A 60s March. My photo.
Looking at pictures of the Women’s March protesting President Donald, I noticed that almost all of the protestors I saw were smiling and looked happy; they were clearly having a great time. I remember the civil rights marches of the 60’s led either by the non-violent Martin Luther King and later the ones led by the pro-violence Black Panthers and the ironically named Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) led by first Stokely Carmichael, and then H. Rap Brown, who was famous for uttering the immortal words, “Violence is American as apple pie.” The only faces I saw in those marches were stern and angry; nobody smiled, nobody laughed. This was serious.
During the 1960’s, the golden era of demonstrations and protest marches, when I was on the Left, I marched in protests against the Vietnam War in New York in opposition to Lyndon Johnson (Hey, Hey LBJ! How many kids did you kill today?) and in Washington to protest Nixon’s “incursion” into Cambodia. What I remember most about them is that everyone had a wonderful time.
Yes, during the Washington march, I saw the police dressed in full riot gear and I even had a whiff of tear gas, but despite that, I had fun. I saw the police arrest a few of the more aggressive marchers, but I am sure that those arrested found the experience thoroughly enjoyable.
One reason these marches were so much fun is they were a great way to meet members of the opposite sex. Many of the younger, unattached male marchers fantasized that all left wing women practiced recreational sex . I am sure that some of the demonstrators found what they were looking for. But even if you were unsuccessful in fulfilling that fantasy, the mere thought of it was exciting.
The other reason the demonstrations were so attractive is that they gave ordinary people a sense of pride that they were playing a part in a great historical event. Indeed, many of the marchers dined out on the experience for years and would probably do so for the rest of their lives. They would take any opportunity to tell their protest march stories to relatives, friends, and anyone else willing to listen. It was not unlike the Woodstock music festival, which was also considered a seminal, historic event in the history of the youth culture, and attendees also regularly reminded others that they had been there. They were thoroughly convinced that the demonstrations and even rock concerts like Woodstock were a major, if not the major reason the war came to an end.
Because the 60s provided many opportunities for self-aggrandizement along with sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll, the succeeding generations longed for a 60s of their own. I remember a man I used to work with who was married, working, and raising kids during the 60’s, so he didn’t have the time to participate in any of the historic 60’s events. But after his kids were grown and out of the house, he and his wife decided to have a 60s of their own, even though it was, by that time, the 80s. He was bald and gray, but he sported a ponytail grown from the fringe of hair he did have. He took to smoking “grass” every day and participated in the few demonstrations that occurred during the 80s. And many people who did participate in the events of the 60s longed for yet another 60s in which they could relive their youth before they pegged out.
Some observers believe the 60’s never really ended with our defeat in Vietnam. Those members of the left wing community simply moved on to other causes. Of course, the new causes were embarrassingly trivial when compared to the tragedy of Vietnam. But it didn’t matter; left wing community members need their 60’s like an alcoholic needs his drink.
What I find interesting is that none of the issues that produce movements and protest marches today were considered protest-worthy during the Vietnam War/Black Power era. Betty Friedan published her influential book The Feminine Mystique in 1963, and is considered central to the birth of the modern feminist movement. Yet I don’t remember any of the left wingers I knew during the 60s even mention a women’s movement. In fact, most of the male members of the left wing community I knew could easily be described as male chauvinists. Perhaps they were influenced by their black brothers-in-protest who were unabashed misogynists, a problem that continues today; just listen to almost any rap “song.”
The right to an abortion was another cause. Roe v. Wade was decided in 1973 and made abortion legal everywhere in the country. Obviously some women and their lawyers were working quietly during the 60s to bring the issue to the Supreme Court, and they won. Yet I don’t remember any demonstrations during the 1960’s protesting either side of the issue.
Finally, there is the gay rights movement.The event that is said to have kicked off that movement is The Stonewall raid and riots. This seminal event was a New York City police raid on a gay bar called The Stonewall Inn. What set the raid apart from similar raids is that the bar patrons fought back. The raid took place in 1969. Again, none of my left wing protester acquaintances cared that gays were denied legal rights. Most of the left could easily be described as homophobic during the 60s decade, and the idea of gay marriage never entered their minds. If someone had brought it up, they would have found it absurd, as most Americans did at the time.
Andrew Sullivan’s book Virtually Normal was the first effort to make a case for gay marriage, and it came out, so to speak, in 1995. Even older gay men like composer Ned Rorem and writer Quentin Crisp didn’t get the movement for gay marriage. Rorem said he was against both heterosexual and homosexual marriage. Crisp couldn’t understand why gays wanted to be like straights and enter into an arrangement that Crisp thought to be boring when compared to the exciting gay life of promiscuous and anonymous sex. He also despised the word “gay” as the politically correct term for homosexuals. Why destroy a perfectly good word, he said, that used to mean, according to Webster’s,”happily excited, merry, keenly alive and exuberant”? Hardly anyone would use the word gay in that way today. Crisp preferred “queer,” which today is considered a slur.
Winston Churchill once described a dessert he was served as not “having a theme.” The Million Women’s march was like Churchill’s pudding: it didn’t have a coherent theme, which could not be said about the marches and protests that came before, regardless of whether one approved or disapproved of them. This time they were protesting the victory of one person, Donald Trump, in the presidential election only one day after he took office and before he had done anything. It is difficult to imagine how the media and Democrats would have reacted if right wingers had marched to protest Obama’s election. After all, he also defeated a woman, the same woman that Obama defeated, and prevented her from becoming the first of her sex to occupy the Oval Office. And Obama had a close relationship with a racist, anti-semitic preacher, which many believed to be a major scandal and indicative of a serious flaw in his character. But nobody organized a protest against Obama’s victory.
So, some of those protesting Trump’s victory were deeply disappointed that a woman, probably any woman, would not occupy the White House this time. Some were there because they were offended by Trump’s reputed habit of molesting women. They seem to have forgotten that that bar had been lowered years ago by the revelations of similar behavior by Democrats Jack Kennedy and Bill Clinton. They forgot, for example, that a perfectly credible business woman named Juanita Broderick accused Clinton of having raped her. Broderick told her story to an NBC reporter and was never heard from again. As far as I know, she didn’t make a penny by exploiting her experience. She never appeared on television again, gave no interviews to other reporters, and wrote no book. Yet, no one in today’s left wing community cares about that. There’s also the charge made by another credible woman that, in the White House, Jack Kennedy ordered her to perform fellatio on one of his cronies while he watched. After those revelations, Trump’s sexual antics don’t seem so shocking to Republican and Independent voters.
Others last Saturday marched to protest what Trump might decide to do about abortion, illegal immigrants, Vladimir Putin, gay rights, race relations, Obamacare, education, the environment, Supreme Court nominations, whatever. And some of the paranoid, conspiracy-minded members of the community imagined that Trump would turn the country into an Orwellian, totalitarian state. I have probably missed a few grievances about Trump, but you get the idea.
It has been claimed that the Million Woman’s March was the largest in American history. I don’t know, but I do know that it was certainly the most incoherent. It had no theme. It was just a party.