Thursday, October 2, 2014


Part of the 50th FSM reunion was a panel:

ASSESSING THE RADICAL LEGACY OF THE SIXTIES: WINS, LOSSES, AND MONDAY MORNING QUARTERBACKING  Presenters: Bettina Aptheker, Michael Lerner, and Leon Wofsy; Moderator: Troy Duster

The following is an excerpt from my presentation:
I’ll pass on “Monday morning quarterbacking”. The fact that there was a backlash, that Reagan and the Right exploited it, was not in the power of FSM to prevent. The movement unleashed great energy and spontaneity; no “leadership” could have fine-tuned FSM to both achieve its goals and avoid unleashing the fury of the Right.

That doesn’t diminish the “wins”. FSM did win. Against stubborn and violent resistance from a paternalistic Administration and a corporate dominated Board of Regents, it won recognition that the First Amendment applies and is binding within the University. The battle that produced that win was the inspiration for similar free speech eruptions on campuses in every part of the country and internationally. And “free speech” turned out to be more than an abstraction. It sparked challenges to arbitrary authority; it soon merged into a powerful upheaval in opposition to the war in Viet Nam.

The “radical legacy of the ‘60s” generated significant cultural change, it loosened the prevailing “norms” of society; it made serious inroads, especially among young people, against society’s deeply rooted taboos that suppress social interactions and personal relationships. In the aftermath of the upheavals of the ‘60s, the women’s movement and the historic fight for gender and sexual equality burst through traditional restraints.

The radical legacy of the ‘60s didn’t begin or end with FSM. Nothing quite matches the remarkable heroism and overall significance of the civil rights struggle in the South, and of course FSM has recognized how much of its own inspiration flowed from that.

Before the FSM and since, the radical legacy confirms that moral courage and persistence, renewed by new generations of youth, can make important headway on vital social issues even as the political and economic system becomes more reactionary and oppressive. That, however, is a huge and growing challenge for society. How it’s met depends on more than radical hopes and actions. A serious change of course becomes possible when events finally prove to the broadest majority that that the present course is disastrous (case in point, Vietnam). It would seem that evidence of failure, of things falling apart at home and abroad, is beyond denial — but here we go again.

So, as we celebrate the radical legacy of the ‘60s, it’s more than a matter of modesty to recognize that new generations will need some answers beyond what’s gone before.

1 comment:

  1. I was there with a mic for KPFA: