Zachary Klein

zachI’ve read a ton of articles about how my hippie-dippy brothers and sisters from the 60s and 70s accomplished “nothing” during our period as activists. How my generation set the stage for right of center (being polite here) administrations and repressive laws. How my generation failed to block Reagan’s revolution. How my generation ultimately opted into the capitalistic status quo—worried only about upward mobility and shekels. These analyses must be true; I’ve seen them on CNN. Problem is, these analyses are bullshit.

Not gonna put lipstick on a pig. We didn’t stop Nixon from gutting Great Society programs. Certainly didn’t stop Reagan from funneling great amounts of wealth from the middle/working/poor classes to the rich and powerful under the guise of “trickle down” economics. Weren’t able to push Clinton toward progressive policies, or stop the upward flow of money under Democratic governance. Couldn’t even slow the egregious wars that occurred after the seventies. Nonetheless, it’s still bullshit…

Because our legacy continues to march on. Women’s equality, LGBT rights recognition, and yes, the anti-war movement. Does anyone actually believe that 30+ percent of the population would have initially objected to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan had we not fought against the war in Vietnam? Truth is, the 60s and 70s continued to lay the foundation for today’s real political struggles (and no, I don’t mean the presidential race). Our work and commitment, like all foundations, often goes unnoticed, overshadowed by our “sex, drugs, and rock and roll” reputation.

While my intention is not to pat my generation’s back, I also want to point out that a large number of our children have followed in our footsteps. Not necessarily taking to the streets, but you can find them working in social service agencies or inner city schools, or as medical family practitioners (among others) and exposing the underbelly of intolerance and injustice in books, music, journalism, and art.

And not just our children. Folks fighting today are connected to those who came before. As were we. Each generation does not re-invent the wheel when it comes to the struggle for peoples’ dignity and rights. Or against oppression, wars, and dehumanization.

In truth, people who are currently striving for what we, of the 60s and 70s, believe to be right and true, have built upon our work and burrowed into the heart of our country’s societal madness.

Two issues immediately jump to mind—not including climate change, which our Republican presidential candidates refuse to acknowledge.

#BlackLivesMatter is not simply a response to current conditions, but the next step in a long bloody road that stretches from our birth as a nation to Roberts v. City of Boston (1848), to reconstruction, to the founding of the NAACP, to Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, Black Panthers to today. But until recently, the keyword was racism and racism just doesn’t do justice to the brutal, scarring oppression that African-Americans have faced throughout their entire US history. (For an up close and personal, please read Between The World and Me, an extraordinary depiction of present day African-American life by Ta-Nehisi Coates.)

White supremacy, the belief that White people are superior to those of all other races, especially the Black race, and should therefore dominate society, dates back to the 1500s. And yet the United States has made it our own. White supremacy is imbued in our culture, is our culture, and exists inside each and every one of us so called White people.

During my lifetime I’ve seen an expansion of civil rights, an amelioration of discrimination, but until now I hadn’t experienced White people slowly inching toward acknowledgement of White supremacy and how it has affected and contemporaneously affects the lives (and deaths) of people of color–especially African-Americans. I’m beginning to see that today. With shame, it took a drumbeat of police shootings and mass incarcerations to finally slam that reality onto the table. If nothing else, this, in and of itself, is damning evidence of our willful blindness.

Although the Occupy movement is no longer in the streets, its fading light continues to shine on the current, horrific reality beneath the rather bland words of income inequality. Again, if not a direct descendent, a descendent nonetheless of movements whose candles often flicker but will not be extinguished. When a society passes the Robber Baron redline something has to give and it CAN’T be 90% of our country. We now live in a society that rewards a company’s stockholders rather than its workers who are paid so little they often need to supplement their income with food stamps. Please.

We can only hope they have gone too far, or we can be effective enough, to believe in a sleeping giant. If only 60 percent of that 90% actually suffer day-to-day from this “income disparity” (a disproportionate number of sufferers being African-American), that giant has the potential to be awakened by this or the next generation who pick up Occupy’s torch, who itself picked it up from…

And if awakened (admittedly a big ‘if’), woe to those few who have stolen and hoarded our nation’s wealth.

No, it’s not the sixties anymore and it sure ain’t Kansas. I’m no Pollyanna or soothsayer but what I see around me, what I experience coming from this generation, gives me hope. The issues mentioned (and there are many more) represent a frontal assault on the engine that drives this country. And that engine will not go quietly into the night. But “a journey of a thousand mile march begins with a single step,” and we took that step a long time ago.

It’s not denial. I’m just selective about the reality I accept. ~ Bill Watterson


  1. Well said!
    If accepting the blame promised any measure of fixing the mistakes, I’ll gladly volunteer. Beyond the sin-eaters and finger-pointers, there are probably enough people aching for a little truth and reconciliation. They’re ready to reject the ongoing, on-the-fly, rewrite of our history for a false narrative in order to find better ways.

    • Bill–Thanks. It’s gonna be a long, slow, slog but change doesn’t come easy. We have our entire history as proof. But there really isn’t any choice if we want our species to survive. And people today are slowly understanding that. I hope.

  2. If you say so….

    I see it all differently though, I see your sides part and my sides part as unwitting accomplices is making our country week and feeble.

    The family is weaker.

    Trickle down/social welfare are two sides of a terrible coin that serves no greater good but puts the welfare of the people of this country in the hands of greedy businessmen or incompetent government agencies.

    “Progressives” in their march for “equality” blindly join any protest that comes about from any possible perceived wrong doing and get behind catchphrases like #blacklivesmatter when the real answer to our problem is #alllivesmatter.

    As for the “sex, drugs and rock and roll” reputation? That attitude in general is one that has caused great harm, though I’d personally not blame rock and roll in and of its self, but irresponsible sex leads to more elective medical procedures, destroys life, lives, and has left more people in positions to fend for themselves than restraint ever did. The war on drugs is a joke, but the lie that drugs are not harmful to ourselves and society is just a dangerous.

    You speak about woman’s rights but neglect the reality that women get demonized for doing what they desire when they desire to do something contrary to the feminist ideology of whatever presently accepted leftist controls the agenda wagon.

    But alas some good has come… there’s no doubt in that?

    • Don. Not surprised that we see things differently but you make a couple of statements that perplex me. ““Progressives” in their march for “equality” blindly join any protest that comes about from any possible perceived wrong doing and get behind catchphrases like #blacklivesmatter when the real answer to our problem is #alllivesmatter.” Of course all lives matter but #BlackLivesMatter is way more than a “catchphrase” given our history which runs to the present. To somehow deny the degree of oppression that African-Americans suffer from is to turn a blind eye toward the nuts and bolts of our country’s history. And I see no evidence that progressives “blindly” jump on onto any protest “that comes along.” I think you might *feel* that way but it’s inaccurate. I also (no surprise) disagree with your take about women and leftists. There may be some examples that support your belief, but again, those examples are few and far between. But yes. Some good has come.

  3. Well written, Zach. I live my life lost in my own little Kansas and forget the meaningful issues that folks are struggling with every day. Yesterday I was feeling sorry for myself as I climbed into my beautiful Toyota and drove away from my 4 bedroom home in La-la land. I thought to myself, “What the fuck????” My god, I do get lost. Thank you for reminding me.

    • Kathleen–Thanks, but I never experience you being lost or forgetting about the struggles that people live through. Just the opposite. Very sensitive toward other peoples’ hopes and aspirations.

  4. A brilliant piece of work dear Zach. Loved every word and every word rings with truth–you have tossed another log onto the forever simmering, Chimes of Freedom. You have certainly rekindled my personal conflagration and hopefully in many other left-overs who still burn brightly with faith and hope while being involved in the labor of activity and good works. Thank you for spitting up your inner feelings in a beautifully eloquent and compassionate expression of true gut-wrenching emotions. When it come to speaking the truth, a good man is hard to find.

    • Dennis–Coming from you, a truth-teller, this has to be one of the best compliments I’ve received. Thank you. All I can really say is I call ’em like I see ’em. Too old to change now.

  5. Don’t find anything I can disagree with here from you, Zach. I’m envious of your optimism. I have trouble maintaining mine TODAY, but I try. Deep down, I know it is all we have.

  6. Zach,
    Very punchy. Good gusto. I want to mention that it is very difficult for white people to grasp what its like to feel always under surveillance. As a minority I know what it is to feel that way and I know that people from the majority don’t experience

    • Jose–Thank you for the kind words. Much appreciated. You’re right, we *don’t* experience it. We can know about it, even watch it happen. But experience? Absolutely not. But we can try to learn and stand shoulder to shoulder with those who do face it every day. The book I mentioned in the column is pretty amazing at conveying a society built upon White supremacy. Has garnered a lot of attention and deservedly so. Anyhow, thanks for taking the time to read and comment.

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