Let’s go living in the past.

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Recent news events have a theme, as All Things Considered astutely reported today. Nobody is quite clear what the state of and what to do about the issue of race in our country at this point in history. I wholeheartedly agree.

In 1981, (JP, you and I were in college together at the time; I don’t know if you remember me working on this?) I took a class on Rock and Roll as American Culture. We had to write a final paper for the class. Mine was about the lyrics of three songs, shown below in chronological order. These three songs were pop favorites of mine, and they all referred to the dénouement, the loss of energy, fatigue with the tremendous changes of the 1960’s. Here was the next generation of rock bands, carrying the torch to tell us What Was Happening, and Where It Was At. These songs deal with the irony, tragic compromise and loss that was a necessary outcome of the rising Me Generation. Here was the culture debating its own act of settling down, becoming introspective, even passive, preferring the immediate and tangible over the vague, quixotic altruism it was succeeding. And it was eerily inevitable but hard to justify.

I bring this all up not only to be sentimental, but I believe our culture is in a place of just the opposite direction of kind of change. A foment, not a fading.

At the advent of the 1960s – in its cultural characterization – the issue of racism was fairly clear, and the sides fairly well defined. At least we can say that looking back. But that is not so. I think we can now all agree that children should “one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.” And anyone who disagreed with that sort of dream was on the wrong side of history. It is time for Congress to pass laws that promote a modern and nuanced approach to equal access to the polls, and whatever will truly lead the nation to real color blindness.

Let us not forget, though; Dr. King crusaded at least as much for economic justice as for racial equality.

And that is where the hot-button lies. The facts say our economic divide is greater than it has been in several generations. It is so great that it may seem unrealistic to see the economic pie as anything like plentiful. Things looked better fifty years ago. Some idealists would like the argument to be limited to economic justice, and put the race thing behind. On the other side, some say outright racism remains a major issue, and restitution is pertinent. And the middle sees incidents of subtle racism, and is aware of demographics associating high unemployment, incarceration and lack of education with race. Obama and Bill Cosby often urge African Americans to kick it up a notch; they are only partly victims.

I think race remains a legitimate and substantial issue, but it is far overshadowed by the issue of economic justice. The rich-poor gap is profound and unconscionable. I think socio-economic diversity is much more valuable than racial diversity. My call would be for an awakened public that gathers at the banner of economic justice. The “Ninety-nine Percent-Occupy Wall Street” protests of a year ago should serve as the harbinger.

It’s blowin’ in the wind all over. Much of the “middle class” around the globe is shouting for a government that is responsive and attentive to their needs. The internet, which easily hides skin color (and does not filter for intellect), has hastened this coming upheaval.  Just like many do not believe wealth is a clear indication of ‘the content of one’s character,’ the number of tweets may not reveal the validity of their case. Further, protesters are not the same as voters. Bloggers are not the same as leaders. Technology will not replace focused leadership.

What we need is a re-energized public. We need leadership that can articulate today’s particular problems, and how to apply appropriate solutions. The Establishment did rightly criticize the hippies with their overly vague and lofty demands. Wall Street and Fox News rightly accused the Occupiers similarly. But that doesn’t make the trouble vanish; it only slows the solution.

Nixon declared Vietnam OVER, though many disagreed. Obama has declared the Iraq and Afghanistan OVER, and we hear similar reactions. The Supreme Court has effectively forced us to a new phase in the war on racism, though many of us see scattered remaining battles.  Remember, the nature of war has changed drastically since the Sixties. So if we there are echoes of post Vietnam in our near future, let us not withdraw inside ourselves. The new fight is for economic justice. Get out there and rock.

LIVING IN THE PAST (Jethro Tull, Ian Anderson, 1969)

Happy and I’m smiling,
Walk a mile to drink your water.
You know I’d love to love you,
And above you there’s no other.

We’ll go walking out
While others shout of war’s disaster.
Oh, we won’t give in,
Let’s go living in the past.

Once I used to join in
Every boy and girl was my friend.
Now there’s revolution, but they don’t know
What they’re fighting.

Let us close out eyes;
Outside their lives go on much faster.
Oh, we won’t give in,
We’ll keep living in the past.

DIALOGUE (Chicago, Robert Lamm, 1972)

Part I
Are you optimistic ’bout the way things are going?
No, I never ever think of it at all

Don’t you ever worry, When you see what’s going down?
No, I try to mind my business, that is, no business at all

When it’s time to function as a feeling human being
Will your Bachelor of Arts help you get by?

I hope to study further, a few more years or so
I also hope to keep a steady high

Will you try to change things
Use the power that you have, the power of a million new ideas?

What is this power you speak of and this need for things to change?
I always thought that everything was fine

Don’t you feel repression just closing in around?
No, the campus here is very, very free

Don’t it make you angry the way war is dragging on?
Well, I hope the President knows what he’s into, I don’t know

Don’t you ever see the starvation in the city where you live
All the needless hunger all the needless pain?

I haven’t been there lately, the country is so fine
But my neighbors don’t seem hungry ’cause they haven’t got the time

Thank you for the talk, you know you really eased my minI was troubled by the shapes of things to come

Well, if you had my outlook your feelings would be numYou’d always think that everything was fine

Part II
We can make it happen
We can change the world now
We can save the children
We can make it better
We can make it happen
We can save the children
We can make it happen

THESE DAYS (Dan Fogelberg, 1975)

I used to think of myself as a soldier
Holding his own against impossible odds
Badly outnumbered and caught in a crossfire
of devils and gods.

All I ever wanted to be was free
All I ever wanted to see was within my eyes to see
Oh, but, these days are just like you and me
These days are just like you and me

You used to be something I could believe in
How could you let me forsake myself so,
You used to think of your life as a riddle
with no answer known.

All you ever wanted to be was free
All you ever looked for was what was within your sights to see

Oh, but, these days are just like you and me
These days are just like you and me

We used to live like there was no tomorrow
Tasting our trials a day at a time
Laughing at sorrow and crying for justice
such innocent crimes.

All we ever wanted to be was free
All we ever looked for was what was within our eyes to see
Oh, but, these days are just like you and me
These days are just like you and me
You know they’re just like you and me.

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About Jim

I've been leading outdoor environmental education in the YMCA since the 1970s. I love teaching nature, history, current events, being a dad, fixing stuff, groups, and general thinking.
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One Response to Let’s go living in the past.

  1. JP says:

    Sid, I do remember when you took that course. I think I even borrowed one of the books from the course to read. Popular music has long been an interesting lens to look at society through. I think it is harder to do now than then. In 1980 there were about five record companies, and if you weren’t on one of them you just didn’t get heard. And three networks on TV, and they were the only options. Today, our media has fractured. In high school, I think most all of my classmates would have been able to name at least 40 or 50 bands or musicians who we would all be familiar with. Maybe it is the same today, though it doesn’t seem to be.
    I think that is both good and bad. More choice is good, and the options to listen are far greater now than 30 years ago, and many more artists have a following and can make a living on their music, if not as good a living as the few who made it in the past. (The record companies are as much at fault as technology for this turn of events; even before the Internet made it easier to get your own music out, they all decided to screw midlist artists and focus everything on one or two megahits a year.)
    I’d be interested to hear you expand on what you see as fomenting in the current culture. I think you are right that the new overarching fight is for economic justice. I think the foment is stirring for many reasons, not the least of which is big money finally overplaying their hand. We were all happy letting them be rich as long as the middle class was strong. But they wanted more, and they took it, and the middle class has suffered as those ever fewer at the very top have an ever larger slice of the pie. It is becoming too top-heavy to stand, and something will give. I hope it gives at the ballot box and not in the streets.
    Young people elected Obama and then got disillusioned because good change did not happen, or at least not fast enough. Then they sat out the 2010 midterms, and things got even worse. I wish there was a magic way to keep them engaged and voting in off year elections. I don’t know that there is. (And I don’t blame the current generation on their cell phones and Facebook. I think every generation of young people have a short attention span, and that is probably good; it means they are exploring things, many things, figuring out what interests them. Sure, some are not curious, and there has always been some like that. And the good ones are exploring, and the nature of youth is to have your interests go in all directions.) The other factor, of course, as we have discussed at length, is that only about 2 in 5 Americans can name the three branches of government. Given that, it’s no wonder they don’t stay interested and vote in the important midterm and state elections. And then they realize what has happened, and the foment begins to stir.

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