I’ve been tangled up in 50 years of whacko demonstrations bitching and moaning and hating on Amerikkka. In the beginning, I was one of them and amassed tons of street cred. I was there carrying the spears and being a good little radical for things such as, but not limited to, The Free Speech Movement. The Vietnam Day marches. Stop the troop trains. Free Tibet. People’s Park. Pacifica Radio. The Electronic Frontier Foundation. On and on until I left the flea-brained circus and its insane clowns. But that was long ago. What a difference a few decades make. Or do they?
Here’s a photograph taken during a protest for the Free Speech Movement at the University of California in Berkeley in December of 1964.
This was over 50 years ago. I suppose that if it was taken on just the right day in December of 1964 at just the right time, I’m floating around somewhere nearby just outside the frame. I’m probably trying to make a sign that’s as cool as, “STRIKE AGAINST THE PATRIARCHAL DESPOTISM AND MARTIAL LAW USED IN DEFENSE OF PERSONAL MORAL WEAKNESS,” but I’ve got no shot. That guy is just too, too SDS/Young Socialist/Mattachine Society for me. I’d have never come up with his pithy puffery. Still, you have to admire his foresight. He’s got “PATRIARCHAL” up there a full decade before it was even a gleam in Andrea Dworkin’s eye.
I’ve been looking at a lot of old photographs of late and I always wonder where the people in the picture are today. I know where I am and it is much more than 50 years gone. I like to imagine it is the same for the sign-toting student in the shot. But you just can’t know.
The other thing that strikes me is how, as my father would have said, “clean-cut” everybody is. Suits, ties, “ivy-league” haircuts, polished shoes. Nobody wears things like that to demonstrations today, not even the FBI Agents.
Of course, the slightly scruffy couple harmonizing folk songs over a guitar in the background near the middle of the shot is still around. They don’t seem to ever age, do they? I wonder what their secret is?
When I lived in Laguna Beach I had to take my car in for repair at one of the Mercedes repair shops that line one side of the road up Laguna Canyon from the ocean to the interior of Orange County. Dropping it off I took a little stroll around the automobile graveyard that forms a part of this mechanic’s lot. And there it was: my past come back to haunt me like a Maoist version of Marley’s Ghost.
I’m not saying I owned this vehicle, but a lot of my friends did. I’m not saying this was one of theirs, but it sure could have been. And I’m not asserting that what was on the back of the bus told the tale of the last 50 years of increasingly insane protest, but it certainly could. Here’s the back with the slogans broken out below in case you can’t quite make them out.
- Millennium Schmillennium
- Green Party
- The Nation
- 90.7 FM
- EMANCIPATE YOURSELF FROM MENTAL SLAVERY. NONE BUT OURSELVES CAN FREE OUR MINDS.
- Live Simply That Others May Simply Live
- Visualize Industrial Collapse
- DARE TO THINK FOR YOURSELF
- I’D RATHER BE SMASHING IMPERIALISM
- TEACH PEACE
- SUBVERT THE DOMINANT PARADIGM
- I BELIEVE IN LIFE BEFORE DEATH
- PRACTICE ORGANIZED RESISTANCE IN CONSCIOUS ACTS OF SOLIDARITY
- DIE YUPPIE SCUM
- ABOLISH NUCLEAR WEAPONS
There it is; the very model of a major American mindset. In no particular order, it catalogs over 50 years of increasing American political dementia. If the van hadn’t collapsed it would have probably collected Halliburton = Overfishing the Oceans added to it along with Bush Lied And He/She/It Died, If I Believed in Jesus, Jimmy Carter Would Be A Saint and It’s All About the Oil on Mars! plus KILL TRUMP WITH A CHAINSAW! If it could have stayed on the road it would have been kept up-to-date with the latest in popular hate. It would have been a sacred trust.
Many Americans would today find the bus’s butt deeply repulsive and vile. And those same Americans would let it go on its merry Beetle Bus way carrying its aging hippies off into the sunset of their wasted lives. I know I would. I would be repelled by the sentiments on the back and I would be glad to see them there at the very same time.
In a very real sense, the existence of this bus and the accretion of over 50 years of loopy political ideas on its ass like some winking mollusks of resentment is a testament to the deep strength of the core values of this country.
It is not difficult to know what the life expectancy of the bus and the driver of it would be should it have been driven across the Iran border with similar anti-Islamic sentiments displayed. But no matter how stupid the drivers of this bus have been over the decades, none of them would have been that stupid.
The test of freedom across the long term is, as has been said before, how well the society tolerates the ideas that seek to undo it. From my own experience and observation, I’d say this little exhibit confirms that it has been going very well for freedom in the United States for well over 50 years. There’s a lot of other places, even today — places beloved by the drivers of this van and their friends and family — where none of them would last for 50 hours.
If I had to show someone from another world one thing that would prove this country was the last best hope of Earth, I’d make them land the mothership in Laguna Canyon and take in the back of the bus.