Keep on Shoppin'
In 1967, R. Crumb began publishing Zap Comics. Crumb and Zap were major players in the underground comic strip movement in America. Crumb's Keep on Truckin' cartoon figure came to symbolize the personal freedom of hippies. Most Americans equate hippies with the counter culture of the sixties and seventies. Hippies lived outside the social norms the establishment set for young people in America. A large part of the counterculture, hippies openly rejected the materialist trappings of American society. Despite the anguish they aroused in parents and Americans who could not tolerate individuals who dressed or wore their hair differently, hippies were never a threat to the American establishment. The establishment may not have liked what hippies represented, but it had the elasticity to accept them. The culture personified by hippies siphoned off feelings of personal alienation. It was not long before Madison Avenue was using Flower Power in its marketing and advertising. America's most escape-oriented commerce, television, co-opted anti-establishment themes in primetime in shows like "Rowan & Martin's Laugh In" and "Sonny & Cher." Even Richard Nixon felt comfortable enough to appear on "Laugh In" to parody himself.
What most Americans do not understand is that being a hippie did not make one a radical or an activist on the political Left. Quite the contrary: hippies dropped out while radicals worked to change the social structures that they saw as oppressive. The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) was made up of activists, not hippies. Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) were activists, not hippies. The Chicago Seven were activists, not hippies. The students that took over Columbia were activists, not hippies. The antiwar movement drew from both groups but the organization and threat to the establishment came from the radicals and political activists. Activists worked to fundamentally change our society by democratizing institutions. The white males who ran these institutions and benefited economically, socially, and psychologically from their largesse understood the threat and responded with violence. America should never forget that activists risked murder, beatings, and jail. They took these risks not to escape, but to promote our collective well being as a nation. They were true patriots.
A few courageous politicians took their lead from these political activists and broke ranks with the establishment. A number of Democratic senators sought to end the war in Vietnam. This was a huge challenge to the status quo. Senator Eugene McCarthy ran as an anti-war candidacy. His strong showing in New Hampshire resulted in President Lyndon Johnson announcing that he was withdrawing his name for his party's nomination and would not accept it if nominated. Robert Kennedy followed McCarthy's lead and came out against the war. After winning the California primary, the likely Democratic nominee and anti-war candidate was shot and killed. Two Kennedys, Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, and Medgar Evers, all catalysts for change, were assassinated during a period in our country when democratic elements were challenging the status quo. Perhaps my favorite rebuke of the status quo from an establishment figure came when Senator Abraham Ribicoff accused Mayor Richard Daley of "Gestapo tactics" from the podium of the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago. Ribicoff's comments came in response to actions taken by the over 20,000 police officers, troopers and National Guardsman Daley assembled, ostensibly to keep the peace, but really to beat anti-war demonstrators bloody.
The peace movement failed to democratize our political institutions immediately and the war continued. The backlash allowed Richard Nixon to come back from the political graveyard with a secret plan to win the war and a not-so-secret plan to bring law and order back to America's streets. The establishment proceeded to show its contempt for democracy. The illegal bombing of Cambodia betrayed the arrogance of the American presidency, as did the Watergate and Iran-Contra scandals. Despite the setbacks, the mass movements of the sixties and seventies led to an American public that questioned authority and its government. Real change did come. The social environment brought new opportunities to woman and minorities.
Now, the Republicans are back in the White House after an eight-year hiatus. Eight years of peace and prosperity are gone. We are now friends with the old Evil Empire but a new one has taken its place. The Republicans are again showing their contempt for democratic institutions and civil liberties while waving the flag. It is the most cynical of presidencies that uses the death of American civilians at home and the engagement of our military overseas as cover to institute an agenda that Americans rejected with their votes. President Bush has worked to consolidate more and more responsibility and power in the presidency. What are we to do? In a time that he compares to World War II our president has asked us to Keep on Shoppin'. Next time your president tells you to Keep on Shoppin', remember that he is not just asking you to stimulate the economy, but also asking you to drop out of America's political decisions. Dropping out is as much an escape today as it was in the sixties and seventies. History teaches us that true patriots are willing to dissent. Beware governments that tell you otherwise.
links library |
privacy statement |
mailing list | home (with this week's columns and links)