Oh, you got me where you want me, I ain’t nothin but your fool. Ya treated me mean, Oh you treated me cruel. So sang the Queen of Soul in the classic Don Covey song from 1967, an important year for American music and for the American protest movement. For 1967 was the year of the Summer of Love, and the flood of hippies to Height-Ashbury in San Francisco. Looking back on the Hippie movement of the late 1960’s there are a lot of parallels with the Occupy Wall Street crowd of today. True the OWSers don’t have much in the way of good music (think the Jefferson Airplane, Big Brother and the Holding Company, the Mama’s and the Papa’s), but just like the Hippies of my youth, they do have something to be mad about.
The hippie movement came about in the 1960s when mostly middle-class young people became disenchanted with what they viewed as a conservative, often corrupt political and economic system. They rejected established institutions, criticized middle class values, opposed nuclear weapons and the Vietnam War, championed sexual liberation, were often vegetarian and eco-friendly, and created intentional communities or communes. Like the OWS movement, they perceived the dominant culture as a corrupt, monolithic entity “the Man” that exercised undue power over their lives.
Like the Hippies in 1967, today’s OWS movement is angry at what they see as a dysfunctional establishment that was going to destroy their world and did not have their interests at heart. The young people flocking to Height-Ashbury in 1967 were angry about being drafted and sent to Vietnam to “help save Vietnam from Vietnamese.” They didn’t trust their parents, corporations or politicians and used their music, their dress, their hair and their drugs as a way to differentiate themselves. As there is no longer a draft, the crowd in Zuccotti Park probably have less to worry about, but they are facing massive college debt, poor job prospects, and a political system that seems to extract resources from people who work to give to deadbeats and bankers, or in many cases deadbeat bankers.
Today, the Hippies and the OWS protesters were again proven correct, as the inaptly named Supercommittee found it impossible to agree on a way to cut a whopping 3 percent from the federal budget over a 10 year period. Think of it this way. The average family in America makes about $50,000 a year, so a similar cut in a family’s budget would be $1,493. Not insignificant, but only really about $4.00 per day. So rather than cutting out a daily latte, our representatives figured that they would rather put the mortgage at risk. Ok, its not the same thing as sending half a million draftees to Kae San, but it’s pretty stupid behavior on the part of seemingly grown adults, particularly when they are able to come up with $124 billion to buy bad mortgage debt, and $16 billion to bail out the UAW workers at Chrysler and GM.
The Hippies were in many ways thwarted in turning their ideas into legislative action for most of their lifetimes. The Man kept a tight lid on their desires – wars continued (though the draft ended), drugs continued to be illegal (though they became much more socially acceptable) and the AIDS epidemic put an end to the idea of free love. But the post baby boom generations are in many ways helping to finally bring about the change that seemed impossible in 1967. Today, homosexual couples in New York are able to marry. People are not thrown in prison for decades for possessing a tiny bit of marijuana, the rivers and air are cleaner and a black man is President of the United States.
Hopefully, it will not take two generations before we start to see the powers that be in Washington and in our state houses stop acting like a chain of fools and start taking at least some responsibility for the country’s poor, expensive and improperly funded government services.