The Current Generation of ‘Woke’ Activists Join a Long Legacy of Political and Civil Rights Activism

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Bob Grant talks about how the current generation of young political activists, who often speak about being woke to the issues that we currently face in American society, are joining the legacies of activists from previous generations who have seen the same political and civil rights issues unfold throughout the decades.

Current political activists seem to take great pride in what they say is their “woke” condition.  What they mean, I assume, is that after the 2016 election and the events following, they realized that America has  serious problems that they never fully understood or they never recognized.  Chief of which, is that we elected a crazed Commander in Chief. 

Those of us who came of age in the 1960’s recognized these problem areas more than 50 years ago and now welcome the company in the fight.   

We children of the anti Vietnam war movement were not single focus protesting against the war. Many went on unintended voyages of discovery as we advocated against the war and discovered the other important movements: civil rights, women’s, environmental, free speech, gay rights, the criminal justice system, economic inequity, and the general abuse of power by those in power   

Our protests resulted in some pretty harsh personal lessons which woke us to the reality of America which we have brought with us as we aged.    

College campus protesters were often arrested, introducing us to the unequal American Criminal Justice system.  We watched police lie in court when these campus “radicals” came to trial. 

We were lied to and lied about, introducing us to “adult” behavior from persons in positions of authority. President Johnson lied about an “unprovoked attack on American warships” and got authorization in the Gulf of Tonkin resolution to run the war without any restraints.  His lies killed more than 37,000 U.S. soldiers and countless Vietnamese.  But Johnson also woke us to the idea that there had to be national action on civil rights, voting rights and poverty.  His 1965 “War On Poverty” lives on in one of the most successful anti-poverty educational programs, Head Start.    

Penalties were meted out in unrelated areas, such as the termination of scholarships, or loss of jobs or a diminished grade for speaking out, marching and participating in protest activities.    

College and university administrators tried hard to quash protests and fired student school newspaper editors who wrote against the war.  These same editors also voiced strong opinions on a number of rules for students which were anti-democratic at best and often unconstitutional.  The response of those running the citadels of enlightenment was to silence the dissenters    

Among the positives, alliances were formed between civil rights activists and the anti-war groups as we recognized commonality of interests and the fact that the people sending young men and women to die in South-East Asia were the same ones sustaining Jim Crow in the south and economic inequality everywhere.  We also woke to the idea that opposition to injustice was not limited; that leadership depended on actions not gender.   

We “woke” to the daily body count not just  of dead soldiers and civilians but also of our sons’ bodies discovered under an earthen dam and we watched TV cameras recording the burned out hulk of buses which carried activists to register voters and the debris-field of blasted churches and then the pictures of little girls in their Sunday best slaughtered in the name of hate and prejudice. 

We are now in a time of great national peril as hate is normalized, lies from the highest levels of government are accepted, the standards of civility are crumbling and our democratic institutions are under attack both from within and without.    

It has never been more important that we move forward together.  Neither youth nor gray hair and wrinkles disqualify ideas and experience. 

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