Protest 2000

It Thinks Like the '30s and Rocks Like the '60s. But It Acts Like the Future

There's another way of posing this question: Does a vote for Nader amount to a vote for Bush? This is the classic progressive dilemma, and as the election draws near, many activists will be caught on its horns. It's significant that most protesters reached by this reporter couldn't say who they would vote for. Much depends on how both Nader and Gore conduct their campaigns—and then there's the unanswerable question of how the protests at both conventions will play. This is the ultimate echo of the '60s.

When my generation went wild in the streets (egged on by the police), we won the media war—and lost the battle for America. We destroyed Hubert Humphrey, whose hypocrisy we rightly detested, and paved the way for Richard Nixon, who in turn laid the groundwork for Ronald Reagan. The consequences of the choices we made are all too evident in retrospect. In fighting for the people, we became their unintended enemy.

Hopefully, these sea turtles are savvier than we were. But that may not be enough. What the movement hasn't yet faced is the bloody resistance we met when our revolution looked like more than an acid flash. Our leaders were assassinated before our eyes. Our best and brightest were shot down by the police, dragged by the hair down flights of stairs, clubbed and gassed into a frenzy. For all our determination to smash the past and make the future up, we had no tradition to sustain us. At the end of the day, we were exhausted, depressed, and ready for the mercy of the marketplace.

November 29, 1999: five activists unfurl a 2000-square-foot banner in Seattle to protest World Trade Organization policies.
photo: Dang Ngo
November 29, 1999: five activists unfurl a 2000-square-foot banner in Seattle to protest World Trade Organization policies.

Will the new movement—with its leaderless structure and its penchant for singing "Amazing Grace"—be spared this violent initiation? Don't count on it. Under the smile of the CEO who knows the words to "Come Together," there are fangs. Threaten him and he will bite. To survive requires more than a gift for acronyms and analysis. The movement needs to become a culture, as deeply grounded as the one that enabled civil-rights protesters to overcome. That means more than raising a ruckus. It means using the past to make the right decisions through the pain.

What you believe is only the start of the struggle. How you act on that belief is the future you create.

For information about joining the movement, see Act Up! Here's How.

Research: Julia Gayduk

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