If you’ve been Feeling the Bern, I share your heartache over not winning. For I have memories.
1968. Images still clear in my mind: the film clip of a South Vietnamese officer putting a gun to the head of a young Viet Cong and pulling the trigger; a sign saying, “The Vietnamese didn’t fight in our Civil War.” President Lyndon Johnson had escalated a war in southeast Asia that many Americans, especially young people, demonstrated against. In opposition to the war, Senator Eugene McCarthy of Minnesota had the courage to challenge the incumbent Johnson for the presidential nomination. Male students cut their long hair and shaved so they could go door to door rallying support for McCarthy. Largely because of young people’s passion, Johnson announced he would not seek reelection.
Who knows what might have happened had not the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., been assassinated four days after Johnson’s announcement? Or had Robert Kennedy, who had entered the Democratic race, not been shot and killed in San Francisco?
Hubert Humphrey became the Democratic candidate. Many young people felt so disillusioned they refused to vote. Richard Nixon was elected, and we all know how that turned out.
What did I learn from this period of disillusionment? That Americans will elect a crook before they’ll elect anyone veering far to the left.
This doesn’t mean we should disengage from politics. It means we need to find new ways to bring about change. Here’s what you can do:
- Work for progressive candidates down list. Even school boards are political entities. In North Carolina, where I live, our state representatives have enacted legislation abhorrent to anyone concerned about justice issues. A Democratic president and democratic governors need legislators who will work with them, not obstruct them as Republicans in Congress have done.
- Get informed on issues you care about and work for the candidates who share your concerns.
- By working I mean contact candidates through their staffs, ask what needs to be done.
In 1968 many of my generation lost our innocence. But we came out of the tragedies and disappointments wiser. And of course, older.