Monday, 12 March 2018

Love It or Leave It

It was on the night of November 7th, 1972 when it finally sunk in—the United States, the country I grew up in, and the only country I had ever known, was never going to change.  Blood would continue to pour from the abattoir of Vietnam, bigotry and hate could sink back down into their comfortable chairs, reassured that the status quo would remain the status quo.   The “Silent Majority,” who had always been a sucker for a flam-flam man or a tough guy, had put on their rose-colored glasses, waved their American flags, and had given “Tricky Dick” Nixon another “Four More Years.” as President.
The night had confirmed what the polls had been saying for months; a landslide for Nixon.  George McGovern, my candidate, the Democratic nominee had been unlucky throughout this rocky presidential campaign.  He had to change his Vice Presidential choice half way through the campaign when it came out that he had once been given electrical shock therapy for depression.  That had been bad enough, but it was McGovern’s “radical”, “left wing”, and “extremist ” platform of immediately ending the Vietnam War, giving amnesty to draft dodgers, and instituting a guaranteed minimum income for the poor, that Americans didn’t like, but to my socialist mind, that was exactly the change America needed. 
Nixon on the other hand, sitting on an enormously big cushion of money, not only had kept the war going in his previous four year term, but had expanded it by bombing Cambodia and Laos, all the while touting, “Peace With Honor.”  He talked tough, and in his platform he developed the “Southern Strategy”, opposing school desegregation in the South, in order to warm the hearts of all those racist “Good Old Boys” and to keep the blacks in their place.  
The last ten years of my life had been one long grueling course in American fundamentalism.  The individual lessons had been brutal and so numerous, they where now just a blur in my mind:  President Kennedy assassinated,  President Johnson lying about the Gulf of Tonkin, the supposed justification for the Vietnam War, civil rights workers murdered in the South, Martin Luther King Jr. assassinated, thousands of antiwar demonstrators ignored and beaten by police, Robert Kennedy assassinated, an ever increasing amount of young Americans being sent off to die in Vietnam, Nixon elected President, cluster bombs, napalm, and Agent Orange reigning down, not only on Vietnam, but also on Cambodia and Laos, and then there were the four antiwar students killed by the National Guard at Kent State University. 
It had been a long, frustrating, and brutal period in my life, and every time I got a whiff of hope that things might change, it had been dashed by the reality of what my fellow American citizens really wanted their government do. 
      I had seen some light when Eugene McCarthy ran as a peace candidate for the Democrats in 1968, but the Democratic Party instead chose for their candidate, Vice President Hubert Humphrey, a man tied to President Johnson’s war policy.  In the end it didn’t really matter because Tricky Dick Nixon, “Mr. Law and Order”, who spouted he had a secret plan to end the war in Vietnam, was ushered into the White House by the good people of America and back into the gloom I went. 
Then in 1972, George McGovern announced he would run as a peace candidate for the Democrats, then Robert Kennedy, who had a real chance of winning, also jumped in as another peace candidate, but an assassin’s bullet put an end to his campaign.  McGovern persisted and with the help of young antiwar activists, won the Democratic nomination for President.  Hope returned again, and I volunteered my time working for the McGovern campaign. 
      The election of 1972 provided the American voters with a distinct choice.  They could vote for four more years of slimy Nixon, or change direction and go with a sincere, progressive, anti-war Democrat.  
       Although the polls looked bad for McGovern, the Watergate Break-in into the National Office of the a Democrats during the summer before the vote, showed all the hallmarks of being one of the Republican “Dirty Tricks.”  When it was discovered that two of the five burglars arrested worked for the Re-Elect Nixon Committee, I had clung to the hope that maybe things would turn around, but unfortunately the direct links to Nixon were not established until the following summer, after he was re-elected with the largest lead in US history.
Over those bad years, I was slowly forming an opinion of the American public.  As a long-haired, anti-war, university graduate and conscientious objector, I had seen and felt the hate in the eyes of many of the people in conservative Indiana when they looked at me.  I had been spat upon once, just standing at the side of the road outside a small rural Indiana town, as I was trying to hitch a ride home for the weekend while doing my stint as a Conscientious Objector in Indianapolis.
       I was beginning to feel the discrimination and hate in the US that blacks and other minorities had experienced all of their lives, so when the votes of the 1972 election where counted, the results didn’t really come as a great surprise to me, but it was a bit of a shock to see just how overwhelming and lopsided the vote for Nixon was.  McGovern had won only one state—Connecticut.
      It was not uncommon in Indiana to see, next to the “Re-Elect President Nixon” bumper stickers on the back of cars, a bumpersticker that said, “America, Love It or Leave It.”  I had gotten to the point where I was really having trouble mustering up much affection, for this country I had grown up in. Too much reality had shown me that all those American myths that had been drilled into me since childhood, about equality, justice, and America being a peace loving nation, were false. 
        Watching the 1972 election results on that night in a November, planted a new realization in my mind, a powerful one.  The American system of government was based on “the Will of the People,” and this election, where a clear choice had been presented, had just shown me what the “will” of the “people” really was, and I wanted no part of it.  
         I realized that at the base of it, America, throughout its history, had always been populated with just too many jingoistic, racist, uninformed, and unquestioning cowboy-types, and I no longer trusted them to create the kind of future I wanted to live in, and I began to think about that “Love it or Leave it” bumpersticker and started considering the possibility that maybe they were right.  It was clear that the kind of country they wanted was different than the kind of country I wanted, and there were just too many of them for me to ever get the kind of compassionate country I desired to spend my life in. 
       So I started looking around for a new country, and discovered a really good one just north of the United States.  This country had a more compassionate history, it had sheltered the runaway slaves from America, it had provided refuge for the Indian tribes fleeing from annihilation in the States, and more currently relevant, it refused to participate in the Vietnam War and provided sanctuary for Americans whose conscience made them refuse participation in that war. And while no place is perfect, Canada, to quote lyrics from a Flying Burrito Brother’s song on the subject, “may be just my kind of town.”
      Another big attraction of Canada was its politics. I had read an article in one of the news magazines about how the citizens of British Columbia had just elected Dave Barrett, a Socialist, to be their Premier. 
      “Wow, imagine that,” I thought, “Up in Canada, the people voted and actually elected a Socialist.”  That was amazing to me.  I was a Socialist, and in America, Socialists were considered to be the same as Communists, and Communists had about the same status as pedophiles.
    Finally, I started having hope for a life that suited my values.
    The story continues on tomorrow’s blog.

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