[sixties-l] the 60s - how did people do what they did?

From: radman (resist@best.com)
Date: Wed May 09 2001 - 14:38:28 EDT

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    the 60s - how did people do what they did? what worked, what

    posted to the Radical History listserve, H-Net Discussion List on
    Radical Approaches to History<H-RADHIST@H-NET.MSU.EDU>

    From: "Hogan, Wesley C." <hoganw@countryday.net>
    Date: Sun, 6 May 2001 14:40:26 -0400

    Not much has been written on the central question of "how did
    people do what they did" during the movements of the 60s - what
    worked, what didn't and why - so I hesitate to take issue with what
    has been written. As one of the "young historians" of these freedom
    movements, however, I struggled with Jesse Lemisch's letter to the
    editor (The Nation, May 7, 2001) about Helen Garvy's film on SDS,
    Rebels With a Cause.

    I wholly applaud Lemisch's call for an honest inventory of the
    mistakes, disagreements, and wrong turns of the New Left: how else
    can we know "what to do" from this point forward? I agree with his
    warning of the dangers of a celebratory history. Yet Garvy's
    intent was clear from the beginning: she was not going to tell
    "the" truth, but her truth.

    It has not been my experience that younger generations won't find
    the movie useful. When I showed it in my high school class, the
    students were pushed into confronting their own inactivity, their
    own potential to impact their world, and finally, pushed into
    debating the eternal question of the Left: "how to" change
    something. Each generation has to solve these issues of tactics and
    mechanisms for internal accountability on their own, given that
    they do not share the same political context as previous
    generations, so for my purposes, the movie absolutely did move this
    class to do this themselves. Thus, it was more "useful" than
    anything else we did in class with the exception of their own
    experiences trying to change something in their own community.

    It is clear that Lemisch doesn't agree with Garvy's "truth." But
    it is particularly upsetting that as an activist and an academic he
    does not talk about the importance of seeing media projects (book,
    film, etc.) from activists themselves. I am overwhelmed with how
    many academics are writing about, filming, etc. social change
    without talking with activists, nor, with a few exceptions, are
    they concerned with helping activists get the money from
    foundations, universities, etc. to be able to produce these
    projects themselves.

    Finally, and most important, it is hard to examining the 60s
    movements in a way that will give clarity to their failures and
    successes rather than undermine morale or present-day efforts. It
    is inherently difficult to critique these groups (SDS, SNCC, etc.)
    in a way that re-affirms the impulse to a more democratic society
    rather than reinforcing the dominant culture's disdain for the
    "unrealistic." So it was depressing to see Lemisch do it in a
    spirit that undermined constructive dialogue by using words like
    "triumphalist" and "stunningly uncritical." It is my
    understanding that one of the major dynamics impeding the
    development of internal democracy in these movements-- then and
    now-- is the lack of mutual respect and basic kindness that makes
    life in a movement more bearable than life outside it, thus giving
    hope for a "new society."

    Kind regards,

    Wesley Hogan
    Cincinnati, OH

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