[sixties-l] Re: say what?

From: Michael Rossman (mrossman@igc.org)
Date: 10/10/00

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    Jerry West writes, of my first SLA-related post: "but still if the ancillary
    points are unclear they tend to muddy the water around the main point."
    Jerry, I regret that my way of putting things muddied them for you. Perhaps it
    would have been clearer had I begun, "Although Foster's murder was an
    unconscionable crime, the SLA's spurious rationale is interesting to consider
    in light of developments since." 
    But see, I'm still squirming to get off the hook of an implicit accusation;
    and I find both my response and the necessity to be demeaning. Can one say, of
    the SLA or the Black Panthers, "they were unforgiveable murderers," and then
    go on to say, "and they made some important points" without seeming to excuse
    or condone them by such acknowledgement? If one cannot, one is condemned to
    lie about the textures of history, or else be seen as murder's accomplice.
    As it happened, though they were a gang of fools led by a paid provocateur,
    the SLA  made some points worthy of notice. One concerned public education. My
    poem suggests how I heard it at the time, as a professional educator aghast at
    what was happening in schools during the retrenchment of the Seventies, in a
    dearth of public dialogue with no one paying attention. Key issues were so
    buried that it took a pack of malign crazies to point attention towards them;
    the SLA did this in a way that branded attention to them as malign. Was this
    not a double tragedy? A quarter-century later, the issues of management and
    development evident then in the schools have continued towards social disaster.
    Another point concerned class consciousness.  During the Reagan years, as tax
    revisions siphoned four trillion dollars from the poorer to the rich in a
    process not hidden but documented in proud color on the front pages of USA
    Today, I wondered how the consciousness of young progressives could remain so
    totally anesthetized to any awareness of social class as such; and wished
    sometimes for a drama as vivid as one act of the SLA  to provoke awareness.
    For surely the SLA's least-murderous provocation  --  forcing the Hearst
    family to distribute a great amount of food to the needy, as putative ransom
    for their kidnapped daughter -- was one of the most riveting and charged
    public dramas of that decade. Of course the SLA's motives and consciousness in
    this were corrupt, and one may argue that the gesture was immoral and
    counter-productive in ever so many ways. If one is of less-corrupt moral fiber
    than mine, or housekeeps one's consiousness more rigorously, one may even feel
    virtuous in saying that one felt not the least flicker of exhilaration or
    sympathy upon first hearing of this ransom gambit; and so be spared any
    necessity of accounting even to oneself, let alone in public, the relation of
    such feelings to the others one felt. Alas, my mind is too messy for such
    simplicity, poetry can hardly contain it. But I cannot resist observing that
    if the Great Food Giveaway had been the only caper staged by the SLA -- no
    murder of Foster, no bank robberies, etc.; only the quick kidnap of the
    heiress, her public ransom, and either her promised return or her mysterious
    vanishing with the rest of the crew, never to be heard from again -- it would
    have passed into legend as an amazing piece of class-consciousness theater,
    and would have been justly celebrated even by many who also felt, as I do,
    that there's no excuse for kidnapping people at gunpoint.
         Michael Rossman <mrossman@igc.org>

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