Love, peace and demonstrations: Where have all the protests gone? The Spring of '68 epitomized the protest generation but are we more bothered about what's on our iPods?
Quelle: AFP Files
I keep hearing this over & over again: Whatever happened to the protest generation? You don't have to look far to see coverage of what happened in 1968, the thousands who came out onto the streets to protest against everything they hated about society. I guess the question for this generation is: Has everyone got everything they ever wanted? Is there much to protest about today?
Quelle: AFP Files
Parallels with 68
In some ways, the parallels are striking. 1968 was the height of an unpopular war in Vietnam with many in America realizing they'd been mislead about the extent of government action and atrocities here. It's 2008, five years after the start of the War in Iraq and it's impossible to know how many casualties there have been but estimates put it somewhere in the region of hundreds of thousands. As for the costs, well before the war, White House economic adviser Lawrence Lindsay guessed the cost at $100 to $200 billion. So the White House removed him and "re-estimated" the cost at $50 to $60 billion. It's now over $500 billion! Meanwhile the global downturn in markets is hitting western economies hard and workers are finding that future prospects with their skills are slim, while the Pentagon's war chest drains money that could have been invested in local economies.
So, where is everybody and when is the new march on Washington? Well, it's a good time to be in government I guess 'cos you won't have to deal with rioting masses. Mitchell Ash, historian from Vienna University gave me his answer in one word; the "draft". There isn't one for this war and back then in 1968 across America there was required conscription; anyone who was 18 had to register. If you were a student you were exempt from the draft but those who were in Vietnam were coming back and telling their brothers and sisters at university about what was going on. These days the Bush Administration has arranged things quite carefully. In the words of Professor Ash, it's a case of "Let's send the volunteer army into Iraq and the rest of you please shop so that you can keep the economy going."
Todd Gitlin was a political activist in the 60s. He was himself a witness to the protests in 1968. Reflecting on then and now, he told me that student movements are very different these days. "They have a much more practical sense of what is possible. They don't want to indulge in the tactics of yesteryear. They want results. They are more inclined to get involved in electoral campaigns than in symbolic acts of expression".
"Reality Check: The 1968 Generation" was broadcast Saturday at 12 midday. But click here now & you can download the podcast!