Recently I watched a program on the local PBS station. The program, “John Sebastian Presents: Folk Rewind” was the backdrop for the PBS fund drive. As I watched, it became evident to me that the program meant more to me than the PBS telethon and brought back memories and stirred deep emotions, some caused me to face very disturbing questions.
So that you understand my need to look in the mirror and ask questions that may not have an answer, I was born in 1944. I grew up during the most volatile and rapid change in the psyche of the nation and, in my opinion, the world. I refer to myself as a child of the sixties because, even though I, and most people of my age, had thought about and discussed the future, who we were going to be in that future and how we would fit into that future, before the sixties arrived, it was during the 1960s that we put into practice those things we said we believed, those things we said were important to us and to the world, those things we wanted to pass on to our children, if and when they came along. We marched, we sang, we protested, we testified, we loved, and we changed the world. We helped, along with those brave men and women who had battled for so many years, to bring about equality for all. We helped, along with those who went to fight on the battlefield and those who fought in the courts and by leaving their country, homes, and families behind, to stop a war. We helped, along with millions of Americans, to force a corrupt president from office. For the record, I served our country during the turmoil in Southeast Asia and earned the right to protest, but everyone in this country, regardless of their service had and still do have, the right to protest.
Those of us that grew up in that period had high ideals, many will not see it that way, but we were out to build a better world. Each of us, no matter our political ideology, social class, or race felt that we were contributing to the future as we envisioned it. For some reason, I was part of what you may consider to be the more radical segment of the Post World War II Generation.
I grew up in North Eastern Ohio. The Civil Rights Movement was just gathering steam and we did not understand what it was all about. Where we lived, there was no race problem, at least to our young eyes. Black and white lived near each other, we went to school together, played sports together, hung out together after school, some of us Do-Wopping, hoping that we were going to be the next Dion and the Belmonts or The Drifters. As I got older, and after my excursion into the heart of the activity, I noticed that blacks lived near whites, but not like next door. I realized that, even in Ohio, there were places where black people did not go and I realized the degrading nature of some of the names that were used in reference to black people. By the time I left home, I heard young people, my age, using the very words we hated so much when we heard them form our parents generation. Either those who chose that road were too ignorant of what they were doing or hate is passed from generation to generation. Looking around America today, we see the voting rights that so many had fought for so long to see enacted, trampled under the feet by those who do not want everyone to participate in the democratic government that our founding fathers gave to us. In the last year alone, years of work has been tossed under the bus by people who want power at any cost. Why have we allowed that to happen?
We had such high ideals and such high hopes of changing the world, and then we were gone. We were still here physically but most of us had to change our focus from changing the world to putting food on the tables of our young families. Advancing in our jobs so that we could make more money and have more things became more important to us than the billions of our tax dollars that were being spent around the world influencing governments so as to shape them into our vision of what they should be.
Suddenly one day, we looked around and discovered that we had become the very thing that we had fought so hard to destroy. We had become them. We were part of the establishment, living our lives of affluence, always wanting more and not caring about the suffering that many may have endured to bring it all to us.
We want cheap clothing, people in Bangladesh will make it for us two cents an hour. We want a cheap TV or computer, people in China will make it for us for a few cents an hour, a dorm to live in and the right not to be shot. We don't care, we just want. We want what we want, when we want, and at the price we want and we don't care about the cost to people who make it for us. We don't care about the cost to the environment. We don't care about the cost to our grandchildren who will be living in third world conditions so we can have what we want, when we want it, and at the cost we want to pay.
In America, the greatest threat to the health of Americans is the epidemic of obesity. In the meantime one third of the world is starving to death.
We dreamed, and fought for real education, education that would prepare students for the world they would someday enter. The two sizes fits all educational system of the 1950s needed to be updated with more individual attention for those with learning difficulties and curricula designed with the person in mind rather than the cookie cutter systems we had all grown accustomed to.
We dreamed of, and fought for equality. Not just for the word but for the meaning. We wanted every person in America to be afforded the same right to a good education as his or her neighbor. We wanted every person of legal age to participate in the election of government officials and to vote on issues and to run for and be elected to government offices. We wanted any person with the means to pay for a home to be able to buy a home in any neighborhood and to live in harmony with their neighbors as part of the community.
We dreamed of, and fought for peace. Peace, in our community, in our country, and in our world.
What happened? Where and when did our dreams get derailed? To where did we, and our big dreams of a better world disappear?
Today, the poverty we dreamed of eliminating encompasses more of our countries citizens and is deeper than any time since the Great Depression of the 1930s. To add to the despair of those in the most need, members of our congress are fighting to eliminate the very programs put into place, during and after that Great Depression, to ensure that the basic needs of all American Citizens would be met.
Shady real estate brokers and their equally shady Wall Street cohorts cheated the process of home sales and the handling of the subsequent mortgages so severely that they have sent this country’s and the world’s economies to near total collapse, and profited from the whole mess. As their empires began to disintegrate, we, the taxpayers, were forced to bail them out of their troubles and save their companies. They used our tax dollars to pay themselves, the very people who destroyed our economy, put millions on the unemployment line, caused thousands of businesses to close, pension funds to shrink to such a level that made retirement for most a forgotten dream and destroyed the lives of many already counting on their pensions to live, multi-million dollar bonuses.
We have engaged in two wars lasting a decade and financed by raiding the Social Security Trust Fund and borrowing money from China.
As these events unfolded and continue to unfold, our national balance sheet presents us with a deficit so large it is hard to comprehend. The answer for many of our members of congress is to eliminate the programs that assist the poor and elderly while refusing to allow a slightly higher tax rate to be levied on the richest, very small, segment of our population. Our country has become populated with people whose motto seems to be, “I got mine, screw you.”
Somehow and by someone, a determination has been made that our public school systems are failing students. There seems to be two main reasons cited for this situation; the failure of some students to pass a standardized test and the fact that teachers belong to a union and therefore get paid too much. The resolution; get rid of the public schools, except to serve the poor and basically disenfranchised students, and use our tax money to fund private schools, catering only to those students the private, for profit, school operators deem worthy of their particular school and whose parents can pay the additional tuition. This plan will, as it is intended to do, leave the children with the most need stuck in the remaining public schools with very limited resources, like books, teachers, chalk, you get the picture!
I do not have enough years left to list all the wrongs I see in this once great country. What disappoints me most is my generation, including me, that gave up the fight far too soon and then failed to pass the torch. The Occupy Movement is far to disorganized and lacks the commitment, and intestinal fortitude, to bring this country back to its senses. What we need is another round of “children of the sixties” to wake us all back up before it is too late. It may be too late now! Think about it!
The following was written by a nineteen year old young man in 1965. This video is one of many. Some show scenes from the 1960s, some, like this one are updated.
Same old world, only worse