There’s something so very sad about the grizzled and the gray-haired sobbing from the dock, waving their hankies at a ship that long ago left the shore.
Ah, “the good old days,” they tell each other, that golden age when everything made sense and everyone was terrific. Well, not everything (war and racism were bad!) and not everyone (Henry Kissinger! Richard Nixon!). But we—bless us—were all smart as hell, doing our exemplary work, pretty much in harmony, and it was an all-around great time to be alive. Beyond compare, really.
It’s all nonsense, of course, so predictable and so tedious, don’t you think?
Rejection of the new and resentment of the young, the elders preaching about everything from how to raise the kids to how to organize a movement or engage in politics—“we did things better back in the day”—boring!
I always point out to my peers that they already raised their kids, that they likely did some things well and messed up some other things, and that maybe it’s time to shut the fuck up up and let the kids raise their kids in their own way. The old folks look right through me, shuffling along, scolding and hectoring and finger-wagging as they go.
Sometimes the nostalgia takes a deeply disturbing turn, leading to a more toxic generational jealousy—contentless name-calling, empty critique that adds nothing to the urgent question of what is to be done right here and right now—and a more destructive and threatening force is unleashed into the world.That should never happen—we should stop it.
But old people seem incapable sometimes of taking a deep breath, listening for a while, joining in and following along. They just got to have their say. And since 2018 is the 50th anniversary of “just about everything,” because, well, because it’s 50 years since the magic of 1968, the old people are extra-gabby.
Sometimes the chatter can be perversely amusing—for example, a bit of backward thinking lit up the internet recently in an exchange between old SDSers bickering about what happened with the student movement fifty years ago. As always, the chatterers stayed assiduously inside their SDS silo (no Black Freedom Movement is acknowledged, no SNCC or Black Panther Party, no Vietnamese revolution appears) and tellingly avoided exploring historic trends (the longterm decline of the US empire, for example). Bombast replaced content, name calling substituted for analysis, deep feeling stood in for evidence. And as usual, none of the commentariat is an active movement builder or community organizer today. Still each seemed urgent to croak out one last word—for the record!—before shuffling off this mortal coil.
One prominent former SDS leader grumbled the traditional old man complaint: today’s youth don’t listen to me at all, and they’re so arrogant! The worm has turned.
The silliest bit of all was offered up by the self-styled CEO of “The 1960s, Inc.”, Todd Gitlin himself. Scholar, commentator, and talking-head, his phone number is first on the Rolodex of every reporter who covers the Left. (What? There are no Rolodexes?!) I’m determined to outlive Todd simply because I don’t want to read his dime-store comment about me, and no obituary of anyone from the student movement is complete without a glib and shallow “word from Todd”—which rhymes interestingly with a “Word from God.”
In the current back and forth Todd told his credulous compatriots that they must read Art Eckstein’s Bad Moon Rising—an “essential source” he claimed. And what makes it so important, you ask? Simple: “It’s …based on recently declassified documents, elaborating on FBI operations vis-a-vis SDS…” Wow!! Now we know the “true story,” according to Todd, the honest and authoritative account, because…wait for it: it’s from the FBI!
Wake the fuck up, people! The FBI is a criminal enterprise, and it always has been. Lying and misrepresentation, dishonesty and deceit are baked into its DNA. Disruption is its calling card, wreckage its signature, and murder its everyday practice. Malcolm X, Fred Hampton, Martin Luther King, Jr.—the FBI left its fingerprints at every crime scene.
Former FBI director James Comey was usually quick on the draw when it came to labeling acts of violence “terrorism”—after all, he had an annual $3.3 billion dollar budget to counter terror—but he hesitated in the case of Dylann Roof’s massacre of nine African Americans in the Charleston Emanuel AME church on June 17, 2015. Why? It was “horrific,” he acknowledged, but “terrorism” is “more of a political act and . . . I don’t see it as a political act.”
Really? The perpetrator himself saw it as a calculated and willful political act. His “manifesto” was a thoroughly articulated political document, one filled with apocalyptic fantasies and white supremacist daydreams. And still Comey hesitated.
The farce of Comey’s ambiguity is telling: it reveals the selective and hypocritical deployment of “terrorist/terrorism” as propaganda by the paid agents of the ruling class. Comey’s FBI labeled acts of vandalism “terrorism,” including breaking windows, hammering on nuclear silos, disabling tractors in ancient forests or airplanes set to bomb civilians, freeing caged animals, and more. As a founding member of the Weather Underground in 1970 I know from close experience just how sweeping—and sticky—that label can become.
I’m reluctant to use the word at all—it flows so automatically into the rushing propaganda stream unleashed by the so-called war on terror, screaming insistently for a permanent state of war, more US aggression, more assassinations and torture, more ethnically based surveillance and repression, more suspicion and fear, more surveillance, more targeting of Arabs and Muslims. But I’ll make an exception here: Dylann Roof is a white supremacist Christian and a terrorist, his actions part of a long legacy of terrorism carried out against captured Africans and later their descendants. The history of organized terror against African Americans begins with the capture and kidnapping of Africans, tortured, raped, and transported to the Americas as chattel, none of them willing volunteers on the Middle Passage. This massive crime against humanity was state-sanctioned, legal terror.
Enslaved people ran away and resisted in a thousand ways, and after hundreds of years legal slavery was abolished. A decades-long campaign of terror against free Black people began immediately—pogroms, arson, displacement, false arrests and imprisonment, night riders, and thousands of public-spectacle lynchings. White gangs rampaged on a whim through African American communities in Chicago, St. Louis, Tulsa, Rosewood, and hundreds of other places, and the message was clear: white supremacy would police the racial boundaries and punish any transgression.
Dylann Roof’s murderous outburst can be located within that long history of organized violence against African Americans to accomplish a political goal: the maintenance of white supremacy.
The latest FBI invitation to murder and mayhem is its Counterterrorism Division report entitled, “Black Identity Extremists Likely Motivated to Target Law Enforcement.” This dirty, devious report directly targets Black Lives Matter, and it’s a demonstrably filthy lie, but it’s doing its evil work right now. Come on people, don’t give the FBI an inch.