I hope the NY Times don't mind. I'm including this image of its front page from Nov. 15, 1969:
As you can see, on this day 38 years ago a quarter of a million people gathered in Washington to protest against the Vietnam war.
Oh, how times have changed!
Now, I ask myself, what's the difference between then and now.
I come up with really only one answer: fear.
The quarter-million Murricans (and many others) of 1969 feared neither the Vietnamese nor the Communists nor their own government. Such is not the case today. Murricans now fear Muslims (and that's a whole lot of the world's population these days) whether they live in Afghanistan or Saudi Arabia. They fear Mexicans. They fear their own government.
It's possible that this is not simply paranoia, I admit. Sometimes fear is the "rational" response. But if you allow the fear to rule you, then the logical consequences of that response become irrational.
There is some reason to fear the government. The Bush administration has made a concerted effort to feed that fear, to restrict the rights of US citizens (all in the name of security...and is there any as a result?...) I think most westerners (and that includes the Murricans) believe that they live in freedom. Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Most, gazing off into the distance of the Middle East or Africa or China, don't recognize the repression in front of their noses.
Of course there is government repression in the US. In western Europe. In Canada. We may admit that it is relatively milder than so-called dictatorships in other regions, but it is repression nevertheless. Just ask those who do attempt to protest or demonstrate their opposition to unwarranted or unrepresentative government actions. Ask the people who protest against the Security and Prosperity Partnership right here in North America. (And some of these people are not even saying "Don't do it!" They're just saying, "Tell us what the hell's going on, tell us what your plans are!" Is this not anti-democratic? Is this not repression?)
The usual response to demonstrations and protests in the West is not so far different from what has outraged us recently in both Burma and Pakistan. The police (let's call them "security forces" as the media like to do for other countries) let it go on for a while (as long as it's not too rowdy) and then at some point determine that things must be shut down...for security. If anyone objects to being shut down, they are pepper-sprayed, tasered, arrested, beaten, charged and convicted. But of course, that's OK, because they're our police. They're not those brutal riot gangs in Rangoon.
A few years ago, former Premier Mike Harass of Ontariario put up barricades outside the Legislature. He didn't like the idea of people protesting there. At the figurative House of the People! He essentially instigated riots by trying to suppress the voice of the citizens of Ontariario. I had a hard time convincing some of my friends that the sight of police on horseback with riot sticks in front of our Legislature was something to be alarmed about...that the state was committing violence against its own citizens.
The people of 1969 may have been hippies and so-called radicals. But there is no doubt they had courage. They pushed back against a regime that did not seem to have their best interests at heart. Of course, many of those people are still around. But I wonder, have some of them become the people who need to be pushed back against?
As for the rest of us, I fear too. I fear that we have become hypnotized by technology, by media, by bland repetition of the Big Lie, by trivial pursuits, the latest iPod, the latest iPhone, the latest XBox, the latest celebrity scandal, the latest Hummer. And I lament. I lament that we have been cowed by fear. By complacency. By surveillance. By corporate power. By government power.
And I dread. That we have become sheeplike in our acceptance of authority.