In junior high—it was 1961; I was thirteen—Thursday was Queers Day. Anyone who wore green was queer and could be harassed—no mercy. God help the wearer of green on Queers Day. I had no idea what being queer meant; I knew it was bad. Queer folks went to prison, some of them. They couldn’t get security clearances, not in the military, not in the Navy, dad told me.
I lived as a teenager and young adult during the 1960s in an America where abortion was illegal in every state. Ten percent of women got abortions anyway. The technology of abortion is not complicated; many people did them for pregnant girls and women for small fees.
Birth control was something new. Many girls and young women did not yet understand how it all worked. They suffered shame and ignorance. Many got “in trouble” who never imagined it could happen to them—learning about their pregnancies, some of them, long after their boyfriends had moved on.
Blacks couldn’t vote until 1964. I was sixteen. Until the assassination of civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. in 1968 (I was twenty), businesses like hotels, drugstores, theaters, and realtors could choose not to sell their products to anyone they hated—usually Negroes.
Yes, a few companies sold to black people, but not many. After King was murdered, 125 cities erupted into racial violence. Some say more. Congress, fearing the unraveling of America, passed the Fair Housing Act and other legislation to make racial discrimination by business owners illegal.
I never saw a black face on television until 1965. Black musicians and singers entertained on the radio and in night clubs in most large cities. On the radio it was not possible to know always if the singer was black. The link at the top of this paragraph is to an Otis Redding song released during Christmas of 1964. When Otis died in 1967, I did not know what he looked like. I’d never seen a picture of him—one of the most popular singers of all time.
By the time I graduated from college I did know what all the different brands of cigarettes looked like. TV forced me to watch thousands of cigarette commercials. Viewers back then couldn’t pause or mute programs. Remotes didn’t exist. Of course I smoked. Who can resist sophisticated advertising? I couldn’t.
On television news shows, I watched the USA fight a genocidal war in Vietnam. I signed up to serve—as an infantry officer, no less. I learned that war is bad; much worse than I imagined. I protested and the army stripped me of my pending commission. I got arrested at a demonstration and even spent a few hours in jail before some good lawyers set me free.
Some modern historians have argued that 1952 (I was four) was the year when the USA dropped anthrax munitions on Chinese troops stationed in northern Korea—an act of bio-terrorism. In 1976 (I was twenty-eight), a “rogue” CIA employee blew up a plane carrying the Cuban Olympic fencing team. The bombing was the world’s very first act of aviation terrorism—a form of terror our enemies would one day turn against us.
I lived in America under President Nixon, the closest thing to a Nazi we ever elected to the White House. I was twenty-six when Congress started the impeachment process against him and he resigned. As a high-schooler I lived in Virginia, where white people went “coon” hunting to find and execute random black people. I lived a half mile from the headquarters of the American Nazi Party, which was led by a retired Navy Commander.
Can things get worse? Of course. Government leaders lie. Many are hypocrites. It’s often not possible to know what’s true. A lot of people who wear suits and ties are haters and power-trippers. It’s true.
We are a slave state. Slavery was a hundred years old in America when our nation established itself under a constitution in 1776; it’s a hundred-and-fifty years, if indentured servants (who were white and made up two-thirds of the population) are included.
Slavery is the fertile soil out of which the thorn bush of capitalism spread its vile branches of greed and exclusion. The institution of slavery makes getting rich easy for those who own slaves.
I love the roses of capitalism. But its spines can grow long enough to wound and even kill the unwary. Unlimited incomes and estate sizes turn capitalism into a predatory exercise; without limits people get hurt; democracy is devalued; economies stall; recession and depression follow.
The disadvantaged poor are as often as not sent to war by the rich and powerful to further maximize their enormous advantages. Threatening another war to take the oil of Iraq is an example—recently advocated by our new president. Since the beginning of time, every thinking person has known that greed—unchecked and unrestrained—destroys civilizations. The Bible says that the love of money is the root of every kind of evil. It’s true.
Almost everyone in the world today lives under authoritarian governments run by men, usually, who don’t give a care about freedom. It’s always been this way. Even in America with its Statue of Liberty, its Bill of Rights, its wide open spaces and fast cars, most people find themselves trapped in jobs they hate and working for rich folks who can ruin their lives with two words: You’re fired.
To put things into perspective: unless our new president decides to arrest and execute dissenters, or drops nuclear bombs, we will get through what seems to some like a living nightmare. It is not. Not really. Not yet.
We’ve been down this nasty road before. It leads to upheaval, yes, but if my generation survived and prevailed, then our kids and grandkids—some of whom I suspect think old people are stupid—will as well.
My advice is to be smart; dignity and love demand that each person resist evil as best they can. My experience is that the brave people who resist will lose every battle. We can’t close our eyes to the reality that the USA targeted and killed resisters in both Asia and the United States during the Vietnam debacle, to use just one example out of many.
We war resisters lost every fight; every argument; every skirmish; every battle. People still ridicule the baby boomers who said no to war. I saw an ad on TV news that claimed that many boomers suffer from hepatitis C. Imagine—the generation that said no to war is the newest leper colony—according to the pharma pigs who are always pushing imaginary cures.
Like everything else billionaires tell us, it’s fantasy. I don’t know a single person from my generation who has hepatitis C. Yes, some boomers have hepatitis C; that much has to be true; it’s simple statistics; and, yes, some voters cheated during our recent presidential election. Anything is possible. Everything is possible.
Powerful people can paint the people they despise in any colors they want. Crooked Hillary. Lying Ted.
Slander is not new. The ninth of the Commandments of the Bible forbids slander. Powerful people increase their power by violating this commandment regularly. It’s the way they roll. It always will be.
It’s why Jesus said—except in the case of a miracle by Almighty God—the rich have as much chance of getting into heaven as a camel has to squeeze itself through the eye of a sewing needle.
Despite the harm that billionaires do, they can’t change the reality that Martin Luther King Jr. described eloquently and frequently during his short life of suffering for the cause of freedom and equality: The moral arc of the universe is long, but it bends toward justice.
We, everyone of us, should share Martin’s hope: non-violent resistance is not futile. Not yet. Not ever.