Someone sent me a link to a site that is promoting a re-enactment of the protests at the Democratic Convention of 1968. While some of my older activist friends and I kinda like the idea of a ritual in remembrance of this day, the first question that popped in our heads was ‘What’s the point?’ Their mission statement says:
’40 years ago this August, the streets of Chicago became a bloody open forum on the politics of power and resistance, as the Democratic National Convention lapsed into chaos and protesters in the streets were met with the gas and bayonets of Law and Order. The ghosts of this unresolved history haunt us to this day. We meet on August 28 in Grant Park to peacefully purge these ghosts and to make sense of our past through ritual reenactment, a living history lesson for the city of Chicago which asks, where were we then?, and where are we now?’
Although it may be an interesting and memorable history lesson, these are very different times, and re-enacting a violent day in history will do nothing to change the status quo. But the questions are being asked in order to gain some perspective. This led me to question how activism has changed during the past 40 years, and to wonder where it will go from here.
‘Where were we then?’
Many of the rights some of us have now were because of what happened in ’68. New frontiers were broken by the exploration of sexuality (free love), mind-altering drugs, the human potential movement, and alternative religions, The young and the oppressed banded together to express outrage at a system that didn’t recognize their rights, to demand equality, and to protest the war being fought in Vietnam. And though it seems that we’re in a similar place now with people who are fed up with a rogue government and another insane war, many people seem complacent and apathetic. Why? This leads to:
‘Where are we now?’
We’re in an Age of Apathy. People are too busy working two jobs to make ends meet, playing video games, social networking, texting, chatting, emailing, watching TV, and consuming whatever they can in part to quell their anger and fill an empty hole that’s surrounded by a wall of cynicism. Activism is still alive and well, but it’s nowhere near as organized as it was in the late ’60’s and ’70’s. The human potential movement with its emphasis of individualism and ‘looking out for #1′ has run amuck. The major human rights fights that were fought for in the 60’s and 70’s have now branched off into smaller, differentiated groups. Now there are various smaller groups, all trying to make their voices heard. All these smaller branches screaming their own tune drowns out any major song sung loudly in unity. So let me add another question;
‘Where are we going?’
The computer age has brought activism to the internet. The success of Anonymous’ protests against Scientology has given us a new model. And they’re not the only ones doing this. It’s difficult to organize people that are only known through cyberspace, but it’s being done and changes are happening. Blogs and forums are proving to be a powerful medium in making peoples voices heard. They’re even more potent when added with actual protests. The bigger challenge may be to spur the people who have become cynical and distrustful during these past years into action within a larger group setting. There are good reasons for their cynicism and distrust, but that’s a whole other article in itself.
I think the questions this group asks are a good starting point for a dialogue. But the last question is can people rise above all the in-fighting and bickering that goes on within certain groups, long enough to organize and attempt to make a difference? And then keep up the momentum once change has begun?
(Also: the documentary “1968”)