Melanie Yazzie (Artist & Scholar) organized this print exchange. She titled it "1960's." Thank you for inviting me to participate Melanie, I did enjoy trying to figure out what the 1960's meant. I can't really say I've figured it out, but here is kind of a take on it.
I think that America itself was the proverbial child of the 1960’s. It seems to me that the 1960’s epitomized irony because there was so much hope for a better world juxtaposed with the worst that humanity was capable of inflicting on each other. I think. Maybe. I can’t really say because I was just a kid myself; on the other hand, I did come of age in that era.
All I remember is that there were so many earth-shattering things going on all the time. Should a third-grader have to see their teacher break down in tears and have to leave because she couldn’t tell the class that the young president was just shot? Our classmates lost a bit of our innocence that day (like nearly everyone else, as it turned out). What about a fifth grader watching the new Batman program on his neighbor’s new color tv who sees a few news-clips of American soldiers wading through some jungle river in a place called Vietnam? Your uncle comes home proudly wearing his gold sergeant’s stripes and Green Beret, yet something is profoundly bothering him, so much that he becomes a raging alcoholic right before our eyes. Even a ten-year old knew that something was not right with our country.
On my paper route in 1968 I remember loading my stack of newspapers into my bag and reading the huge headlines about our president bombing Hanoi. I did not like this president. He seemed like a used car salesman and his vice president had the look of a well-groomed shark. I much preferred LBJ, who stopped his motorcade right in front of me in 1966, got out and shook hands with a crowd of us, me included (this was in Alaska when he stopped to refuel Air Force One on his way to South Vietnam).
By now, average people were following the lead of the recently assassinated Martin Luther King Jr. Even in death, his philosophy of non-violent protests lived on. It looked to me like the entire city of Washington DC was there listening to his “I have a Dream” speech five years earlier where he did change a lot of people’s way of thinking, even as the government did not. I learned that it takes someone with not only a dream of how things should be, but it takes someone with a powerful will that would not give up, no matter what. Hearing “No” was not an option. Hearing “No” just meant regrouping and coming forth with more will and people convinced that “Yes” was the right thing to do.
By the end of the decade, like so many other people my age, I was starting to become jaded and had the creeping suspicion that maybe our country was not made up of the good guys in the white cowboys hats, and at 14, was solidly against the Vietnam War. My hero was Muhammad Ali, who gave up his boxing championship rather than being drafted into the army. I entered high school with the fear of being drafted and being sent to Vietnam myself, like the thousands of other kids getting out of high school facing the draft. It seemed to me that average people from all walks of life were against the war. I was very, very thankful when the draft was dropped just as my own draft numbers were set to be drawn in my senior year of high school in early 1973. Years later I remember thinking that an appropriate war memorial should include a representation of the millions of everyday people who protested and saved so many young men like me from becoming drafted in a senseless war.
Here in 2008 I asked my 12-year old what his impression of the 1960’s was. “Great music (he’s learning the Stone’s ‘Paint it black’ on his Fender guitar), good movies and the hippies were at their peak (laughter here from him). He explained hippies as young people smoking and beating “the man.” In my opinion, the idea of peace is what keeps many of us going, standing up and saying, NO to the injustices that are overwhelming us as we speak.