All We Are Saying: Part 2 “The Rot in Arcadia”
Go ahead and flash forward now. You’re back in Miami sitting with Sophie and Mike outside your tent. The three of you are deciding what you want to do on the last day. Tuesday and Wednesday were as electrifying as Monday night when you rolled in, but a dissonance was building—first at the exteriors, but quickly spreading inward.
On Tuesday, people spotted Jane Fonda roaming around and saying hello to all the young protestors. Hanoi Hannah was in your corner. You were uncertain what to think. You never saw her, so it might have all been a fantasy. People were dropping a lot of acid. Rumors had spread overnight that John Lennon was going to make an appearance. He and Yoko were hopping on a plane from Manhattan and coming down to join you all. But as the day carried on it seemed more apparent that the duo were not going to attend. So maybe Jane was a fabrication, too. Even if she weren’t, you were unsure what to think of her. Perhaps you didn’t like the idea of your authenticity being questioned by its proximity to this Hollywood royalty, or maybe that was your father talking. You didn’t know.
You and Sophie visited Allen Ginsberg’s tent on Wednesday. People sat around and got high. The idea was: by simply sitting and not participating in the bullshit political affair, you were destroying the apparatus that was destroying the nation—“the purest, funnest form of anarchy.” You never cared for Ginsberg, thought his poetry was bullshit, thought most poetry was bullshit, that music was the better form, that you derived more pleasure and meaning from The Byrds than anything Frost could manage, but anarchy sounded cool and free weed was nice so what the hell? You and Sophie hung out passing a spliff around with some others who were talking about these cats named Gramsci and Bakunin until you overheard some commotion coming from the stage area. As you two got closer you saw a strange sight. People being shoved around, one kid was held up as another guy kicked him in the gut, more people being ripped off the stage, shouting, jeering. At first you thought the enforcers were undercover cops. You’d been warned about that kind of activity. They had been handing out “bust cards” which told you your rights and how to behave in the event a cop was harassing you. There was a big concern that the FBI or CIA was walking around waiting to “black bag” protesters and take them away for interrogation. But the scene didn’t look like that at all. The guys doing the beating were veterans. “What’s going on?” someone asked. “Neo-fascists are trying to rob the stage. They’re saluting and quoting Hitler, saying we have no right to be here. That we’re the scum.” “Fucking Nazi pigs!” a guy yelled from behind you. “Kick their asses!” “Kill the Nazi pigs!” Members of the VVAW were clearly working out their battlefield trauma on these guys. “Figures Nazis would support Nixon,” Sophie said as she turned to go back to Ginsberg’s tent. You watched as the crowd heckled, spat, and spanked the neo-fascists out of “the Land.”
Friction was all around and combined with the electricity of the park it set off sparks. From the start the plan was simple: peaceful disruptions that sparked conversations or resulted in voluntary arrests from the fairly liberally led Miami PD and absolutely “NO thrashing.” But already on the first day of the peaceful occupation matters were quickly challenged. There was a failed attempt at forming a human barricade to stop a delegate bus from Arizona when members of the SDS showed up at the wrong location. The students were saying they had been sabotaged by the FBI: “we were deliberately fed the wrong information! They’ve got agents on the inside.” People were being asked to show their student IDs. A little later, news broke that the veterans were trying to stage a protest march but the police wouldn’t let them near the convention center. One of the guys got upset and took a swing at an officer. A small skirmish broke out. Seven guys were carted off. “It was some shit, man,” one of the veterans said. “Fucking pig was trying to get him to swing. Fucking pigs.” A meeting was held that night to again reestablish the objectives, but a squabble broke out between the gays, SDS, and VVAW. The students and veterans were in disagreement over what was more key to protest, and who should lead the scheduling, marches, message, etc. The gays were upset that no one (apart from a handful of the Women’s Organization and People’s Pot Party) wanted to join them in their “death march” the next day. The Christian group was uneasy with the anti-war chant that most agreed upon: “One, two, three, four. We don’t want your fucking war!” They wanted to lose fucking. Another collaboration was trying to organize a blockade into the convention center for buses. Some of the socialists got on stage and said they wouldn’t march if Jane Fonda was going to be present because: “She, like McGovern, support the same capitalist system that is destroying the country.” At some point, a few absurdists commandeered the megaphone and wanted to “end this egregious mockery of human contention once and for all, and answer the question that has been on all our minds for years now: Who is the greater guitarist: Eric Clapton or Jimi Hendrix?”
The final day continued on in much the same way: great activity in all directions met with awesome reactionary counter-force. The gays applied their war paint, caking their faces in white and black in masks of death. They held a crafted American flag with: “GAY LOVE FOR THE VIETNAMESE” sewn into its fabric. They called out for more recruits as they left the Land on their journey. “Do not fear, join a queer!” “It’s OK, we’re just gay!” One of the lesbians looked at you: “I don’t want to fuck you, I just want to end a war!” Their honesty and good vibes moved people, and their crowd became a little larger as they left. Some veterans and students who were sick of the dissent had re-doubled their efforts to have a uniform march. They went around Flamingo Park collecting as many hippies and random others as they could to join them. You were there, along with Sophie and Mike, surrounded by this concoction of anti-war weirdos, the beautiful fringe of the country that was trying to alter the entire American mind on the question of Vietnam, but more importantly the question of America. You marched alongside battle-scarred men who had seen the unimaginable, students who were ridiculed and forsaken for the very ideals they were taught to uphold, bra-less women shirking their feminine duties, Marxists who were… (well you didn’t really get the Marxists, but they were cool), anti-McGoverns, anarchists, blacks, a few straggling gays (who missed their march), men and women dressed as dead Vietnamese mothers, even a few of the senior citizens you had seen in the park a few days earlier (you learned some refused to join because of the socialists who marched in the ranks; they being expatriate Cubans could not bear the thought), some former World-War II veterans, all standing together, holding up protest signs and each other as they walked down the street environed by invisible animosity. Not everyone hated you, you knew. Some people were just out watering their lawns or walking their dogs as you passed by. There were folks in lawn chairs set up along the sidewalk watching you as if it were a national holiday. They were your audience. They were the silent ones you needed to speak to. You felt they might be starting to understand, and thought if only the convention went on for a few more days, or weeks, you might be able to convince them to join you. You were close to that oneness you felt back in Detroit on that autumn day. This sense filled you with immense hope and paralyzing frustration. You wondered how many around you felt the same.
When your group returned to Flamingo, the residue of unity and accomplishment lingered in your mind. You gave brief sanctuary to thought that maybe, just maybe, the tide was breaking back and the flow moving in your direction. As you made your way back to the tent you felt as though this whole long protest was finally revealing its full worth. You were doing it. The small bits of energy you were putting out there were being received. The revolution was in motion, and you didn’t have to resolve to anything but holding up two fingers in the symbol of peace and walk down a street. You were doing it. You were changing the world. Perhaps for only a second, but maybe for even more. And that was what you were allowing yourself to imagine. Just imagine it, you thought.
Your “neighbors” were out lounging underneath one of the magnolias. Trent and Dallas. Drop outs, surfer bums. You know the type. Read On the Road once, dug it. They came out to Miami because “didn’t have anything better to do” was an option. They had no food or water, no tent when they arrived. Just looked at the tree and said: “This’ll do.” Their clothes were dirty from sleeping outside, their effluvia potent. Trent was sitting at the base of the tree with a jay, he passed it off to Dallas who was hanging from a limb, her long arm reached down and plucked it from his mouth. They asked you to sit and talk a while. You did. The three of you each taking time speaking your mind and smoking. It seemed a terribly important Southern thing to do: sit underneath a magnolia, lounging, and conversing. The pitiless hot air of southern Florida was getting to your neighbors. You could see the toll it wrought in their burnt faces. People had been walking around since day one warning about the dangers of the heat and the sun. Warnings to make sure you were staying hydrated and wearing plenty of sunscreen. Not everyone listened. You watched a few people just fall to the ground from sunstroke, as if someone had just cast a sleeping spell on them. For others dehydration was their downfall. But for everyone in the Land, the temperature and humidity were draining. You sat down across from Trent, and took a hit, the noise of the camp grew as more and more protestors returned for the day. Sitting there, you looked around and listened to the swirling conversations going on. As you did, that small sanctuary you gave that thought grew smaller and smaller.
Negativity rose like the heat creating waves of unease. You felt it all around. People were standing out in the sun looking confused, looking thirsty, looking for something to happen. Some SDS members were complaining about their members lack of commitment and “fighting for the right cause.” Something about mechanisms and cogs and the need for a more “vertical” approach to measures. You overheard a few of the SCLC people complaining about the SDS. “They ain’t listening to us. This is some bullshit. Why we even down here if they ain’t gonna listen to us?” A pair of veterans told a story of convention-goers spitting in their faces and sicking the police on them. Another story came back about two vets in a local bar who were ambushed. They were taken off to jail, but not the patrons (who presumably started the altercation). Arrests were being made throughout the day. More and more protestors returned saying they needed to get to the police station and help bail their friends or lovers out. It looked as though the Miami PD had finally buckled to the pressure administered by the FBI, Secret Service, and whoever else. “It was a matter of time,” one socialist said. A huge message of force was on full display that day. Most of the police were in riot gear already, even though this was a peaceful demonstration. They were more willing to give a hippie their baton today than talk it out like before. “There is no justification for this ruthless display of power!” you heard coming from the stage. “We need to start a petition to send to the Miami PD for a formal inquiry on human rights violations!” Cheers followed. Shortly after you heard one of the GFP members telling an RFP that she saw a small number of veterans and students pelting a delegate bus with rocks until they were doused with pepper spray, beaten, and thrown into the wagons. “It was unreal.” The force might have been obscene, but it was expected. “That’s all they know how to do,” the GFP said. “Beat the shit out of us kids.” Kids? You thought. A Yippie friend of Trent sat down with you three. He was disgruntled “because of the socialists.” He explained a large group of them were at the Fountainbleu Hotel. “We were there to protest and deliver a very specific message. We were there for Tu Phong Bui, a farmer who had his entire crop and village destroyed in one of these awful urbanization programs they are trying to enforce! We were there to stop the violence and this awful Trail of Tears-type relocation. To tell his story for him because he cannot face the people who are enacting his oppression. And it was all ruined by them! They came and started chanting some nonsense about ‘Free Speech, Free Phones’ to the president of AT&T. It completely diluted our message!” You stopped listening because you couldn’t comprehend what he was saying. His frustration was kinda killing your high. You wished he’d shut up, but then you felt bad because Tu Phong Bui’s life was just as important as yours, and the knowledge of the ruination of his way of life should not be silenced for your pleasure, and then you got a little scared that they could hear what you were thinking, so you lied down and told yourself to stop thinking. The earth shifted, sunlight slowly crawled across your face and you thought you needed more shade. Just a little something to help cool your head. The whole park did.