Protest and response

Wednesday November 9, 2011

Charles Putney

Phil Ochs was one of the great protest songwriters of the 1960s. His songs were topical and pointed. His "I Ain’t Marching Anymore" is one of the great anti-war songs of the era. Many can be found on YouTube.

The other evening I watched a documentary on Ochs. His songs were never as easy to sing as Bob Dylan’s "Blowin’ In The Wind," but for those of us who followed folk music and grew up during that era, his music stands out as far more specific and concrete in the injustices of the era and the people who perpetrated them.

The Occupy movement is both an interesting contrast and parallel to the protests of the Vietnam era. Protests against the war in Vietnam, atomic weapons, segregation, discrimination against women and all the collective issues of the 1950s and ‘60s took place in a nation that was bound to its conservative World War II values. The old men of the Democratic South ruled Congress, despite, after 1960, a liberal and young Democratic president.

I haven’t heard any protest songs come out of the Occupy movement, but I’m not there and I don’t track contemporary music the way I did when I was a teen and young adult. It is there, for sure, but isn’t likely to get much airtime unless it will make money for major media outlets.

A strong parallel is that violence against the protesters in New York, Oakland and elsewhere has increased their numbers. Violence against non-violent protesters in the South during the Civil Rights era, all the way up to violence against activists during the 1968 Democratic convention in Chicago, angered those who sympathized with protesters but were not out there with them.

The spread of the Occupy movement to more than 100 cities across the country is the result, in part, of actions against the New York Occupy Wall Street participants by a few New York City police officers.

Occupy Wall Street speaks to an issue much larger for many Americans than the decade-long fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. Most Americans have been only marginally affected by those wars, and other than the military personnel and contractors who have served there, we haven’t had to sacrifice through higher taxes or rationing. If anything, the wars have maintained employment among defense contractors when other industries have been hard hit by the recession.

Is, as an editorial cartoon in Wednesday’s Banner suggests, the Occupy movement a fuse on a much larger bomb? That’s up to the rest of us. If we are moved by the arguments of the Occupy participants, we will act. If we are angered by the continued joblessness arising from companies moving production jobs to Malaysia and Bangladesh, the disappearing middle class, the increasing poverty, the attacks on the rights of unionized workers and the ongoing stupidity of Congress and the White House about the need for a sustainable national fiscal policy, we will act.

If we see violence inflicted in peaceful demonstrators, we will act.

Charles R. Putney is a consultant to nonprofit organizations. He lives in Bennington.


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