by susan lenfestey
Watching the old doc about the civil rights movement, Eyes on the Prize, with one eye open. (Because I'm paying bills and also typing.) And I'm realizing that the civil rights movement shaped me -- and thousands of my generation -- more than Kennedy's challenge that we do something for our country, the moonshot or even the Vietnam war, which came into our consciousness later. Okay, the Beatles were up there too.
In the early footage, black and white of course, a metaphor for how everything used to be, we hear Frank Sinatra singing his hit song, High Hopes, with the lyrics changed to promote Jack Kennedy's 1960 run for Presidency:
"Everyone wants to back Jack, Jack is on the right track. 'Cause he's got high hopes, he's got high hopes, nineteen Sixty's the year for his high hopes. . ."
So, we had 'em too. High hopes. Seemed there was nothing we couldn't make right in the world if we just paid attention, showed up, did our part. With my mother and sister I marched in Washington in August, 1963 and heard Dr. King's famous I have a Dream speech. In March, 1965, I spent part of my spring break on the final leg of the Selma to Montgomery march, along with my mother, my sister, and my very nervous father. (Not without reason. Viola Liuzzu, a white northerner working on the march was shot and killed by Klansmen on the last night of the march.) I cannot watch footage of any of these events without crying.
But tonight was different. As I watched the familiar images of openly bigoted police arresting the non-violent protesters, using a feigned sense of order at best, and a sickening brutality at worst, I saw them in a whole new light. The police beat and kick their "detainees", who are curled up on the floor offering no resistance, and sic their snarling dogs on terrified student marchers. The images now present an eery foreshadowing of Abu Ghraib, of an American police state teetering out of control.
And in footage taken inside a hot, crowded church which is surrounded by an angry white mob, including the police, we hear Dr. King and other leaders tell their people that the brutal actions of those on the outside will only deepen the resolve of those on the inside to rid themselves of this unjust oppression. Seems there's a lesson in that too.
I'm not on the side of those who use violence to achieve their ends, but I am on the side of the oppressed. I guess that makes me a librel. And it seems to me that you generally don't bring people around to your way of thinking by humiliating them, stomping on their heads or torturing them. Whether we agree with their cause or not, it only deepens their resolve.
Well, as you younguns are all sick of hearing, that was then. And then the killing began. JFK, MLK, RFK, Vietnam, John Lennon, Iraq, Paul Wellstone and why do I feel like a pathetic old librel even bringing this up? We had high apple pie in the sky hopes and it wasn't supposed to turn out this way. And yeah, I'm having a hard time getting over it. As the writer Joseph Roth said, "We all over-estimated the world."