The Oakland Museum extended its 1968 Exhibit through November 25. Tomorrow, Sunday, November 4th is the last time to see it during one of OMCA’s monthly free days, otherwise it is a prohibitive $12 (until a few years ago the Oakland Museum was always free for everyone all year long).
1968 was a pretty amazing time to be alive, I was 10 at the time. When I was a young child I almost dreaded growing up. The society seemed so conformist & macho in the early sixties, which very much like the late fifties. In 1963 my family packed up and drove to my grandfather’s farm in the Imperial Valley because during the Cuban Missile Crisis it looked like the end of the world was imminent. I never thought I’d live to be 10 much less 54.
But by the mid-sixties the world seemed to be changing, hair got a little longer, alternative lifestyles emerged in the open, the Summer of Love happened in 1967, the Civil Rights movement was on the march, Goldwater was crushed in the 1964 election, only winning his home state and 5 in the Deep South, with 38% of the popular vote. By 1968 the revolution seemed to be imminent, I figured by 1970 we’d have socialism and be democratically allocating steel. And it wasn’t just in the US, there was the Prague Spring in Czechoslovakia where Alexander Dubček seemed to be introducing a democratic “socialism with a human face”, in France students and workers united and had a 2-week general strike with 11 million workers, 22% of the population, there was a wave of change all over the world.
But that year the tide seemed to turn, though it took me a few years to realize it. Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr. were assassinated. Nixon won the 1968 election 301 to 191 electoral votes, despite a strong third party challenge from the reactionary American Independent Party that won 13.5% of the vote and five states for racist segregationist George Wallace & “Bombs Away” LeMay, former head of SAC, who wanted to bomb Vietnam back to the Stone Age. Since 1968 it seemed that America was steadily marching backwards, Nixon turned out to be our last liberal president, real wages for American workers peaked in the early seventies, unions were crushed in the private sector. About the first significant signs of real hope in my adult life was the emergence of the Occupy movement last fall (and maybe the WTO protests in Seattle in 1999).
So what happened? Part of it seems to have been a visceral reaction by “middle America” to the social changes of the time, the sexual revolution, feminism, the counter-culture, black consciousness, etc. This occurred in places I didn’t live. The politically aware kids in my elementary school in a barrio near downtown Los Angeles were almost all lefties, from left-liberals to Maoists, Trotskyists, Chicano Nationalists, even a crypto-Stalinist or two (me). The class was about evenly divided between supporters of Robert Kennedy for the Democratic presidential nomination and the boosters of the anti-war candidate Eugene McCarthy. I’d never met a Republican. Some of us were actually glad when we heard that RFK was assassinated a few miles away because naturally we assumed that McCarthy would win the nomination and then sweep into office over whoever the Republicans picked. I guess that is what it is like living in an echo chamber.
Anyway, the Exhibit is quite well done. Experience the 1968 Chicago Democratic Convention, the “I’ve been to the mountaintop” speech by MLK the day before he was murdered, see a helicopter from a war that killed 17,000 Americans that year and hundreds of thousands of South East Asians. And reflect on the trajectory of social movements, and what we need to do to change the world to a sustainable, just, democratic & equal place for all.