This post reminds me of the book I'm currently reading, "Stones in the
River" by Ursula Hegi, about a woman dwarf who lives in Germany, born 1915.
When the Nazis came for people, some turned their backs and walked away,
others helped turn in their neighbors and some, like Hegi's dwarf, helped
people get away. There were certainly human immediate responses going on in
this instance: for example, should the dwarf help someone being chased by a
mob when she didn't like that person? Should she help someone who was a
rotten person when the Nazis were coming for them? What makes someone risk
their personal safety to help someone else? Or do they see an abstraction
and turn away from helping others because of a perceived personal affront
or seek revenge for a past wrong?
The writer certainly isn't talking about the same gravity of incident, but
it raises issues that go far beyond the incident of carrying the wood back
to the porch rather than letting the demonstrators use it, because they
didn't have the majority behind them and were therefore "anti-demoncratic"
(Can't the same be said of those damn women who had to get out and march
just so other women could vote? They certainly weren't in the majority, so
therefore no one should have supported them?)
When in such a situation as the writer found himself in, my instinct would
be to give them the wood, or to help carry it into the street. But then I
wasn't there. I don't know what the ISSUES were.
Issues are worth fighting for, ideals are worth fighting for. Demonstrators
appear to have been very pleasant to several of the people on this list,
including one who took a flag away from demonstrators because they were
burning it in a protest. I remember Alan Hoffman dropped his pants at an
SDS convention. No body punched any of these people out, or restrained
them. That in itself shows something else about the demonstrators -- it
suggest they were fighting to make a point, often a political point, and
weren't there to hate or beat up on people they thought they shared more
with than the police.
Some don't see politics worth personal safety, unless the circumstances are
ideal and perfect. Seldom is life like that. And still, I ponder the many
reasons different people respond differently to the same situation. Some
of our generation are now the one's who would name names. Does this ever
change? Does that come from the movement's failure to convince them that
our solution is correct or morally justified? I think not. Revolution isn't
a tea party. Even social change is no tea party and things will always be
topsy turvy in such a situation.
best, Don Monkerud
>Here is a story under the "awakenings" heading. It is not
>particularly partial to the left in the sixties and so may seem
>somewhat incongruous on this list. After all, in the short time since
>its rebirth, Sixties-L seems to have gravitated beyond a focus on the
>left during the period, and now appears to be a quasi-organizing tool,
>addressing issues, for instance, of the applicability of left concepts
>to current issues. Plus ca change, plus le meme chose?
>It was 1969 I think, and I was a student at a large Eastern university
>at least as well known for its football team as its politics. I was
>living in a so-called "co-op", which was basically an old, beat-up,
>university owned Victorian house. You got a break on tuition and
>board since it was cheap for the university to offer the option and,
>given my family's income, the option made financial sense. In truth,
>though, the real reason I wanted to join was that the co-op was a
>kind-of "anti-fraternity", a self-selected assortment of vaguely
>countercultural misfits proud of its identity with the changing of the
>times and its generally rebellious spirit.
>However, where that spirit put us on the dial where "the revolution"
>proper was concerned was not at all clear. Unquestionably, we all
>tilted in that direction, but was this tilt a generationally-inspired
>obligatory genuflect, or the real thing? I don't think we knew.
>Then one day there was a riot. It started out about racism on the
>football team, but it was of course about a lot more than that. The
>co-op was situated right on the main drag, so we were right in the
>middle of it. Our front porch afforded a birds-eye view, as though we
>were weather watchers looking at an approaching storm.
>We saw the usual pattern, including a willed escalation of violence on
>the part of the protestors, presumably in order to draw even more
>police to the scene and, with a little luck, to get them bashing some
>heads. You'll recall the logic: you must bring on the repression in
>order to show the bankruptcy of the system and then the people will
>Things weren't going that well that day for the riot. There were just
>not enough participants against the police--witness our little group
>watching things from the front porch of the house rather than diving
>in. I remember some very angry and probably frustrated demonstrators
>smashing the windows on cars right across the street trying to whip up
>the crowd. Finally, it occurred to the demonstrators that what they
>needed was a barricade, dammit! Once we have a barricade, we can
>clearly demarcate our turf on this street from that of the police and
>the barricade can serve as a symbol and rallying cry!
>Then the question: how will we build a barricade? And the answer: the
>pile of firewood stacked over there beside the co-op! And so our
>firewood--the wood that served to stoke our communal hearth through
>the difficult and snowy winter--was dragged out onto the street to
>serve as a barricade.
>That's when I had one of my awakenings. I remember walking down into
>the melee and taking the wood back to the house, piece by piece. This
>act was not without danger: I remember one of the demonstrators, his
>face contorted with rage, threatening to crack my skull with a
>baseball bat. But as far as I was concerned the wood was going back.
>What was my awakening? Oh, I guess you could say from a Marxist
>perspective that I simply realized my bourgeois class interest. And
>there is a sense in which I do not dispute this--although the
>implications of even this interpretation are telling. After all,
>"Amerika" was even then profoundly bourgeois and nowadays, with the
>number of shareholders exceeding union membership, it is even more so.
> So any kind of revolution under the circumstances needed to be
>profoundly anti-democratic and elitist.
>I also came to feel, in that existential moment when push came to
>shove, how very much the participants in the riot were animated by a
>whole lot more than simple idealism gone a bit rotten. There was a
>real taste for the disorder and the violence going round-it was a
>thing in itself. And I came to believe that my ingrained affiliation
>with the left was nothing more than the product of pure hype, at least
>as much as my taste in rock or my choice of deodorant. It was mostly
>on the surface, and didn't speak to me in any deep sense.
>No doubt this puts me at odds with some on this list. And in a sense,
>in posting this I suppose recreating the event, this time with words.
>But it may be of interest to some who are here as to how you may have
>lost the hearts and minds of folks like me. And I am also mindful of
>the list's archival function, and thought that it could use some other
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