[sixties-l] Awakenings - Then and Now

From: Jvaron@aol.com
Date: Fri Jun 16 2000 - 20:16:23 CUT

  • Next message: William Mandel: "Re: [sixties-l] Vietnam War Memorials"

    I really enjoyed the post on the whole issue of "awakenings" -- what one
    might call a process of intense politicization or radicalization -- as
    activists in the 60s and subsequent generations of activists experienced
    them. It's a vast subject, so here's just a few initial points:

    1) There seems, based on my research (which concerns especially the "armed
    struggle" wing of the movement) a kind of master narrative of the awakening
    process (within, say the New Left), and there are certain common themes that
    appear in so many of the biographies I have tracked. Core features are: an
    early (often childhood) orientation to basic issues of justice and fairness,
    often inculcated by the values of the parents; an early curiosity about the
    civil rights movement and a certain sense of awe in witnessing the courage,
    pathos, and sacrifice of CR activists and leaders; limited involvement as an
    adolescent in forms of activism (often related to issues of race) that
    educated one in the depth of racial and economic inequality and gave one a
    taste of "people power"; a growing concern over Vietnam and attraction to
    like-minded young people actively redefining their lives and identities
    around dedication to issues of social justice; an alienation from
    "mainstream" culture and the sense of "finding oneself" -- or having access
    to a higher, truer, deeper experience of the self -- through partipation in
    communities of ethical and political concern (fellow SDSers, activist
    friends, some kind of collective or grassroots organization); a
    disenchantment, often profound, with mainstream American liberalism and its
    democratic party representatives; a fascination with "deviant" ideologies --
    Marx, Mao, Marcuse; more or less total immersion in movement culture and the
    adoption of certain patterns of style, speech, dress, thought; a fascination
    with, and even the glorification of, various forms of otherness -- the lives
    and activism of blacks and other minorities, the Vietnamese, other oprressed
    groups; intense and often painful reflection on what it means to "make a
    difference" and experiemntation with increasingly militant forms of political
    action . . .

    Beyond this point, people went in so many different directions

    2) Within this general model -- a kind of generic template -- there was so
    much variety, such that any individual's experience represents significant
    variation of the common pattern. What's so fascinating is tracing the
    differnt roots people took and understanding the choices they made, relative
    to their peers

    3) I don't think the "extremism" of the late 60s was as media-driven as
    people often claim. In my research I am fascinated to learn why some poeple
    took that radical leap into organized violence. There is, so far as I can
    tell, no (objective) determinant of why person x would take such a leap, but
    not person y. For the most part, the folks I study represent one distinct
    variation on the above pattern, and it was a combination of existential,
    ethical, ideological and experiential factors that brought them to the point
    of violence. Yes, the media may have given them an exaggerated sense of
    their importance and agency, but mostly I detect a sincere (if often
    misguided) desire to do the hard and risky work of making revolution and,
    from a moral standpoint, to take a militant stand against the immorality of
    the US gvt. and broader "sstem." This too, is of course, a simplification --
    I provide the necessary detail in my manuscript.

    4) The process of "awakening" has remained remarkably similar over time. In
    the 80s I went through a series of shocks and transformations as a young
    activist eerily similar to what 60s folks experienced (of course the Vietnam
    war and CR movement receded as reference points; new, but related issues
    concerned us). Based on what I know of the new "anti-globalization"
    movement, certian constants remain.

    5) By all accounts, the new book by Naomi Klein "No Logo" gives a rich
    account of the sensibility of the younger activist crowd.

    All for now.

    This archive was generated by hypermail 2b29 : Fri Jun 16 2000 - 23:29:06 CUT