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April 19, 2009 - Ray Hall (Archive)
The much maligned “Sixties” movement was good while it lasted. The movement began with young people—music in San Francisco’s city parks where young musicians would spontaneously play music and sing songs of protest without permits. The war and civil rights—protests—JFK—LBJ—MLK—Jane Fonda—Bobby Seale and Huey Newton—the Black Panthers. The sixties had its excesses—love, sex and drugs—LSD was made in Petri dishes and drank by the shot glass. The movement began in coffee houses where aspiring poets and writers were expected to perform—to read their works aloud; most of which ranged from bad to very bad—but there was also Bob Dylan. The sixties brought us Mama Cass—Cass Eliot—and Jerry Garcia, but only the really connected “cool”—the flower children recognized immediately that Dylan’s Tambourine Man did not refer to a musician, but a drug dealer.

For once in a lifetime—in those few, brief years—the sixties generation rose up and poked a collective thumb into the eyes of established authority. For once in my lifetime politician and police were frightened. Los Angles police did not know how to react when more than thirty men, women and children frolicked naked in the city’s Griffin Park Lake to escape the sweltering heat. Only the police seemed confused by the episode—weekend passers by and picnickers paid hardly attention. Authority was challenged—parental—police, political and profit. But, the sources of power—political and profit—ultimately surrounded and pre-emptied the movement.

The sixties movement was a generation that did not want more—they wanted less. Denim jeans were the favored dress not because denim was fashionable—denim was cheap and utilitarian. A pair of denim jeans sold for six dollars and could be worn nearly all summer without confronting washing machine or iron. White tee shirts were scrunched up, wrapped tightly with rubber bands and emerged into a concoction of natural dyes that when unfolded displayed an array of spectacular colors that could not be duplicated. By the time everyone from Senator Eugene McCarthy to Paul Harvey realized the Vietnam War was a useless exercise of death and destruction the sixties movement had already begun to fade.

Commerce—Wall Street Bankers—found that they could capitalize on the movement. Today denim jeans are deliberately manufactured with defects—tears and rips in the knees with frayed cuffs and with a grungy, dirty, unwashed appearance and can sell for more than $100 a pair. Tie-dyed white tees are mass produced in countries unheard of during the sixties and display identical color patterns. Prices range from $24.00 to $75.00 for the so called “authentic” tie-dyed sixties shirt. The elected are taught by shameless K Street lobbyists to marginalize the poor and the un-empowered while the voice of the protestor has been lost in a cacophony of talk radio, rip and read cable news reporters and in the blogosphere.

The recent “Tea Bag” protests might have held promise—there is much to protest—but it was flawed from the start. It was billed as an attempt to poke a thumb into the eye of authority—the government. It’s easy to dislike the government, but the “tea baggers” left out Wall Street at a time when nearly as many Americans are as angry with unfettered capitalism as they are with government. Today nearly an equal number of Americans rather have their money in the hands of Barney Frank than Smith Barney. Unlike the sixties, the tea bag movement was not a spontaneous grassroots movement—it did not begin with making music in San Francisco Parks without a permit—it was organized to appear to be an eruption of spontaneity and at once widespread. Unlike the sixties, the “tea baggers” became a partisan movement. In an act of desperation, the decaying remains of the Republican Party tried to latch on to the protest to oppose President Obama. It did not help matters that the movement was largely financed by the former Republican Texas Congressman and now K Street lobbyist Dick Armey who saw it as a way to kill the movement toward national health care.

The movement was not helped by people like Sean Hannity and Fox News hyping the event. Neil Cavuto even went so far as to deliberately misrepresent the size of the crowd from wherever he was broadcasting. In an outtake Cavuto is heard asking a producer about the size of the crowd. The producer tells him there are about 5000 people. Cavuto does as good a job of multiplication as the story of the loaves and fishes. On air he turns 5,000 to 20,000 or more.

Despite the really un-cool Tea Bag effort there is much to protest. The war in Iraq lingers while the war in Afghanistan looms larger. David Gregory, NBC’s host of Meet The Press, appeared recently on CNBC and declared that it was the job of the Obama Administration to calm an angry public lest Wall Street be forced to endure unreasonable restraints. His words appeared to ease the visible pain of assembled reporter and pundit who were otherwise convinced that Wall Street and its archetypal offspring faced imminent assault from America’s ragtag and bobtail bearing pitchfork and cudgel. As it turns out Gregory was right, talk of banking reform was just that. We can fire the CEO of General Motors, vizierate the United Auto Workers in favor of cheaper labor from foreign car makers located in the south and hearken to pleas to put off health care again.

The next time Dick Armey, culturally dead Republicans and Fox News wants to stage a protest they ought to commit an act of obscure civil disobedience and allow it to spread. When the aforementioned and Newt Gingrich frolic naked through Central Park on a hot summers day; a day when Rush Limbaugh gladly passes his giant doobie through the crowd then, and only then will I believe they have begun a protest of substance.


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