assassination of Bobby Kennedy. Americans felt nervous.
1969 brought the student protest movement to a feverish pitch, but not with violence like that now faced by America’s major cities. On Aug. 15 half a million people waited on a dairy farm pasture near Bethel, New York, for the three-day “music festival of love and peace” to start. Dubbed the Woodstock Festival, the event initiated the era of “sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll.” The Age of Aquarius was upon us.
Many artists such as Arlo Guthrie, Grateful Dead, and Jimi Hendrix performed. Joan Baez, great with child, sang on the last day. The Beatles chose not to participate. So did Bob Dylan. Some artists questioned the wisdom of doing a concert at a dairy farm.
The centerpiece of the culturally significant Woodstock Festival was freedom of expression. Despite its damaging residue — “free” love and the drug culture — the festival heralded freedom of speech. “To liberal kids weary of restraints and starving for dissent, the festival was heaven,” chortled Rolling Stone magazine.
Compare these “liberal kids” of Woodstock to their grandchildren today. Today’s “liberal kids” aren’t at all “into” free speech. They are demanding limited speech, speech that agrees with their own. We’re talking about kids at colleges and universities, not those who entered manual labor lines of work. How interesting that out of our places of higher learning has come a generation of youth that no longer believes in freedom of speech, but in shaming and shushing all who disagree with them, whether on Black Lives Matter, homosexuality or Donald Trump. How interesting that “deplorable kids” like electricians, plumbers, farmers, firefighters, cops, carpenters and small business owners are still the ones who keep the world turning, including the university campus.
Yet, the “deplorable kids” — those icky Goya bean lovers — are called racists, homophobes and xenophobes, all because they dare to dissent from corporate and higher education orthodoxy. Gramps and Grandma have a lot of teaching to do to get those grandkids back into the freedom of expression spirit of the ’60s. Today in the academic and corporate world there is no text, only interpretation; no truth, only subjective feelings. And no room for dissent.
“Democracy dies in darkness,” the Washington Post slogan proclaims. If the Post believes that, they have a task before them: Persuade colleges and universities that their historic mission of free inquiry is being subordinated by sensitive, young Turks at the gate who insist that we all think as they think.
How anti-intellectual is that?