Reflections on the Sixties
I am a fifty-five year-old, female survivor of the late sixties, who walked away from yet another round of protests when Mills College went on strike some time after America invaded Cambodia in the spring of 1970. Or have I forgotten which protest was for which offense by which president? Having danced in the streets that led to the induction center in San Francisco and frolicked as we built People’s Parks in Berkeley, I just gave up, losthope, went home to my parents’ home in Beverly Hills, and floated in the pool like Dustin Hoffman. Meanwhile, my more dedicated friends reveled in their amnesty from consequences for not finishing their semester’s homework and took their outrage to the streets.
I didn’t have the heart for it anymore. At the induction center, our dance troop, all dressed in black, had held hands in a circle and had sung songs of peace while blue colored laborers standing outside of warehouse doors leaning on their produce trucks leered and wolf whistled as we whirled about in protest, our shoulder- length- or- longer hair flying as freely as our braless breasts. Peaceful protests in Berkeley broke into shooting violence, blinding a boy on a roof and breaking our idealistic spirits.
After the murders of Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr. King in my last year of high school, I still had hope even though Chicago, then my home, had practically become a police state when King’s death spawned riots and curfews, destroying what was supposed to be the best year of my childhood. I stopped showing up for cheerleading practice, started smoking pot, and didn’t even go to my senior prom. Instead, I began my plot to escape to the Bay Area, find Haight Ashbury, and get my share of free love.
My parents were relocating to Trousdale in California where they could live better and make more money, so I convinced them easily that Oakland was the perfect distance from Rodeo Drive and that an all- women’s college would be just the thing to keep me safe. Yeah right! Once I had unpacked my college wardrobe in my dorm, I grabbed my army-navy, Seafarer bellbottom jeans, let down my hair, and looking much like a teenybopper version Janis Joplin, I headed for the city to find The Fillmore and the place in Golden Gate Park where Santana played for free while crowds of half-dressed, hairy people passed large jugs of acid-laced cool-aid from stranger to stranger, then joined in a sort of tribal love dance, gyrating and jumping for hours energized by LSD and hope.
What were we hoping for? Peace, love, freedom, and happiness. We wanted a culture that scorned war, encouraged us to love whomever we chose, valued nature and all people, and fought members of an establishment that wanted us to become just like them. Somehow, in time, we lost hope. Everything changed. The Haight turned into a haven for drug addicts and homeless runaways. The war escalated, and the lottery took away the boys back home whom we loved and sent them home in flag- draped caskets. Santana grew popular, and we had to pay to see and hear what had always been free at the new Fillmore that just wasn’t the same. Hitchhiking became dangerous, I was nearly raped by a pervert who offered me a ride, and I found myself walking down the highway from Berkeley to Oakland, alone and disillusioned and depressed. Cynical, I didn’t make it back to San Francisco for nearly thirty years.
I went “home” after turning in all of my assignments for the semester, shopped for clothes more decent than the jeans I had been wearing for two years, bought a white lace dress, then married an angry, young man that June and moved to Austin, Texas, which at the time was a pleasure playground for hippie students at UT. The place was alive with country music and Texas style anti-Establishment rhetoric, and the carnival atmosphere on the main drag reminded me a lot of Telegraph Avenue at UC Berkeley, so new hope bloomed from my despair as I learned to love the honkytonks, the two step, and the Armadillo World Headquarters. But the war had continued, and I got my first breath of tear gas at a peaceful protest just outside the LBJ Library as I saw my fellow subversives dragged away in paddy wagons as helicopters buzzed overhead and armored police surrounded us. By then, I hated my materialistic parents, the capitalistic establishment, the hawkish government and my brooding husband, who had grown more drunken and less angry during his fruitless years in graduate school trying to write a dissertation about an obscure writer about whom nobody knew or cared. Bored and disillusioned, I did what any broke, alienated 21-year-old college graduate would do to save a hopeless marriage: I had a baby. She would give me hope, or so I thought.
I meekly tried to kill myself about a week after she was born, and was divorced, alone, and destitute just a year later…but I still had my good looks, long, beautiful hair, and some sex appeal, especially in the horny eyes of the fat politicians who worked in the capital a few blocks away from campus and the rednecks who liked the hippie girls, so I parked my child at an all-night, day care center and went to work for what I thought was a massage parlor. Tips were great for a while, and I could pay the rent, but the other girls were turning tricks, and I fell out of grace with the owner even though I agreed to do certain favors for special customers just to keep my job. But the pressure and temptation got the best of me, and this little Beverley Hills princess gone astray found herself in jail late one afternoon after giving a “local” the night before to an undercover cop. I left my baby in the arms of one of the whores and went quietly, knowing the irony of my being taken away while the other big money makers stayed behind. Talk about hopeless. I was there. The brothel owner got her lawyer to spring me from my cell within a few hours, and the charges kind of went away with the promise that I would never do it again, but I was about as low as I could go on the hopeless scale.
What little I had left of my self respect kept me from asking my parents for help, and I did have my degree and my baby, so I had to do something. With my ethics already compromised, it was not difficult to pursue an affair with a married man, get him to leave his wife, and persuade him to get a place with me so I could get out of the cockroach ridden dump that I was paying too much for on my own. At the time, child support had been set at a walloping $125.00 a month, which my ex thought was inordinately high price to pay to avoid becoming a dead beat bum in the eyes of his family. I think he called it extortion. There was no money for me because there was no money.
But my new man loved me for a while, and I love him, so I had hope. I gave little thought to the bad karma that came with shacking up with my ex husband’s best drinking pal and stealing somebody’s husband. “He had been cheating on her for a long time with other men’s wives,” I figured, “so what the hell.” But old dogs don’t learn new tricks, so eventually he drifted back into the bars full of lonely women while I stumbled my way through graduate school studying literature and learning to be a teacher, though I had once hoped to be an honest lawyer. When I finished my masters degree, there came new hope: I could actually teach college English classes for nearly nothing as a teaching assistant and do something respectable, something that I could tell my parents about. Having read the now-dated text book Teaching as a Subversive Activity, I knew that I had a new chance to do my liberal thing as part of the establishment. I would make a difference somehow, even if I had to starve in the process. This was it. Hope sprung, but not eternally.
That was 1975. I have been teaching ever since for over thirty years, most recently with the unrealistic hope that I would see no child in Dallas, Texas left behind. Believing that a respected school such as the famed Highland Park High School would not be filled with bigots, what with their strong Christian faith, their massive fortunes, and their Republican family values, I accepted a position teaching the elite’s most ”Talented and Gifted” ninth graders. How naïve I was to believe that educated people would embrace an intellectual who sought to open the minds of their children and make them think about things they didn’t ordinarily think about. They nearly burned me at the stake before I finally got it that I should “cut and run” begging the administration to “Leave me my good name” much as John Proctor did before they hanged him for hanging on to his integrity. So much for working through the system to subvert it.
Now, I am semi-retired, teaching a couple of community college classes to keep my depression at bay and my mind alert while I wait for my daughter to graduate from a private Dallas high school that costs me and my third husband over twenty grand a year. We live in a track house, he works hard for his money, and I hope for the future. I dream that stem cell research will be funded so that my daughter, a juvenile diabetic, will live to see a healthy adulthood. I dream that I will be able to afford to move to Oregon still in good health, and that when I get there, the air will be clean and cool and that the liberals will not have moved on to escape global warming. I dream that my biracial grandchildren in San Jose will never feel the degradation that Mexican immigrants, legal or not, feel when they are called aliens rather than human beings. I hope that when America votes in November, they will have the good sense to look beyond the republican rhetoric and search for the truth about Bush and his war in Iraq, then vote to end his reign of “terror.” I hope that social security still exists when I am sixty-five and that Hillary Clinton get the chance to do for health care what she tried to do when Bill first won the presidency.
We “liberals” have taken quite a beating for holding on to some of our idealism and integrity while struggling to live within a system that has tried to destroy us, so we have grown practically invisible. Traveling all over this country, I have asked myself, “Where have all of the hippies gone?” I suppose that some have fled and are living the not-so-Utopian-counter-culture life that we imagined. Others have certainly gone over to the other side or simply have assimilated in order to survive. Now, many of us are hopefully waiting for the republicans to self-destruct. Maybe then, will win another chance at getting what we were searching for in our youth: a culture that scorns war, encourages us to love whomever we choose, values nature and all people, and fights members of the establishment who want us to become just like them.