Marching in a Melancholy Time

I have no such illusions today. I don't think we can stop the current war machine. I'm not fired up. I'm pinned down.

Isn't this the way a lot of people (especially bohos) feel when they get to be my age? I can't say. I do know that the world I was so confident of creating isn't the one I live in now. Precisely because it was so real, the revolution had to be rolled back. There's a special pain that comes with witnessing that sort of defeat. You see what's missing, and you want to turn away. When I think of the veterans of Vietnam protests who have lately discovered the hawk within I see people determined to escape from loss. They need to identify with the present and they want to be on the winning side.

Power to who? A 1969 anti-war demo on Wall Street.
photo: Fred W. McDarrah
Power to who? A 1969 anti-war demo on Wall Street.

I can dig it. Status motivated me in the '60s, though I was no more willing to admit it than these neo-hawks are. After a demo, I always felt horny. I might not have been so eager to get wild in the streets if that hadn't made me frisky in the sheets. It wasn't just adrenaline; it was the confidence that came with prestige. In order to get that charge at a demo today, you have to smash a window, or worse. But if you're peaceful in your protest, you must cope with low status and a general absence of aura. You have to act up without expecting to get off. That's what it's like to stand outside your time.

Quakers have the strength for this, and they're still out there witnessing in Washington Square. But you don't often see such people on TV. What you see on a regular basis are silver warplanes streaking through pristine skies. You hear promises that Gulf War II will be as quick and easy as a microwavable entrée. Flags flutter perpetually in the corner of the screen. But the triumphant imagery is accompanied by a soundtrack of warnings about terror in our midst. This is the classic rhythm of fear and fantasy that stokes people up for war. It's very destabilizing, and with enough repetition it can make you forget what you know.

What I know is that this war makes me feel like I did when my black friends got kicked off the street. I realize now why I used to get nauseous. It was my body's way of keeping me from striking out against impossible odds. Back then I only had cops to worry about, but now I don't know where to start. I'm afraid of Al Qaeda, but also of the government's capacity to stage a "terrorist" incident. (Who could resist John Ashcroft's proposal to legalize secret arrests after that?) And I'm frightened by the willful blindness to the greatest empire-building scheme of my lifetime. How can smart people lose their grasp of political reality? What else might they lose if things don't go our way? I have found a more adult response than nausea to questions like these. I get depressed. It has the same effect.

These days I often wonder how righteous Germans reacted to the gathering storm of fascism, and how they endured when it struck. I reckon those who couldn't leave got depressed. It inhibits resistance and can easily be mistaken for consent. Of course, this isn't Nazi Germany. We don't have to be passive in order to survive. We have much more responsibility because we can act. It doesn't matter whether we succeed or not. In a melancholy time, moving is what counts.

That's why I'm heading to 49th Street on Saturday. I need to kick depression's ass. I need to connect with people who aren't burned out. I need to speak truth to power again. And, yeah, I want to get laid. I guess that means I still have hope.

Related Article:
"Don't Fence Them In: NYC Peace Activists Vow to Face Down Bush's War" by Sarah Ferguson

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