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then and now: why 2004 will be 1968

This week, I expressed concern that 2004 may be a dangerous year in the U.S.

We've been dancing too long. The tension in the gym, all decorated with flags and anti-flags, depending on which side you are standing on, well, its become unbearable. We're gonna rumble like it's 1968.

Yes, I just quoted myself. I'm just giving you some perspective on what's to follow.

Later in that post, I used the word uprising. Perphaps I should have been more specific, because some people seem to think I meant uprising in the sense that some idiots would try to take over the White House. No, no coups coming next year.

It's been a long time since a presidential election year would converge with such dissatisfaction, unrest and war. 2004 will present us with newer, bigger problems than 1968 did in the sense that getting people together is as easy as an email, a post on a website, an instant message. Someone gets an idea for a protest and within hours, 10,000 people know about it.

Let's compare 1968 with 2003 and upcoming 2004 events. The similarities between what is going on now and the climate in '68 may give you more of an idea of where we are headed.

The comparisons between Vietnam and Iraq are obvious. The protest faction used the word quagmire practically moments after the war began. The war in Iraq is one that is opposed on a daily basis. Seven months after the start, there are still anti-war protests and calls to bring the troops home.

In 1968 and in the years after, until the Vietnam war ended, the protests were ugly. They often resulted in riots, tear gas, destroyed property and arrests. Eventually, the protests took on more of an anti-U.S. government tone than an anti-war sentiment.

College campuses were the staging area for most of the protests of 1968, just as they are commonplace today. Although the current protests have not yet taken on the extremism that the '68 sit-ins did, occupation of campus buildings is probably not far behind. In fact, given the fact that colleges and universities today are a gathering ground for liberals, professors included, I wouldn't be surprised to see sit-ins, occupations and protests organized by the teachers themselves - similar to what happened in '68. If Rutgers can host what amounts to a pro-terrorism rally, then school sponsored anti-Bush rallies can't be far behind. In fact, some colleges offercourses on the protests of 1968, where studies include radical protests, counterculture and Marxism.

The biggest similarity between then and now is that 2004, like 1968, is a presidential election year, an election that will be held amongst growing dissent, anti-U.S. sentiments, a rising counterculture and threats to disrupt the national convention.

You know what happened in 1968. Back then, it was the Democratic National Convention. Next year, it's the Republicans.

For many it was a watershed event. After the Tet offensive that January many Americans began to shift their opinions of the war in Vietnam; after Chicago '68 they began to doubt the ability of American institutions to tolerate active dissension.

Here we are in the same place, leading up to the 2004 convention [September, New York City]. There are cries from the left that they can't speak their minds, that this current administration is crushing dissent. They point to polls that say Americans are losing faith in the goverment, losing hope that we will win this war in Iraq and the war against terrorism. Same place, different channel.

While not all circumstances are the same for both years, it's the climate that is right. There's a general climate of unrest, a rising of loud voices, the sound of marching in the street.

And then there's the internet and cell phones and the ability to communicate a plan quickly. Gathering will be larger and stronger and more organized. One glance here or here or here will show you that activists are no longer a loose group of stringly looking youths shouting slogans at the police or the government. They are a business.

It matters not whether their anger is misguided. It matters not whether their statistics are distorted or their ideologies skewered or their arguments filled with conspiracy theories. What matters is they are strong and organized and pissed off at everyone except themselves. They are no longer content to stage a quiet sit-in in front of the White House and sing protest songs until they are provoked. They are now the provokers. Each protest or rally is planned out to the last detail; weapons are brought, routes of destruction mapped out.

Like their predecessors, today's activists offer no solutions or alternatives to war. They meld all of their issues until they are one giant anti-U.S. [and very often, anti-Israel] statement, with no clarity or true message except that they hate the president. They want the world to be a happy, joyous, tree-hugging commune, a world without fear or bombs, yet when we try to root out the terrorists who are holding back the dream of world peace, they cry that the U.S. is a big bully and racist to boot. They have become a large, swarming mass, making a giant buzzing sound, just waiting for a reason to go all out. An election year gives them that reason.

As 2004 approaches, so does 1968 redux. Keep August 29th on your calendar.

There's something happening here. What is is, ain't exactly clear.


UPDATE: Robin Jones makes a valid point about the difference between Vietnam and Iraq.

Jay agrees with my opinion and adds a caveat; in a conflict like this, everyone loses.


Listed below are links to weblogs that reference then and now: why 2004 will be 1968:

» Gathering Storms from One Fine Jay
Michele expresses her worries about the coming year: possible violence, using historical patterns as her basis. I cannot help but agree. In the year (or so) that I have been blogging, we have been slowly, but surely polarized. Pieces are falling in... [Read More]

» Compare and contrast from Idlewild-South
This thought provoking article examines similarities between 1968 and 2004. They are laid out succinctly, and as always the author's sentiments are eloquently expressed. Go forth and read.... [Read More]

» Here's a meme . . . from e-Claire
. . . that I want to keep an eye on. Michele thinks that 2004 will be the year of the face-off between the Right and the Left. Today she cites Ted [ptui] Rall's scrawls as support for her point.... [Read More]

» Aftermath echoes and stream of ... meanderings from Corner of Babble
Running through my head is the phrase It's "deja vu, all over again." Yogi Berra or John Fogerty? Oh yeah, and the song that was running through my head from Tuesday onward was "For What it's Worth" I can't seem to make it stop. Edited to add this... [Read More]


yes, i am extraordinarily cynical, but i have got to disagree with you, michele.
yes, there are some similarities, but there are also giant, yawning chasms of change. i think that today, people are too busy with surfing for internet porn, meth procurement, dvd special features, watching access hollywood and blind date, ps2, britney and madonna, shopping at mcgap and getting really, really upset about um....what was it? yes, there are some lively contingents, but on the whole....when i look around i see a lot of people who won't even rise up out of their apathy to answer the non-cordless phone, much less vote or protest.

yes, the revolution will be televised (and blogged), or else no one would ever give a sh*t.

I kind of agree with undertoad. Though, I feel more that there just aren't enough serious dissenters, or that those who are won't be taken seriously. But maybe you're right, and those who are pissed enough will use the election as a catalyst. If they do it will be interesting to see how the media portrays it. That could make a huge difference. If the media, who agress in principle with the dissenters about Bush, give credability it could be disasterous.

I just sent this email to Undertoad:

Do you think all the blustering about riots and angry demonstrations at the convention next year are just...blustering? I think that will be the tell tale sign of how organized and how committed the far left is; if they throw a protest and no one comes, then the counterrevolution is quickly over. What I'm afraid of is, what if they throw a revolution and EVERYONE comes?

I'm just opening the gates for discussion here, I guess.

I guess freedom of speech sucks when you dont agree. Just as Republicans Bankrupted Nassau County so it shall pass that our Country is spending itself into oblivion.

Say what you will but the wolves of anti-america are at the door and all this is doing is buying us more time not necessarly addressing what can be done to stop the wolves from coming.

Citizen, this isn't about free speech. I don't care if they stood around all day in front of Madison Square Garden shouting their slogans. It's when the anger turns to rock throwing or setting fires that I become the concerned citizen.

As for Nassau County; yes, the Republicans killed this county. Even Republicans know it.

The problem with the Internet is that it is so easy to find like-minded people, no matter what you're like, that it gives a false impression of how many like-minded people there are. The instant communication and easy broadcast we have to day can magnify any movement so that it seems enormous and popular. I'm not sure what's going to happen come the elections, but I'm not sure that the noise is indicative of anything bigger.

Bolie IV

Anti-Israel student (and professor!) occupation of campus buildings was a fairly common occurence while I was a student at Berkeley (I left at the end of 2000), even before the recent, ahem, unpleasantness. Granted, that's Berkeley, but even so, the tactics of the 60s are well and truly being followed by the modern protesters.

I think Michele's more or less spot on here. There's a pretty good chance that New York will burn next September. The other commenters are right that the protest contingent isn't really a huge slice of the population, but you only need a few percent, sufficiently angry and hateful, to cause serious havock.

I'm even more worried what will happen after the general election if Bush wins, especially if it's close again. An outright attempt at a coup is extremely unlikely (because a coup takes organizing and serious planning), but widespread riots wouldn't suprise me a bit.

LMAO not likely. Iraq = Vietnam that freaking hilarious. 2004 will be a surprise to many though but no burning cities or mass riots, unless you call a few idiots with no jobs and apparently no showers whining in seattle a riot.

2004 will be fine as long as the Yankees lose. If the Yankees win, all bets are off.

[Am not obsessive.]

Michele, I just don't see any of the stuff you're concerned about happening on a large scale. People on the far left certainly do foam at the mouth about Bush, just as the far right foamed at the mouth about Clinton. As Bolie said, the ease of communication afforded by the Internet probably serves to exaggerate the actual size of those contingents. Now, with today's technology a single person can conceivably wreak great havoc. However, given that caveat, I don't think any large number of people are going to be trying to do violence.

What bothers me - and what does carry a faint echo of the 60's - is that we seem to keep plunging deeper and deeper into a false dichotomy. Bush is not an evil man, neither is he a saint. He's simply a politician who is too far to the right on enough issues that I care about for me to support him. Unless the Dems nominate someone like Dean, anyway. I'd rather not think about that scenario...

I don't think a lot of those people are anti-U.S., though some of them undoubtedly are. I think it's more that they disagree with Bush's policies, and they see a big group protesting that they can join. A lot of them probably don't agree with the more radical ideas that some of these organizations have, they just are against Bush/the war/etc.

Comparison's to Vietnam are at best specious. Lyndon Johnson
won in a landslide in 1964 as the peace candidate. The alternative
to Barry Goldwater who clearly stated that he intended to use
the military in Southeast Asia. At the time I was only eleven
years old and my buddies and I were hardly policical sophisticates,
however I clearly remember conversations with peers and older brothers
about the election. We all knew that a Goldwater victory meant
that some of us would be drafted into a war in Asia with no obvious
and immediate threat to our country. If we knew, the grownups clearly
saw this and Johnson swept the country with an implicit mandate
to "let Asian boys do their own fighting".

When LBJ started shipping large numbers of troops to Vietnam less
than a year after his win in 1964, Americans were confused and
ultimately felt betrayed. I don't see the same sense of betrayal
with President Bush. He told us exactly what he was going to do
and followed through with it. You might not agree with his decisions
but in general he has done what he said.

This election will deeply expose the idealogical emptyness of
the wing-nuts of both political parties. My guess is that
middle America will be marginalized in the next election cycle, torn
between Republican's foreign policy which Americans support and
Democratic domestic policies, which reduce tax cuts at the high-end
and emphasize policies that foster job creation. Curiously the
Democrats are in a position to argue fiscal conservatism, owning
to the breakdown of any budgetary self-discipline in the Congress
and the White House. The high point of anti-war sentiment will
occur early in the primary cycle. It will go downhill big-time
when Republicans start airing commercials in the general election
featuring Osama Bin Laden diatribes, smoking towers in New York,
people dancing in Kabul and in Bagdad after being freed from the
Taliban and Saddam. Those images will be hard to ignore and will
rekindle memories of what we have been through (as well they should)
and remind people that the origins of our involvement overseas was
not just a threat but an cowardly attack against our citizens on our own soil.

The election will also further expose the fraud of our bankrupt
primary system. Pre-1972, primaries augmented a nomination system
that involved critical smoked filled rooms and deal making. This
process was given a bad name in 1968, when Humphrey took the nomination
after Kennedy and McCarthy had worked the primary system. Now we
are stuck will front loaded binding primaries and a nomination process
that is no longer deliberative. It is purely a confirmation process
based on media driven politics compressed within a six week period
from February to mid-March. The process precludes serious candidates
such as Joe Lieberman who fail to ignite the left-wing but would be
a formidable candidate in the general election. (Fyi, smoked filled
rooms gave us Harry Truman as Vice President in 1944. Insiders
knew that FDR would not live and the V.P. was going to be President.
I'd like someone to explain how such deliberation could ever occur
in this day and age.)

I think people are missing Michele's point here...

1) There is some not completely insignificant number of rabidly anti-American, anti-Bush folks out there.

2) These people are perfectly willing to try to get their views across by fucking shit up.

3) Current technology gives them a decided edge in organization and actually carrying out their plans - an edge that didn't exist just a few years ago, and which tends to magnify their effectiveness beyond what their numbers would otherwise furnish.

This is a bad thing. And I'm with Michelle on this - not good news.

The greatest similarity between Iraq and Vietnam is that they are both the first in a long line of dominoes. Iraq represents the Dominoe Theory in reverse. Instead of trying to prevent the fall of the first domino representing free democracies, we are trying to knock over the first domino representing Middle Eastern fascism.

The greatest similarity between Iraq and Viet Nam is that they both share an "A" and an "I" in their names.

There's no draft, so people don't feel personally threatened enough to go out and do stupid shit. Plus, I happen to think that, on the whole, we're not as ridiculous as Boomers, who make a production out of everything and have pretty much cornered the market on melodrama.

Sure, we've got your anti-globo types, but they are a group of people whose insignificance is inversely proportional to the amount ofattention they receive. Plus, they stink. Stinky people have little to no influence on society.

"Democratic domestic policies, which ... emphasize policies that foster job creation."

You mean like taxing the hell out of the folks who employ people?

But back to our topic. What's going to be interesting to me is to see if the increased ability to organize quickly results in a greater occurrence of counter-protesters. There are people in this country who are sick of the whining, and I firmly believe that if there's civil unrest in 2004 the police may be trying to clean up a conflict in progress in many cases as opposed to dealing with entrenched angry lefties. Maybe I'm wrong about that.

I think there's both the draft and the fact that most draftees couldn't vote in 68. The combination are fairly volatile,

I appreciate people's concerns, but what most worries me is that Al Quaeda are becoming like the aliens in the Twilight Zone episode "The Monsters are Due on Maple Street". I see a lot of people who have a lot of common ground viewing each other with suspicion and drawing lines in the sand. The more we gaze at each other through narrowed fearful eyes the more fuckers with boxcutter knives win.

In context to the history of protest, I was attending art school at the height of the Vietnam anti-war protests. The art college that I was a student of was at one end of College Ave. At the opposite end of College Ave. was the U.C. campus of Berkeley, central to the theme of anti-war protesting. Between classes I use to hitch hike to Berkeley to have a cup of joe at the Mediterranean Coffee shop or browse the girls who looked like Michele (her buttocks) at Moe’s book store on Telegraph Ave., a street that dead ended into U.C.

One day there happened to be a Vietnam anti-war protest on Telegraph Ave. To one side was the cops blocking off the street. On the other side was the protesters with their handcrafted signs and the pleasant scent of incense. Some of the protesters started getting animated. The cops started hurling tear gas canisters. The prevailing wind blew the tear gas right into the eyes and respiratory tracts of the bystanding crowd. If you ever had the experience of inhaling tear gas, then you are well conditioned for a confrontation with pepper spray. The crowd started to rampage. Out of pain, mind you. Not out of the incumbent anti-Vietnam war sentiment.

The next day, splashed on the entire front page of the Berkeley newspaper was something like.....“20,000 Anti-War Protesters Riot,” with a fitting photo of its apex. Of course, the newspaper’s people-count was inaccurate. Their numbers included any and all humans who were smarting from the stinging sensation of tear gas, bumping into each other and mistaken for a pace car. There was a certain amount of rage against the cops, who acted indiscriminately. This is probably where my skepticism of the Patriot Act stems from. Humans beings possess genes that are too susceptible to dark mutations once invested with an authoritarian crown. Though the protests at Berkeley was newsworthy, both in print and on television for its sensationalism value, Berkeley never suffered the tragedy that occurred during the anti-war demonstrations at Kent State, where some students were shot and killed with real instead of prescribed rubber bullets.

Though they were a negligible amount of Vietnam anti-war protesters who greeted the troops inhumanely at the airport as the vets returned after the war had ended, that group anti-war protesters did not represent the feelings of the majority of anti-war activists. More truthfully, the Vietnam anti-war street marchers were never against the American soldiers---most of the draftees just out of high school---but against the rationale of a war that was being fought a half-way around the world for the sake of our national security or domino theory paranoia. Even President Johnson had misgivings about the Vietnam War, and once expressed to a colleague (paraphrasing), “just how the hell are we going to get out of this war without losing face.“ Johnson later grew his hair long to show his sorrow for the entire debacle. A deciding factor for ending the Vietnam War, was the elimination of the college-student exemption. Now even some of the influential-rich, who may have benefited indirectly from the war‘s financial gravy train, were personally effected by casualties in their immediate family in a military quagmire that was now enacted upon to their own shores. The fellowship of protesters accomplished more to save American soldier’s lives by bringing about an earlier end to the war then did Kissinger and Le Duc Tho drafting the peace accords in Paris, who together won the Nobel Peace Prize, which should have been more appropriately bestowed upon the Vietnam anti-war demonstrators.

Today, protesting against anything, is an orchestrated event if not an industry. Whether it is the protesters, themselves, or it is the press covering the protesters who benefit more from the news coverage is difficult to say. President Bush just made a stopover in my home state yesterday (Thurs.) on his return trip home from Asia. A day before the President’s arrival, the local T.V. news ran a segment featuring anti-Bush/anti-Iraqi War protesters getting their signs ready for a protest that they were planning to hold outside Mr. Bush’s fund raising dinner event. This free publicity was endowed a day before the President‘s plane even landed in the Islands. I’m not questioning if protesting is not like it use to be. Because it’s not. A redux of the 1960s against Dubya will be a different creature altogether. For the better, the organizing that now goes into a public protest can only accentuate a group’s humanitarian or political views. But knowing in advance that a specific protest is going to be televised---well-planed with snack food and bottled water provisions in place---makes a given protest, itself, look too much like a choreographed and scripted performance by a publicity-cult, lacking the sincerity of a spontaneous gathering and the philosophical foundations of a citizen’s ground swell in harmony with a national movement, more of a demonstration staged like a well rehearsed Brittany-Madonna initiative. But then, I’m just a bona fide bohemian.

"And there's always a place for the angry young man
With his fist in the air and his head in the sand"

Heh. I'm seeing a lot of that type across the length and breadth of the 'net, blogs, DU, IndyMedia, various forums... Too many ALF/ELF/"Conceptual Guerilla" types with too much incoherent rage looking for a focus.

I think Michelle's right. Maybe not 2004, but if not, by 2008 if there's another Republican victory following Bush. No valid reasons I can point you at. Just gut instincts and a feel to the air... an itch at the back of the neck. Same itch that I read Michelle having.

Personally, I'd rather be proven wrong. I'm sure Michelle would also. But I wouldn't bet real money either way on it right now.

I confess, when you first brought this topic up, I was skeptical. I haven't seen the passion or dedication of purpose in this generation of malcontents that we hear so much about with the generation that was active in '68. (Hey, it's not my fault I wasn't there to see it. I was only 1, and led a sheltered life.) I think we saw more enthusiasm for causes in the 80's, recalling Band-Aide and the various offshoots of that event, then we have in the early 00's.
Unfortunately, this point in history is unique, in that, contrary to the perception of JBrookins, and more in line with Russell, a statistically insignificant number of people, sufficiently dedicated to a cause, can open a significantly-sized can of Industrial-Strength Whoop-AssŪ on unsuspecting and uninvolved people. Or have we forgotten about that?
As far as the draft goes, America seems to be doing it's best to come up with alternatives. I read recently where the US Army has started a new 15-month enlistment option, which may be the shortest military obligation of any military in the world. I don't know if that is an indicator that they are swelled with personnel, or that they are trying any idea to avoid instuting a draft, but I thought it worth mentioning.
I still don't think that '04 will be another '68. Unfortunately, I am starting to think it is going to be worse.

If there are violent protests in 2004, I suspect they'll be localized and confined to the Republican National Convention. The challenge for Democrats will be keeping the class-struggle kiddies in line; if the New York protests turn ugly, it'll be excellent news for the Republicans, as Bush is nicely contrasted with a pack of black-clad rock-chuckers.

The true potential for violence lies in 2005 and beyond, should President Bush win re-election, things go well in Iraq, and the protest movement trickle out. That's when the radical fringes, counting on a leftist upsurge but not getting it and feeling powerless, will turn to isolated acts of violence - a situation similar to the rash of domestic terrorism in America in the late 1970s - early 1980s.

All, of course, in my humble opinion. I've got no crystal ball.