Does anyone care?
It was a little before 1 in the morning and not unusual for me having trouble falling asleep. Out of nowhere the old Peter, Paul and Mary song, “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?” began playing in my head. As much as the song relaxed me, it elicited memories and many questions. I was immediately transported to my youth, a time of the Civil Rights Movement, the Vietnam War and the beginning of the Gay Rights Movement. I was now wide awake.
Their music was alive again.
Groups like Peter, Paul and Mary, The Mammas and Pappas, Pete Seeger, Bob Dylan, Crosby Stills Nash, and Young and many more took over my consciousness. Their music was alive again. Their words were just as vivid now as they were then. The war and the struggles once again came to life. I was young again. I was alive and impassioned again. I could feel the blood coursing through my veins and arteries, as forcefully as it did, as an idealistic youth in the ’60s and ’70s.
…we also were afraid for ourselves.
I revisited the anti-war protests, where millions of people demonstrated against what we believed to be an unjust war that murdered innocent people, while others made profits from their deaths. We were not only protesting the war to save the lives of others, but we also were afraid for ourselves. All of us had lost friends or family members and we didn’t want to be next. We all saw the flag-draped caskets every night on the evening news, being unloaded ceremoniously from huge cargo planes as if they were some sort of gruesome freight. We saw soldiers returning home, paralyzed or missing limbs, and later on in life being abandoned by the country that sent them to war. Once again old, rich, white guys started a war and then sent poor young guys to fight and die. We didn’t understand the rationale for the war and all of the suffering.
I saw Black people beaten and tortured,…
My mind then turned to the fight for equality. I saw the marches being led by Martin Luther King, Jr., John Lewis, Malcolm X and many more, who fought an died for civil rights, for themselves and all of us alive today. I saw Black people beaten and tortured, solely for the right to be treated as human beings. I learned of atrocities committed against Blacks and Native Americans, not from my history books, but from the descendants and the victims themselves. I was horrified. How could one human being treat another human being with such cruelty? I remember I was considered odd because I despised John Wayne, as he was honored as a strong and courageous hero in his movies, for killing Native Americans.
…forced us all to take a good look at racism and poverty.
I saw the violent riots in Los Angeles, Chicago and other cities and I could understand, in some ways, why they happened, while others refused to look for or understand the reasons why, or simply looked the other way and placed blame on those seeking equality. Riots and violent demonstrations, as sad and deplorable as they may have been, shook the consciousness of the nation and forced us all to take a good look at racism and poverty. If they hadn’t taken place probably nothing would have been done. We’d still be in the same place.
…I knew I was gay, but I was terrified.
And then closer to home, the Gay Rights Movement. At that time I hadn’t accepted myself as a gay person, but I knew I was different. I suppose deep down I knew I was gay, but I was terrified. I was a Roman Catholic living in a small, extremely conservative town in northern New York. I knew of a couple of gay people growing up and I saw how they were mocked and ridiculed, even by my own family. I can remember Stonewall and the marches and demonstrations calling for LGBTQ rights. I also remember the pictures ad news reports of gay people being beaten and murdered, while the police did nothing. I also remember with deep sadness the torture and murder of Matthew Shepard, and how it began to slowly change some people’s attitudes towards gays.
They gave me and others fighting for justice and equality the strength to endure and fight on.
I fully supported the Gay Rights movement, but I was still afraid because I was “one of them”. I realized I could be beaten or killed for being gay. Actually, I really was beaten because some morons simply thought I was gay. Being gay, during this time I began to appreciate those Blacks who were fighting for their rights. No one necessarily could tell I was gay, so I could hide. But Blacks could not hide and refused to be pushed into hiding in the shadows. I had a new sense of just how brave and courageous not only leaders like King and Lewis were, but any person of color who was fighting for their God-given freedom. They gave me and others fighting for justice and equality the strength to endure and fight on.
We loved the music, but more importantly, we loved the words.
As these memories of events in our history came back to visit me, so too were the songs that accompanied these historical times. Along with the protests themselves were protest songs, which became an integral part of the demonstrations. Anti-war and protest musical groups became fixtures on television and in concerts. The radio was flooded with protest songs and the teenagers of the time spent their allowances or hard earned cash buying records decrying the war or pleading for equality. We loved the music, but more importantly, we loved the words. We could hear them, we could understand them and they had meaning!
What has happened to us and our values?
To some or many people, reading this article, these thoughts could be chalked up to an old man suffering from a bout of nostalgia, wishing to relive those idyllic purposeful moments of youth. But this old man can’t help compare those times and memories with what’s happening today. Today the country is more divided than probably any other time in history. We’re divided along racial, political, religious and economic lines. The middle class has all but disappeared. Racism has returned with a vengeance (if it had actually disappeared or receded in the first place). Hard fought LGBTQ rights are being rolled back or destroyed, in favor of “Religious Liberty” laws which allow people to legally discriminate against gay people. Women, handicapped people, the press, minorities, people belonging to other religions and even teachers are being attacked and ridiculed by our President and his family and administration. What has happened to us and our values?
Many of us are truly suffering and struggling.
Our world is upside down. Our allies have become our enemies. Our enemies are praised and emulated. Our environment has become a commodity. Our natural parks have become sources of possible wealth for big oil. Protection of endangered species has become a thing of the past. Our standing in the world is steadily is declining. Our word means nothing to the rest of the world and our values, upon which our country was founded are slowly being erased. Our citizens are dying because of a lack of proper and affordable healthcare. Education is no longer valued. According to The New York Times, the richest 1 percent in the United States now own more wealth than the bottom 90 percent. Many of us are truly suffering and struggling.
Many are not aware of the suffering of people their age,…
What happened to the music? Where are the protest songs and protest musicians? Where are all the protest rallies and demonstrations? Sure there have been a few such as the huge Women’s Marches in 2017, 2018 and 2019 and most recently protests against the Muslim Travel ban and Trump’s National Emergency. But these seem to be the exceptions. There is little or no media coverage of the decent or dissatisfaction with the state of our country. Our youth, who would be the ones to suffer the most if things continue to deteriorate, seem uninterested and unwilling to see what’s happening. With the exception of the Parkland Students, today’s youth don’t appear to be interested in anything beyond their own little social media world and their pursuit of pleasure and wealth. Many are not aware of the suffering of people their age, even in their own back yard, not to mention all over the world.
I don’t want to give up on my country and what she stands for.
Maybe people don’t care anymore, or as much as I perceived we cared when I was young. Maybe the protest songs are there, but I don’t hear or understand the words. Maybe our values have changed so much that they don’t exist as the ones I prized in my youth. Maybe the ways of seeking equality and justice have changed and I can’t see them. Or maybe it’s me. Maybe my time and my values have come and gone and I have to give in to a new generation of new ways of thinking, behaving and valuing people. I hope not. I don’t want to give up on my country and what she stands for. I don’t want to give up on people. I’m going to start again listening to “Peter Paul and Mary”, “The Mamma and Pappa’s” and Bob Dylan and hope I’ll find those flowers again.