E Pluribus Unum
Let’s say you’re twenty. You drive down all the way from Detroit. Three days. 1400 miles. You drive through Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee, Georgia, Florida. Places like Toledo, Dayton, Cincinnati, Lexington, Knoxville, Chattanooga, Atlanta, Macon, Valdosta, Gainesville, Orlando, Miami. You travel at top speed in your Volkswagen Beatle, an empty Coca-Cola can is wedged against the accelerator to keep it around 70mph. Sitting Indian-style in the driver’s seat you check the rear-view mirror to admire all the camping equipment, or lack thereof, contained in your backseat. You’re heading to Miami to help a revolution: the first one started, waged, and won on the engines of peace and love. You and the rest of the like-minded people who will be there can win a major battle by opposing the president, and through the power of intense moral understanding, consciousness raising, or outright public shaming convince delegates at the Republican National Convention that the war against the Vietnamese people is an unjust one. You believe this wholeheartedly.
Five years ago you watched sections of your city burn from your parents’ porch. In the evening hue of modernized Detroit, an old glow of humanity hummed off in the distance, masked by the sounds of faint sirens and the occasional crack of gunfire.
The circumstances that led to the chaos were debatable. You heard from friends it had to do with an illegal bust. Some cops thought they’d rough up a handful of Negros at some unsanctioned bar in the ghetto on 12th. Instead, they walked into a mass gathering (celebrating the return of some brothers fighting overseas) who weren’t in the mood for the traditional customs of an oppressive white community. In other stories you heard the cops walked in on a Black Panther rally, or walked in on a voodoo ritual, or it was an ambush by some congregation of law-breaking Negroes with bedlam on their minds. Whatever the story really was, the results were the same. The citizens resisted, the cops enforced, a crowd gathered, but this time, the script altered in a big way and then the next thing anyone knew bottles were flying, curses were made, windows were broken, goods stolen, cars pelted, fires started, and the worst riot in the history of the nation since the Civil War was afoot.
This went on for a week. You heard more stories, each intensifying with every telling. They seemed to catch fire and spread wildly through the neighborhoods and classrooms mimicking the reality unfolding in the urbanscape. Snipers were firing at policemen and National Guardsmen trying to keep the peace and firefighters who attempted to extinguish burning stores. People were setting fire to trash cans and hurling them at tanks. Armored vehicles were running cars over out of spite. People were being executed in firing lines by the Detroit PD and Michigan National Guard. “They” dragged John Conyers out of his car and spanked him in the middle of the street. Effigies of Mayor Cavanaugh were the cause of several arsonist attacks throughout the city. There was some mention of a hotel where cops found two white boys and a black sharing a bed. They called for reinforcement and proceeded to beat all three to death. The one story that was most frequented, though, (mostly by friends of your parents) concerned a mysterious marauding group of Negroes running through the neighborhoods and even as far west as Dearborn and north as Warren, clubbing senior citizens and raping dogs. Such madness was like a confection.
Everyone searched for an answer as to why this was happening. Your parents, their friends, some of the teachers, many of your schoolmates, friends were confused and hurt by what they saw from their porches, and from what they read in the newspaper, and saw on the television. A massive rejection of all that they knew, the projections of themselves. One man who stood in front of his burnt-out store on 12th Street assembled this thought: “I just don’t understand it. We gave them everything. Cavanaugh’s givin’ ’em everything. Everything they asked for, they got. And this… it’s unbelievable. I’ve been very good to these people. I just… I don’t understand it.” How could this happen? What explained such violence, such vicious rejection of the hallowed concept of law and order? Martin Luther King Jr.? The NAACP? But Charles Diggs was lambasting Johnson, practically daring him not to send troops in—with the support of the colored organization. Possible socialist shadow networks then. Who knew? Most were content to blame it on unruly “niggers” and “social agitators” general “hoodlums and hatemongers” who were not content with what every other reasonable Detroit citizen was.
And yet, other friends of yours, and even more classmates saw it differently, their parents and neighbors and fellow citizens, too. “Man, I see plenty of white boys out there, too, it’s not just us,” your friend Lucas was saying. But it wasn’t merely about this one point in time, which was in itself insufficient to explain these bitterly hot days, but an entire apparatus of spatial and temporal behavior that weighed down on the moment. Their focus was not solely given to the foreground, they did not have the luxury. It was there, it was in the background, it was in the ignored corners, in every paint stroke, every craquelure. They did not just view the painting in its entirety but lived it in a horror of quotidian being. The entire apparatus had failed them, failed everyone, and it was largely perpetrated by you and yours. The police, the real estate agents, the factory workers, union leaders, store managers, landlords, mortgage officers, car salesmen, bank tellers, nurses, doctors, cab drivers, neighbors, on and on and on in every direction everywhere they looked.
No one was innocent. Not even you. “Goddamned hippie!” one father shouted from his door at you as you walked home with your friend Mary. You were fifteen then. Once the initial terror subsided you wore it with pride, the label was your liberation. You were going to say something, but Mary acted faster: “Rather that than a pig!” she shouted back. She was dressed more “respectably,” which made her response even more shocking to the man. He went back inside; “so he can beat his kids” Mary said. She might have looked like a square, but she was more of a “degenerate” than you. Her parents didn’t allow for the kind of “subversive” fashion the way yours let you “get away with.” It wasn’t that simple. You had to explain to friends that your parents never approved, you just wore them down.
Your father had words with the neighbor later that evening. “He won’t be shouting at you anymore, but you better show some more respect, otherwise I will make you regret it.” That was your father. God love him. He might have been repulsed by the anti-war movement, just like most, but he loved you. And even though he was utterly disgusted by the code of conduct many of his peers acted upon, he still defended them as much as he did you. But if anyone was going to whip you into shape, it would be him. After all, you were all he and Mom had left. Your brother passed away a few years back, so they had to keep you as much as possible. Both would have rather locked you up if they had their druthers. Well, they did. Or they tried at least. Nothing worked. You were your own force.
“I just ask one thing,” your dad requested one early morning, the day you gained your independence. He had stayed up all night, waiting for your return. You were returning from an MC5 show. You smelled of sweat, cigarettes, alcohol, and a few other things. It was a familiar scene. He sat in his chair, turned away from the television set toward the door. You stood, hand resting on the knob, fighting sleep deprivation, ears still ringing, eyes bloodshot, the room reverberating and blurry. “I’m not going to punish you anymore. If I did, you wouldn’t have an ass to sit on much longer. And I’m sick of replacing the locks. So,” he stood up. You flinched. “I’m going to make you a deal. I don’t want to receive any calls from the police. If I don’t receive any calls, then we can work something out.” He couldn’t control you, just save a semblance of his face.
Let’s get back to now. The windows are rolled down. Your foot is hanging outside. The air pushes against your toes and blows your long hair in every which direction. You put it in a ponytail. You’re maybe fifteen, twenty miles out of the final destination where you’ll meet up with your friend Sophie and her boyfriend Mike and about a couple of hundred like-minded weirdos, Yippies, veterans, drop-outs, and more. The Atlantic’s musk is thick in the humidity that coats everything in its damp residue. The most radical song you can find on the radio is “Made In Japan.” You’re holding a pink poster, it’s flailing wildly. In that fat cloud-like hand-designed writing, it reads: “Come end the war!”
You’ve been told numerous times that this is a fool’s task. Something about how civil disobedience only engenders further resentment and emboldens the resolve of the resistance. But… you are the resistance. You reject the current state, and you do not do it alone. A mass of strangers just like you are assembling down in Miami to make this happen, too. Surely this collective of disparate people, joining together under one banner to resist and reform, is evidence of your righteousness and you cannot possibly falter. You know it won’t be easy, but you also know in the basic nature of people, a common will to bend towards the light and reject the darkness. The people will bring the change, and you and your strangers are going to help usher them.
The sun almost disappears into the west as you reach the campsite. Flamingo Park is a giant field of energy bursting in every which direction. In the fading glow of the sun, all these wonderful colors become saturated and more accentuated: the greens and yellows of the surrounding magnolias and silent hedges that gleam in the oppressive heat, gold stars and crimsons painted on the tents, black and white on the faces of “miscreants,” greens and reds and blues on the kaleidoscopic shirts, vibrant purple and orange banners. Beautiful shirtless bodies are roaming around, long-haired freaks walk with joints in their mouths, and huge tufts of black hair bob atop the heads of their proud owners. Hippies here, Yippies there, and zippies everywhere, the Women’s Coalition, eco freaks, Jesus creeps, the gays, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, too, all the acronyms: SCLC, SDS, VVAW, RLP, PLP, GFP, SWP, PPP, YSA: surf bums from California, New England’s crop of fortunates and misfortunates, the underbelly of the sun belt full of its Christian positivists and agnostic skeptics (and vice versa), those who rolled in from the great vast landscapes of the plains, and the byproduct of American industrial modernism itself: the Midwesterners like you, every skin and hair pigmentation, veterans, civilians, men, women, and children, they all showed up. Even the elderly are sitting around on their favored benches to listen to your generation play guitar and sing songs. People start saying: “Bring your grandparents!” “Radicalize the Omas and the Papas!” “Peace and love transcend the generations!” Inside one of the larger tents is a multi-television display flashing images of Vietnam, Bangladesh, Laos, Mexico, Costa Rica, Panama, Bolivia, Brazil, and the United States, intermeshed in a fragmentary fashion so that you see the poverty of one Latin American country, to the destruction of a rice farmer’s crop, to a production assembly of milk bottles. The North Vietnamese flag is draped over people’s shoulders, covering tents, hanging from trees. A sign reads: “Register for the Pot People’s Party.” A poster requests donations for a local zippie named Pat Small who needed defense for: “…throwing a pie after a city council meeting,” any help would be kind. Some people try to mobilize you into their movement for an extended nationwide rent strike. “I live with my parents,” you tell them. “Far out. Well, stay out past your bedtime then!” You all laugh over that. You pass the food court where the Coconut Co-op is providing food in return for donations of any type. Someone offers you pamphlet titled: “Revised Manual for the Republican Convention,” the letters handwritten in the same style as your pink poster. Another zippie approaches and offers you a joint. A cadre of guitarists start playing through huge loudspeakers on a makeshift stage singing: “Flowers Never Bend with the Rainfall” and then “The Boxer.” More people gather. Someone puts an arm around you, you put one around the person to your left. A rope of humanity begins to be woven in front of the performers. You start to feel as though your heart is beating in unison with every other one standing in the park right now. Who else feels this? Who else understands what is going on here, what is really happening? This is all for us. All for you. It’s a pageantry you’ve never quite experienced before.
Think back to Detroit in the fall of 1968. Torn newspapers were falling from the windows of skyscrapers on Woodward. Children were running through the sidewalks and streets throwing streamers with one hand and holding sweets in the other. People of different neighborhoods were clinging to one another in tears, strangers embraced in celebration holding one finger in the air and cheering: “Go get’um Tigers!” The headline read: “WE WIN!” Radios blasted the news: “Their first since 1945.” Over twenty years. There weren’t even any Negroes allowed on the team back then. Even after Jackie Robinson, the team did not integrate until more than a decade later. You were six when they finally brought on Ozzie Virgil. Only the Red Sox were more “delayed.” Now, you watched in the store front window with your Dad as Willie Horton put his arm around Al Kaline, doused in bubbly, all smiles.
The pure delirium must have looked so odd to those from outside of the city. For the behavior was not just a celebration of a championship, but much more in line with a kind of post-War jubilation.
To remember how the season started, Opening Day postponed due to nationwide riots over the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., America’s Game starting so inauspiciously, the Model City still smoldering along with cities throughout the country as citizens balanced on that razor’s edge the whole summer. Yet despite the origins of the season, and the perturbations outside the walls of Tiger Stadium, the team just kept winning. They had secured first place in the American League by May 10th (only twenty-six games in) and never relinquished the position for another one hundred and thirty-six consecutive games. By the end of the season, they had double-digit victories against every AL team. Denny McLain won 31 games that year (the most wins by any pitcher in the “modern era”—whatever that meant), he would have won at least one more had they not blew it against Baltimore or Washington in the final two games he pitched. They were so dominate they won over one-hundred games and secured the pennant almost two weeks before the last game of the season. They finished twelve games ahead of Baltimore in the final standings, and six games ahead of the National League leader (and defending World Series champion) St. Louis Cardinals.
There was a certain poetry in motion unfolding before you; the beautiful symmetry of baseball’s historical narrative taking hold. The last team to finish twelve games ahead in the American League standings was the 1947 New York Yankees, they won the World Series. Who was in second behind them? The Detroit Tigers. In the previous year, as suburban landowners were still collecting insurance checks on their burned-down property along 12th Street, the Tigers finished one game behind the Boston Red Sox. The last time Detroit finished one game shy of claiming the pennant was 1944, the next year they won the pennant and the World Series. The only other time they had surpassed one-hundred wins was in 1934 when they went to the World Series only to lose to the St. Louis Cardinals. Perhaps now, however, the rhyme might just pivot at the end of the stanza, and the Tigers would be world champions again.
At least, that was the narrative. Not that it really mattered to you. It was just a collection of hundreds of pointless storylines connected from all different corners of a vast sea of statistics, the first-world equivalent of reading tea leaves. It was fun to learn but had no influence in your daily life, neither did it affect the lives of any other person in your city. And yet, so many people were extracting such a wealth of importance from these stories. You did not follow the pennant race, or pay attention to the Cy Young candidates, could not be concerned with how many runs the Tigers averaged in each game (it was just over four), or take comfort in the fact that it was “the Year of the Pitcher,” and yet when your father recalled with pure elation or overwhelming distress how “the boys” played that day, you could not help but listen with interest.
What you remember most about that time was your father. Sitting in his chair throughout the post-season games, accompanied by a bag of salted pecans or some packzi he bought over in Poletown, he would root for those “Bengals to bring the pennant home where it belongs.” For seven long games, he sat and watched history reveal itself to him through the snowy grey screen. Each game he muted the TV and turned on the radio where the “Voice of the Tigers” delivered the play-by-play in that slight genteel Southern drawl of his.
In the first four games, the script did not read the way your father and so many others had written it. Their dreams began to lose form as the subscribed meaning became more void and less obtainable. Not only had the Cardinals won three out of the four, but they had just won back-to-back games in Tiger Stadium, the last one ending in an 8-1 rout. Denny McLain had lost both of his starts against St. Louis’s ace pitcher Bob Gibson. What was worse, the Tigers only managed one run against Gibson in eighteen innings. So in the final game in Tiger Stadium, in what might have been the final game of the season, Mayo Smith decided to start Mickey Lolich, the only pitcher that had been able to stop the Cardinals’ bench, and Tiger Town held its breath.
Your father switched on the set, turned down the volume dial, and sighed as he sat in his chair. You were getting ready to meet up with your friends across town. You were supposed to be studying for an Algebra test the next day, but Love was playing at the Palms Theatre, so fuck math. You watched your old man slowly open the greasy paper bag of salted pecans. The worry on his skin made you smile. He was so focused on the black-and-white screen that his hand kept missing the opening of the bag. He finally had to look down and practice the most basic hand-eye coordination when the Cardinals got their first run. Your father was nearly in a state of panic by the time he popped a few pecans in his mouth. “Goddamnit!” By the third run scored he shot out of his chair and turned the television off. “Fucking bums!” “Lawrence!” your mother shouted from the other room. “What?!” “Language!” He mumbled something and scratched the top of his balding head. He looked over and spotted you sitting on the stairs smiling at him. He laughed at himself. “Yeah. Well… buncha bums.” The two of you were silent while “the Voice” carried on. Your father looked back at the TV set, then at you. He turned the game back on and sat down. Shortly after the doorbell rang and your friend Yardley was there to pick you up, her boyfriend had a car. Looking back before you shut the door, your father looked wan, sunk into the fabric of his beloved burgundy chair.
The next day, though, the world had not ended. Quite the opposite, in fact, took place. The sun rose again over the city along with the hopes of all its Tigers fans. They had survived to see a Game Six. More than that, they seemed to have weathered the storm once again and were now ready to complete the tale your father and the droves of others had envisioned. In the final two games, the Tigers outscored St. Louis a combined 17-2. Denny McLain redeemed himself and finally got that elusive thirty-second win, and the Detroit darling Mickey Lolich (the “Croatian Kid”) beat Bob Gibson in Game Seven to hoist the World Series for the first time in twenty-three years.
And then suddenly all across the city, a different sort of uncontrollable human emotion sprang forth from the neighborhoods and into the veins of the city heading to its heart to celebrate.
It was an incredible positivity in all directions. A true sight to behold, especially juxtaposed against the reality that some of the buildings on Woodward were still burned down from the uprising over a year ago. None of the people leaning out of the windows in the nearby buildings were holding rifles. Malice was extinguished in that moment. More so, people who once held tightly to formless notions in the year before now let them dissolve in the face of such celebration. “White devils” stood next to “jigaboos” while “fascist pigs” high-fived “ungrateful thugs” and “rapists” danced with “harpies” in the streets. Future Nixon voters and past FDR supporters offered to buy anarchists and drug aficionados beers in the local bars. Something more than any sport was doing this. It was a palpable connectivity. You were witnessing a kind of cognitive syncing of one city’s massive identity. Your dad pulled out some cash and ordered you both a pop and a hot dog. Printed on the back of the currency were those ancient, dead words, the motto of you and your people, the spirit of the city on that day. As you sat with your father and witnessed the jubilation, you couldn’t help but wonder if it could always be like this. Not the confetti and impromptu pomp, but the glee, the pure positivity, and oneness. How to channel all of this raw potential energy into one sustaining kinetic force that transcended the excess heaviness? How indeed.
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.
Four More Years
Let’s get back to here: you, Sophie and Mike are sitting outside your tents. The President is going to make his speech in less than an hour. The conversation now centers around: do you three join the remaining protestors who are going to try and form the human blockade outside the convention center doors as planned, or are you going to just call it a night. “We have to go. This was the whole point of the trip,” Mike says. You and Sophie are not quite sure anymore. Is that really why you came down? Did a human wall really do the same as a march through the streets? Or just provoke more animosity? You aren’t so sure anymore, if you were sure at all to begin. It isn’t a question of fear. You are prepared to be temporarily blinded and concussed. You understood driving down was an act of complicity, that you were (to some extent) okay with potentially kissing the rude end of a clubbing apparatus. There was a real possibility of an inflection point where things might turn ugly, and you are prepared. You believe you have always been ready for the violence, but not for something you don’t believe in. The aggressive protesting just feels like the kind of thing you are fighting against. Why succumb to violence and aggression, why not rise above it all? You try to explain this to Mike. He doesn’t seem to appreciate, or accept it. Sophie is just tired. Tired of the protesting, beat from the sun. She doesn’t think she can properly handle what needs to be done tonight. “You both can’t stay here alone anymore. It’s not safe.” Mike is referencing a series of bad news that has developed over the past hour or so.
Apparently a zippie was walking along the outskirts of the Land when a van pulled up. Two guys said they just drove down to support the movement, but couldn’t find a place to park, they wanted her help. They asked her to hop inside the van. She kept trying to direct them to a place they could park, it was just around the corner, but they kept insisting she get in. The passenger eventually got out of his seat. He went up to her. He asked her to get in again, but when she replied, “you don’t need me to get in, I’m telling you the parking is—” he yanked her by the arm and started pulling her towards the van. She screamed and tugged, called for help. He was trying to control her and get her in the van. The driver was shouting: “Shut that bitch up and get her in the van!” The passenger managed to get the door open, but partially blocked himself which is when she kicked into his groin. He howled and dropped to the ground allowing her to wrestle her arm free. She ran as fast as she could to the center of the Land. Some vets went to the area but didn’t see any van. Now everyone was encouraged to walk in pairs. Not that it helped the three gays who were walking back from a bar last night. A group of “hicks” were said to have jumped them in an alley and beat them senseless. A few of their friends and members of the gay clan were looking for them earlier today you remember. It wasn’t until one of the friends ended up in the hospital from a Young Republican’s (“Nixon Youth” as you like to call them for their adulatory celebration of the man is rival only to something you might see in old Nuremberg films) sucker-punch that the three were found. Then about twenty minutes ago two separate reports came in that someone in either a yellow car, or a taxi, was circling the Land trying to run people over. The driver (or drivers) already succeeded in hitting a YSA as she was crossing the street and a group of veterans a few blocks away. But some were saying that the driver, one taxi driver, got frightened when a large crowd of protestors encircled the car because some convention-goers were sitting in the back seat. The protestors were pounding on the car and so the driver took off, hitting the YSA. But a growing fear was that there was a concerted effort by the Miami PD, through the guidance of the Secret Service, to round-up Cuban emigres and pump them full of anti-protestor sentiment by leaning hard on a narrative that the protestors were really pro-Castro saboteurs. To Mike and many others, the air was fraught with a dangerous tension. But it was this same tension that broke rank from the fear and instead formed a frenetic excitement, the tipping point might be just around the corner. The Revolution was at hand, you just needed to stay the course and push a little further.
“We’ll be fine,” Sophie says. She put her hand on Mike’s arm. “Of the two, you know which isn’t safe.” “We have to show our solidarity.” Sophie’s eyebrows get really high on her forehead. (You love her facial expressions. It’s perhaps what drew you to her in the beginning of your friendship. She liked to make you laugh and get in trouble in class with her Groucho Marxian physiognomies.) “Look around you,” she says. “We’re in the middle of it.” The conversation dies a little. You pick up your guitar and start strumming some chords. “Besides,” Sophie continues. “They have that place bordered up now. You saw it. They got like five hundred buses out there surrounding it like it’s a fucking castle. The only way in is through the cops, the FBI, the Secret Service, they’ve probably got the Marines hanging out around the corner ready to go. There’s no way we can break in. They won’t let us.” “That’s not the point.” “It’s not?” “The point is we have to be there to protest. All the cameras are going to be there. All the nation’s attention. This is our one chance to show the world what is going on with all of us together, to show there is an equal opposition to the war. This is our last chance to do that now. We have to do it.” This strikes you. You find yourself agreeing with him that this is the last opportunity during the convention to show the rest of the nation that there is another way. A better way. That this does not need to result in violence. We can work together to make changes in the world that have positive effects. It doesn’t have to be this way. “It won’t be a protest if they call in the Marines,” Sophie says. “It’ll be a massacre.”
You’re sitting in your tent. Your only company is the guitar. It’s maybe been an hour or two since Sophie and Mike went to the convention. They compromised. They will attend but not participate in the blockade, only hold anti-war banners and call for Nixon’s resignation. You decided to hang back. Despite Mike’s arguments and the compromise, you could not bring yourself to attend. Alone, you wonder if perhaps you have made the wrong decision. The events of the past three, four days are running through your thoughts as you play the progression of “All La Glory” on your six-string. If you came down to stop a war and start a revolution, if the point of the convention-long protest was to spark a shift in the paradigm, had you failed by not participating? Or did you try to come down and change minds, not through coercion but conversation? If your purpose was to end violence, then how could you justify accomplishing this by way of provocation? At what point did your agency become more justifiable than that of the attendees when utilizing the same level of aggression? Where was the line drawn that helped distinguish you from them?
You were stuck, tangled in the pathologies of rectitude. What wove you together with those who wore bright happy faces and held up two fingers in the symbolism of peace, who sought to end the butchery of young men and help mend the fabricated division of a national people, was the same tether that harnessed you to those who walked with cheery-cheeked faces, wide grins and shining eyes, as they proceeded to the convention center arm-in-arm, fingers raised in the “V” pattern (reminiscent of the bygone days when your father returned home from the gruesome reality of Europe) to hear their President talk about the way things are supposed to be and they must spill blood to save a foreign people, and how people like you and your kind are a threat to an entire way of being that is so natural and true. You cannot tear yourself away from them, or they from you.
You had imagined it all happening in a vastly different way. Driving down from Detroit a few days before, that pink poster flapping in your hand, you had envisioned a different future. You saw it unfolding when veterans from your father’s war came down and met with your veterans. When the elderly sat at those colorful benches and listened as you explained what this gathering was all about. You saw it all there in the park in those waking hours, in the brief march earlier today. If there was just some way to harness that magnetism and forge a lasting cohesion the way that you saw it, to expose everyone to the reality that the two were one, and any pain delivered was also pain felt. That there could be no way for one side to be victorious without both sides sharing in the loss.
You smoke and play guitar a little more and think back to three years ago when you decided to join your friend Patti-Gay and Reggie on a road trip to upstate New York. You were joining a coalition of mirthful youngsters and musicians in an effort to stage a massive non-violent force that would rival any kind of militancy or aggression or bullshit establishment rhetoric to the contrary. This would be a gathering of an army of lovers unmatched in the world. For a few days, you would show humanity what it meant to be humane, an entire collective there on some farm with no other motive than to enjoy life and show the world how a community can form on the basis of good will and egalitarianism. You didn’t need the market or aesthetics of a consumer society—those were the false realities you sought to reject through your actions.
You had your guitar, and a backpack filled to the brim with clothes and the money you had saved. Your friend Patti-Gay had the tent you two would share, you would help pay for the food and gas, and Reggie had the van. You also gathered a collection of songs and learned to play them to perfection so when the radio dropped out, or no good tunes could be found, you’d be able to break out the music for the van. Reggie was saying how a few of his other friends were bringing guitars and percussions with them on the road trip, too. You were all going to take turns driving and jamming while you made your way east. You and the Troubadours were all set to go that Wednesday before. You shot out of the door with your backpack thrown over your shoulder and you were all smiles as Patti-Gay slung open the door to the van. “Get on in!” You saw the group crammed in the back of the van, some six or so, and three in the front. Who knew where the hell you were going to fit but you were all going to make it work. You were all going to work together to make it happen. That was until your father came chasing after you at a speed you had not seen before.
“Where in the holy hell do you think you’re going?” he said as he grabbed the backpack over your shoulder and you two wrestled for it. “You get your ass back inside that house. If you think I’m going to let you go off with a bunch of goddamn bums to some fucking place in New York I’ve never heard of, you got another thing coming.” Being about twice your size and double your weight your dad had no problem hauling both you and the bag back towards him, grabbing your arm and twisting it. You shouted in pain. “Hey not cool, man!” Patti complained from the van. “Mind your own business and get the hell away from my house before I call the cops!” “This is bullshit,” you screamed in his face. “Bullshit!”
For your father, this was a simple matter of familial uprightness. Your actions were a clear breach of his patriarchal authority. He may have given you autonomy to go out and return as you saw fit, but that freedom did not extend past the city limits. Beyond there was an entire untamed land that was still under his parentage. You tried to explain to him that there were “boys” your age serving over in Vietnam right then being subject to and perpetrating atrocities, that at your age he was enlisted to sail to Europe to expose himself to many similar brutalities, that your efforts to attend this “weekend in the countryside” was with the explicit purpose to change minds about the nation and the war, and you thought if you could explain to him that the horrors he experienced in the fields of France and Germany, watching his buddies burn alive inside a tank at Arracourt, were the same ones your peers were experiencing but for no good reason, that the memories he carries with him can at least be pacified with the rhetoric of morality and justice, something your generation will never have, you hoped he would see the connections too and permit you to help end the war. That did not happen. You stayed in your room and did not speak to your father for the entirety of the festival. At meals he told you about how the hippies “overran” the fences and forced their stay, and musicians refused to play until they were paid upfront in cash: “How’s that for anti-establishment?” (a hot new word he heard of earlier that week). He told you of the food tents that the hippies burnt down, which led the governor to declare the festival a “disaster area”—he really liked telling that story—and how “they” over-filled the nearby hospitals because of the squalid conditions “they” lived in putting local lives at risk. There were rumors he heard from his colleagues of widespread chlamydia and tract infections as a direct result of hardcore nudity and wanton sexual misbehavior, stories of rampant drug abuse and knife fights because the only security was a hippie threatening to throw pies in peoples’ faces. He dropped a newspaper in your lap that told a story about a poor teenager who was ran over and killed by a tractor in the night, his finger pressed down on the words: “cops think it was probably some dope fiend who ran him over in the middle of the night, didn’t even realize he just murdered someone… and you wanted to go to this mess.” He did not care about your protests or intentions. He did not bother to be influenced by such Panglossian viewpoints. He wanted you where he could keep an eye on you.
So when you woke up early in the morning on your clandestine counterculture hejira down to Miami, you imagined there might be no home to return to, but it was of little consequence to you at the time. Now, as you strum away on the guitar, transitioning back and forth between A-minor and D-minor, trying to wrestle out some lyrics from your mind, you begin to question what your fate will be. You left a note on your pillow explaining where you had gone, and why. You thought in some way this might assuage any anger your father might bear. That the lack of your physical presence might help the words break through in a new way. That as he read them in his own mind, with his own voice breathing them, he might somehow ingest your knowledge and come to see the world differently through his own eyes. You wanted to explain yourself in person, but your experiences had taught you the distance was too wide to bridge, attributed to a linguistic failure. You two were bound together, inseparable in both your genetics and history, yet there was nothing either of you could say to one another to end the misconceptions. You were to continue on in your own ways, different and opposed, like and assimilated.
A thought occurred that he might come down to find you. After all, he did race out of the house to steal you away from being part of the other children of God, the stardust. What ends would he not go to in order to bring you back home? But by the second day you you began to worry less about him appearing. At some points you almost wished for his face, standing along with the other veterans of his ilk, or across the street, just staring at you in that yellow polo he’s so fond of and his thick black-rimmed glasses. You wished for him and your mom when you got lonely, like now. He was back home probably, waiting for you to call. You really should call, you know, but you’ve been so busy—and right now you’re too stoned. He’s just sitting in front of his television right now, waiting for a sign of life. Perhaps that was why you refrained from joining the blockade tonight. You knew all the cameras would be there. You knew he would be watching, looking for you. The thought of him sitting in his chair watching as some sweaty, fat-fingered pig grabbed you by the collar and proceeded to club you to unconsciousness was more than you could handle.
You stop playing guitar, the last image is inescapable. You sit in silence.
The watch around your wrist tells you its been at least an hour or more since Sophie and Mike left to protest Nixon. Worry floods into the tent like poisonous fumes in a bad action movie. Images of protestors you’ve lived with over these past four days are pushed back by police in riot gear. The translucent shields form a line similar to that of the ancient testudo formation and begin a slow march forward. No one instigates this reaction, it is almost as though it were commanded from on high. The line moves forth in steady motion and your generation of veterans and students, peaceniks, and acid-heads give more and more ground. This happens for a handful of tense seconds until some SDS and VVAW and a few others decide to lock arms and block the policemen’s advance. Somewhere in all of this you can picture Sophie and Mike standing on the sidewalk with their signs: “Peace not War!” and “US = Nazi Germany” they can see the inevitable. Sophie probably tugs on Mike’s arm. She wants to run. “We gotta do something,” Mike says, eyes fixed on the closing gap between the heavily geared, well-funded crypto paramilitary group and the unarmed anti-war crowd. “Do what?” Sophie cries as she tries to pull Mike away from the street. Law and Order is slowly approaching them now. Neither streets nor sidewalks are safe. They are coming.
Back in the tent, you shake the thoughts from your head and blame it on the weed. You make your bed, which is just your cover and thin pillow. The cover acts as your mattress. It is too hot even past midnight to need a blanket. The ground is uncomfortable, so any padding between you and it is welcomed. You don’t know how your “neighbors” Trent and Dallas manage it without anything to protect them from the elements, and the pests. They were covered in all kinds of bruises and mosquito bites. Yet, they still managed to sleep without problems. You can hear Trent on the other side of your tent. He snores so loudly he must be dreaming well. You’re almost to that point. Eyelids grow heavy. That sense of levity that lingers towards the front of your brain just above the eyes comes on hard. You let your body follow suit. Tomorrow, you think, you’ll emerge from the tent to find Sophie and Mike unscathed. The three of you will get some breakfast and all go your own way. Then the long trip back home to meet your fate.
Eyes closed, you’re trying to construct a speech in your defense, trying to find the words to finally break your father. But you are having trouble focusing because there is a noise in the Land that is distracting you. It started off in the distance, but has continued and only become louder. At first you thought it might be the students, veterans, Sophie, Mike, and the rest returning from the convention, triumphant and wanting to wake all those in the Land and celebrate their grand victory. This sound, though, is not ebullience but resembles more of a mourning. It reminds you of the whimpering and cries you heard at your brother’s funeral. It is black and sad. As it grows you begin to understand what is fast approaching and the danger you are in.
You pull down the zipper from your tent door. The shouts of men and women come from the staging area. A horrid amalgam of pleas for mercy and unintelligible screams in the face of irreverent rancor, feet racing in all directions, the ground reverberating from the manic stamping. The sounds of treading mix with heavy breaths, snarling and laughing, creating a hysteria and thick panic that spread across the Land. An abrupt blast of noise rips through your tent: “They’re here! Run!” Then intense struggle: “fuck!” “er” “grrr” then the awful screaming. You picture a man being skinned alive, tents set ablaze while the inhabitants remained trapped. You wait for the rhythmic doom of choppers to sweep overhead and shots of gunfire. Then a crash happens and the sound goes away, filled in quickly with the moaning and groaning of an ambush. You look over to Trent and Dallas, who are both wide-awake. They cling to one another as they try to understand what to do. You see Sophie and Mike’s tent is still empty. “Get in it!” you yell at them. They are petrified. A horse rides through the field in front of you with a dark armored man atop swinging his baton. He is chasing after a naked hippie. His baton connects with the back of the hippie’s shoulder at such force you hear the crack of the bone from halfway across the field. The naked man goes flying forward and the horseman moves on. You look back at the frozen Trent and Dallas and try to tell them again to get into Sophie and Mike’s tent, but your words fail you. Terror mutes you. Back in your tent you leave the door open. Maybe your neighbors will come in and huddle with you, or you will make your escape shortly, or you realize the inefficacy of such an act as closing your tent door to the outside world. Pale shades from the moonlight, park lamps, and moving flashlights dance on the fabric of your tent. A group of fleeing protestors run past you and a few policemen are in hot pursuit. You hear screams in every direction. “Christ,” you think, “there are children out there…” You try saying this out loud: “There are children out there!” You do it to try and end the violence. To also assure yourself that this is all really happening to you right now. The present is not a fantasy, it is an ugly truth.
Trent is telling Dallas to climb up in the magnolia. Someone is calling out for their friend or lover. The voices of Law and Order are hollering commands: “Don’t run!” “Come over here, hippie!” “Do not resist!” Screams of your peers hang and reverberate throughout Flamingo Park creating a fear so intense its definition cannot be found in any dictionary, only felt. Trent’s voice is yelling at disembodied threat somewhere: “Don’t come near us, man!” “Get down on your knees and get your bitch out of the tree, you get out of there! That is state property. Get out of there, you hear? You don’t belong!” You see Trent’s thin silhouette go to one knee. Three large shadows are on him quickly. He lifts his hands as if to meet any venom, but the act is misinterpreted as preemptive aggression. Law and Order gang up on him and strike his hands away. He tries to get back to his feet and meet one of his interlocutors face-to-face, but the other two beat him back down. Dallas is crying from a branch above: “Stop it! You’re killing him! Stop!” She screams as Law and Order continue to beat Trent down, as if they were trampling dirt on a grave. You watch this madness of shadowy movement work, and hear the breaking of body, the shrieking of pure terror and heartbreak. Then everything goes black. You lose sight. Your eyes close so tight you feel them pressing back into your skull. You cover your ears. The results of the enmity break through your guards, though, you cannot remove yourself from the dark reality of the night. You are shaking uncontrollably. You are waiting to be trampled underfoot by horse, or struck and kicked from outside your flimsy fortress, beaten into a pile of meat and skin. The cries continue, Dallas screams as you hear Law and Order climb after her. “Don’t come near me! Stay away! Please!” Then something snaps and a great thud sounds. The immediate excitement calms down. “Leave her. Come on, get down and let’s go.” You crawl into a ball and try to think of something, anything to remove yourself from the waking nightmare, but you are alive, this is all yours.
Time passes indistinguishably. Your eyes cannot focus on your watch. The noise of Law and Order has passed over and is working its way to the edges of the Land. What is left in the wake is an echo of dirges. You crawl towards the exit of your tent, protruding your head from its safety to see what justice hath wrought:
A fog of smoke and tear gas floating over the field,
Collapsed tents in every direction,
Torn up protest flags and banners,
Bodies curled up, rocking back and forth,
Bodies lying still,
People running frantically in no particular direction,
Friends helping their injured buddies walk off in the direction of the medical tent,
A lone child standing next to his mother as she tries to calm him with her broken hand,
Bloodied faces shining black in the evening glow,
A veteran running up to people asking them: “You got a gun?”
SCLC and Women’s Coalition members saying to look out for broken glass,
A gay picking up his buddy’s teeth,
A riderless horse grazes,
Dallas lies alone, motionless next to the tree,
Your tent stands enisle in a land of destruction, you unscathed.
It’s dusk when you finally reach the house. The facade’s commercial placation is foreign to you. Maybe it is the light, having never seen the house in this time of day, or it could be sleep deprivation, you only stopped once to sleep on your journey back from Miami, but you know it looks different not because it has changed, but you have. You park the Volkswagen, leaving your guitar and backpack inside—you gave the tent to a vagrant. You walk up the steps of the porch and reach the door. For the first time in your life you hesitate to open the it. You stare at the maroon paint, the eye hole reflects a smaller version of your face. You look at the door bell and contemplate. Slowly, you follow your finger as it extends and presses down on the button.
Within seconds, you hear feet shuffling towards the door. Your eyes fall to the floor. Your mother opens the door. “Oh!” is all she manages before bringing you into her body. You feel her warmth against you, it’s nice. “My you’re ripe,” she laughs. “Lawrence! See who’s here?” Your father is exactly where you might expect: reclining in his chair, the television on. “I see,” he says. He gets up and walks over to the door. You don’t remember him being so fragile-looking. The air around him is gone. Miami has eradicated it from your vision. He puts his hand on your shoulder. “You better come on in.” You walk past him and your mom, and directly upstairs to the bathroom.
You’re crying in the shower. The water washes you clean as imagines of smiling faces and broken bodies smear across the spectrum of your memory. The mundane scent of the bathroom mixes in with the humidity and rawness of Flamingo Park’s trees and lawn. Why were you spared? Where are Sophie and Mike? What happened to Trent and Dallas, the field of those casualties? How did it all come to that? Was there any other way? What now?
It’s evening now and you and your father sit in front of the TV. Mom went to bed early. A special report of the convention plays for you both. It categorizes both “sides” of convention types: attendees and protestors. You watch people who look like they’re going to church or the race tracks line up to enter the buses. Their faces look bothered by the heat, but their eyes suggest a discomfort instigated by rumors of “hoodlums,” “ruffians,” “hippies,” “cowards,” and “protestors” presumably lurking off camera who might strike at any given minute. You notice this, but they seem mostly conscious of the camera in their faces. They crack jokes, and try to sound as well-informed as possible.
You see inside the convention for the first time. A gross collection of supporters huddled together on the convention floor, an American mass holding banners with NIXON written all over them, like feudal soldiers of Japan, all cheering and shouting making their collective voice intelligible. The report switches focus to the Nixon Youth momentarily. People in their late teens and twenties running around the convention together, dressed in their best suits and dresses. “We’re here to support the President and show there are far more of us in here than no-goods our age out there. The nation is behind the President, and that includes the newest generation of voters.” You hear this sentiment from convention-goers again and again: “I don’t know what their problem is, but we’re having a good time in here.” “They spit on me. For all that peace and love, they just spit on me and my wife.” “They were throwing rocks at us and tried to slash the tires of the taxi we were in.” “Miscreants.” “You don’t see that kind of hostility from us.” “We’re just trying to attend this convention in peace. You’d think they’d appreciate that.” “They’re punks.”
You watch and try to understand this side of the movement. If you are to take these rosy-cheeked white faces at their word, then there was some part of the revolution that still stood on the same ground as those you were trying to oppose. You know some members who shared food with you, formed impromptu jam circles, connected with you on a personal level, and confessed the same fears and opinions on existence were the same who wished to strike fear in the hearts of these country club attendees and housewives. They wanted to open their eyes even if they had to sit on their chests and peel back their eyelids. But that wasn’t you. That wasn’t even the majority of you, you believe. You have to because you cannot possibly bear the notion that you are part of some malignancy attached to the nation. But who will know this? Who will tell your story, who will understand it as you do? Years from now, how will posterity respond to this moment, who will have the last word?
You watch these Nixon Youths run around the convention floor some more, cheering for the president and vice president, trying very hard to show not only their genuine enthusiasm for their candidate, but that they are the future. You wonder what was the degree of separation between becoming them and being who you are. How did their pasts lead to this moment and not yours? How did they end up inside the convention with their plaid suits, and not outside with rest of you? What were the fundamentals that separated your futures seemingly from birth?
The documentary shifts from inside the convention to the violence outside. Over the footage of police firing tear-gas into the crowds and spraying SDS members with mace, you hear the words of Nixon: “Our platform is a dynamic program for progress, for America, and for peace in the world.” It is a cruel art of juxtaposition played for dramatic effect, and you cannot help but succumb fully to it. Law and Order slowly make their way down the street, they are in full riot gear, helmets, shields, black pads, and batons, heading after the protestors equipped with t-shirts and jeans. The documentary plays Nixon again as one police officer sprays a veteran with mace while another beats his legs and back with a baton: “This nation proudly calls itself the United States of America. Let us reject any philosophy that would make us the divided people of America.” The footage plays on, random shots of violence all over the city spreading out from the convention center. A shot shows an old man washing a hippie’s face with his garden hose. It cuts to him after: “I don’t understand why they don’t just let them go. They’re running away. They’re not causing any trouble. Just let ’em go.” The next clip is shaky footage of the Land. A mixture of clad policemen and unarmed protestors in a dance of chaos. The violence plays out on the screen for you but you feel the screams and shouts underneath your skin. You see the field from this third party view. A tree line hides your tent, but you now have an out-of-body experience. You watch with a strange objective nonchalance and subjective terror as “Every time I am reminded that we have more freedom, more opportunity, more prosperity than any people in the world…” is spoken through the speakers. Tears fall from your eyes.
“When they first showed this,” your father starts. His voice is soft. “I was certain I was going to see you. I was certain they’d be dragging you by your hair and throwing you in some paddy wagon. I knew I was going to get a call that night. I was so angry, and so scared. Because…” His voice fades and when you look over you see his face wet with tears. He takes his glasses off and wipes them. “You’re my daughter. They don’t give a shit, but I do. I do.” You get up, and as the report continues to show the violence in the field and cut between it and the laughing and cheering inside the convention, you go over to your father and give him a hug.
You look back at the television. You see all those faces again, exultant and proud, in their formal attire and Nixon buttons, holding up their two fingers. “Why do they hate us?” you ask your dad. “What is it about us?” Your dad looks at you from his chair, then the screen, then away from both. “Because you tried to undo them.” He says it so calmly, but the words hit you hard. “What did you think would happen?”
The television growls a closed percussive burst, repetitive, hypnotic, incantatory, coming from a small group of huddled young faces, college-bound students and undergraduates, physiognomies obese with delight and knowledge of their predestined victory, holding up four fingers, chanting away those three words that beat against your chest and cause you to sink inside yourself, the knowledge of its calling will only spell more sorrow in the name of truth and goodness, the continuation of your misery and sustain of theirs too; these words, innocuous and few, drip with so much importance and none at all. You look at your father. You want to tell him about this, but how? How best to proceed when the very genesis of your expressions fails?
You watch the happy youngsters on display in that bright fluorescent arena, one of them will probably be doing your taxes one day, their rallying slogan blasts from their wide mouths as the footage cuts back to the Land, those three words play on and the camera pans over the aftermath in the field, it then stops and begins to push in on someone across the way, small, young, her back turned to the camera, she stands outside a tent looking down at a motionless body near a magnolia tree, she turns to face you, her face red from crying, you stare into her eyes and she back at you. The camera freezes on her and those victorious words pound over and over again through the speakers until the program finally comes to an end.