DAY-GLO AND NAPALM: UConn from 1967 to 1971
George Jacobi ©2018
A small innocuous on-campus house is surrounded by angry UConn students, its front porch protected by armed, helmeted State Police and University Security Officers. The Riot Act has already been read to the 100 or so protesters, whose shoulders are hunched in Navy peacoats against a bitter north wind. It’s the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, 1968. Some of those students spent the previous night with faces lit only by black lights, psychedelic music swirling around them. Smoke from illegal hash pipes drifted out dorm windows. A relaxed but resolute fellowship, they temporarily dwelt in an imaginary world.
Today, back in the daylight, they want UConn to divest itself from the military industrial complex, to stop recruiting for Olin Matheson, manufacturer of missiles for the Vietnam War. In fact, they insist. They chant, they yell, they watch as the most committed among them climb onto the porch to put their bodies in the way of the war machine. This world is far from imaginary. Clubs swing, rocks fly, heads are bloodied. Twenty-one are arrested.
Within two years, the Student Union Mall will be filled with 4000 UConn students – now the entire college is on strike. What is it with these young people? For many, trust in the establishment, from government to church to the University, has completely evaporated. Something is badly broken. How have these middle-class kids, in just a year or two, come to a point of complete resistance to America herself?
The 50th Anniversary of 1969 is more than an appropriate time for this exhibit; it’s also the last significant anniversary when many participants in this bit of history will be alive. Most of the counter-cultural political drama at UConn took place between 1968 and 1970 – ‘69 is a fitting centerpiece. Despite continued racial and anti-war protests, such communal events as the Woodstock Music Festival made 1969 almost feel like a short respite between the more violent bookends of the other two years.
It’s been said my generation was the last to believe the government was benevolent, but sadly, that doesn’t seem to be true. We’re each in our own bubble, and it’s hard to see out. Today America is again divided. Truth, progress, and respect for differences are in retreat; ever-present media make it seem like unrest bordering on fury is on our daily menu. Perhaps increased discernment can come with a look back at a tumultuous period right here at UConn. We continue to live in the safest, most peaceful period in recorded history (although a strong argument can be made that the bill for that hasn’t yet been paid). Technology and medicine have changed the world more than politics. Notwithstanding today’s alarms, since World War Two Earth’s humans suffer and die from war, poverty, and disease at a much lower rate than at any time since the birth of agriculture. And some of that is the result of students in those years directing the world’s attention to healing the environment and the divisions between us that inhibit human freedom and justice. Noam Chomsky: “That decade bore testimony to the value of the democratic idea. It just changed consciousness in a lot of ways.” That short period encapsulated what we refer to as “The Sixties”. Though the Vietnam War, the Civil Rights Movement, and the rest of the political and social trends began much earlier, this is when they erupted into flames on college campuses, and UConn was no exception. As students then, we had a first-hand look at the battle line – and many of us were on it. In retrospect, it’s no surprise that the older generation was alarmed. If the tide had turned further to the left, America would be a very different place now. But it didn’t. As Peter Tork of the rock group The Monkees said, “The revolution was not tolerated anymore.” Forces of conservatism struck back hard, and the generally gentle pioneers were no match. They faded from the scene quickly, taking shelter while retaining their desire for a fair and peaceful world. Most blended into normal society and attempted to make things better for others.
One’s perception of events depends on age and life experiences. My spin on the era is mostly positive because its effect on me was positive. You may suggest that I drank the Kool-Aid (an expression born of those times) and yeah, I did. For me the era was life-changing in consciousness; the political principles that followed came from that initial perception. Despite the fact that it may have all been an illusion, the counter-culture ethos provoked positive change. Human psychology stretches across a continuum from ‘me first’ to ‘all together now’. I see the late sixties as a brief interlude when the forces of community fought back and succeeded (in some respects) against the usual power dynamic of individual greed.
These Archive photos come from a University-engaged photographer, who I’m sure we all suspected to be the FBI. Every face tells its own tale, whether they chose to participate here or not. Each walked a part of this path, and many footsteps overlapped. Their comments illustrate a variety of viewpoints, thus this is not a scholarly history of events that forms a coherent story of a time and place – those attempts (and attempts they remain) are abundant elsewhere. As much as we might strive for universal truth, life is ultimately a story of individual experience.
Many of the items here may appear to represent frivolous fads. To some they were; to others the convergence of music, spirituality and anti-authoritarianism made them more than that. Though together they seem to embody the era, no-one represented the accumulation of all these elements. Take this as a cautionary lesson about group-think of any kind. You know how people from Afghanistan – or Arizona – think everyone in Connecticut lives in a Greenwich mansion with a pool and a BMW? History is a collection of opinions and spin that takes place consciously – and unconsciously. Can’t be helped.
Does this room contain truth? Like viewing an artwork, what you bring to it is as important as what the artist meant. These words are a memoir, a collection of personal thoughts and impressions. I have tried to keep those out of the exhibit space. You can choose to accept it as a valuable reflection of that time or not, just as you can with the exhibit. Within it, I interpret the decade’s history and revisit dramatic events during those few years at this University. It might help you further visualize the “Sixties”, but it is a memoir, a collection of personal thoughts and impressions. I have tried to keep those out of this exhibit space. You can choose to accept it as a valuable reflection of that time or not, just as you can with this exhibit.
I hope something in here triggers a personal insight for each of you. My understanding of my own life in the Sixties has undergone continual adjustment (particularly since I began this project). On the bright side, finding truth when one is in the middle of an era is even more impossible, and it is a terribly difficult task today. Keep that in mind as you join us in a thought-provoking trip back to UConn in a very different time.
To begin, pretend you’re a white kid growing up in a modest Connecticut town as the Nineteen Fifties become the Sixties. The Mattel Toy Company invents Barbie Dolls in 1959; along with their Winchester Model 94 plastic carbine they are the two most popular toys in our suburban neighborhood. A sandlot baseball game takes place every day of every summer. There are endless fields and woods, and a bridge to jump into the river from. In 7th and 8th grade we sit on the floor in the hall and put our heads between our legs to protect ourselves from an atomic bomb blast. It works! The Cuban Missile Crisis is now recognized as the closest the US and the USSR came to nuclear war. Destroying the PLANET is a concept that is brand new in human thinking. Metaphorically the white picket fence around this New England village, which protected it from too much reality, has started to crumble.
The radio plays early rock and roll but parents rarely let us listen to that trash at home. We’re not allowed to wear t-shirts, jeans, sneakers, or shorts to school. No pants for girls, no skirts above the knee. It’s only in the back of the school bus that we discover swear words worse than “damn” or “hell”.
As freshmen in high school, we watch Walter Cronkite choke up on the CBS evening news as the three long days of the JFK assassination coverage burns itself into our brains. Kennedy gave all of America confidence and pride – and now it’s gone. On a small blurry black-and-white screen Uncle Walter shows film every night of racial violence in the south and the beginnings of a war in a far-away jungle to protect our world from the evils of Communism. The TV then goes right back to heroic cowboy shows and situation comedies where all the Dads come home from work in suits and all the Moms wear dresses and stay home to bake all day. This is almost true. It is a rare woman in the neighborhood who has to work – one income supports a middle class life. TV too protects us from an excess of veracity. America is the “shining city on the hill”, not only respected, but BELOVED across the globe. Nobody makes waves because we’re great – we defeated the most terrible evil in world history and now we’ve turned our attention to economic success for all of mankind. The United States makes three quarters of the world’s manufactured goods. Heck, the Moon is within reach. This is how the world appears from small-town New England.
By sixteen, I am no longer innocent, but because my parents expect continued ethical leadership, I assume any mistakes the United States makes are well-meaning errors of judgement. America is an island of safety and success; since Pearl Harbor there has been no attack on our soil, and everybody wants to be an American. But evidence is trickling in that not all Americans are content – and they have good reasons. The rest of the world too is not so easily fixed.
As the 50s become the 60s, with a last echo of innocence the Beach Boys celebrate surf, chicks, and cars. Then in February of 1964 the Beatles appear on the Ed Sullivan Show. Suddenly girls want me to comb my hair forward. The world is focusing on teen culture through music, partly because this generation is so huge that the smell of money is in the air. Music is important, consuming, because there are few visible alternatives to an apparently soulless adult life. Until now, even if I knew what was happening, it was outside that white picket fence somewhere. Exposure to alternative lifestyles has been non-existent in a way it is now impossible to grasp, but it is leaking through. Bob Dylan has made folk music about the alarming present, not some distant past; Beat icon Allen Ginsberg remembers hearing “A Hard Rain’s a’Gonna Fall”, and says he knew the torch had been passed.
Rock music has become a door through which you can create yourself. In San Francisco people are smoking marijuana and experimenting with LSD, trying a lifestyle of sharing and caring. This I see only through the foggy window of LIFE magazine. Though it quickly becomes a mess, much of it is a genuine desire for spiritual or psychological truth. Any drug use by me at this point would have been viewed by my horrified parents and teachers as a severe mental problem. But this town is too small and naïve for drugs to be available to all but maybe the hippest few kids, and with my quietly religious family I’m not one of them. Thoughtful music, not just tacky teen love songs, is taking over the Top 40 on the AM radio. This too, reflects a search for honesty and relevance; the music evolves from gritty Blues.
It becomes cool for the very first time to be a skinny guitar player, a poet, an artist, not just a jock. As they spread out through the airwaves, these concepts multiply even while the original idea or place becomes corrupted or co-opted, and coalesce into a new way of thinking. They balance the other side of the future, in which America’s inner cities continue to burn, the draft and Vietnam War beckon to anyone not going to college, and nobody inside the picket fence questions any of it. After a brief foray into history, we’ll rejoin me as a freshman at UConn.
THE GENERATION AND ITS INFLUENCES
The political and cultural events that took place at UConn during the years 1967 to 1971 echoed wider American historical forces. These can be broken down into four parts: Politics, Spirituality, Culture, and the Arts. In reality, they were jumbled together; let’s break it down in order to clarify each, this being a rare side benefit of the passage of time.
Thanks to the GI Bill, the Fifties are a favorable time for most Americans home from the War to have a career and raise a family. Powered by Unions as well, the rise of the largest middle class in history finally includes some Black and Latino citizens. Suburbia is invented. The 1964 World’s Fair in New York asserts we’ll all be working far fewer hours and getting there in a flying car, promising that technology only benefits mankind. Robots will do the tough jobs. The future seems so far away that this is almost believable. Are white kids in New England spoiled? Compared with previously, sure we are, and so has every generation since. Growing up then is generally benign, and the result is a chance to examine ourselves and America with less national responsibility than the previous generation. Our patriotism thus leans toward social betterment, not defense or economic progress.
Under the veneer of white middle-class American life rumblings of unrest have begun. Academics are suggesting that modern society is unfulfilling. Rachel Carson has shown America that it is in the process of killing nature with chemicals. Kerouac has been “On the Road” and Jackson Pollock has blown up the art world. Jazz has turned from big band dance music into individual expression. Ginsburg writes “Howl” and thus comes out as a gay man; the book is immediately banned. In Greenwich Village people are “suddenly free of the shackles, the baggage of tradition”: Liam Clancy. Beats and beatniks, though, are portrayed as a joke on TV.
The following list contains that history, phenomena that took place or began prior to 1967. By that year, societal memes are increasingly seen by an influential youth minority as hypocritical or empty of value. It has become apparent that the norms are mythological and serve only the powerful. The trends combine to result in what is initially a quiet insurrection against uncritical acceptance of the status quo. While most of the country isn’t paying attention, there is a cultural shift; all of a sudden something has changed. Several small groups at first, a counter-culture slowly grows. Most folks in America, and at UConn, go about their own lives whether they are sympathetic to this rebellion or not. A majority of UConn students, including us, will spend most of our hours being students.
How does a profound upheaval begin from such a minor movement? A fifth and crucial factor in the creation of this distinct period is newly powerful television. Starting with the Kennedy assassination coverage, it brings the vivid truth about punji sticks in Vietnam, police fire hoses and German Shepherds in Alabama, to all of America as it happens. It will do the same for college unrest. The Baby Boom generation is at its largest and most potent point in these few years. We don’t invent most of these ideas, but we are poised to take them and run.
The Korean War: It shocks America by ending as a disappointing
stalemate, stoking the fear that Vietnam may turn out the same.
The Cold War: Remnants of McCarthyism, fear of Communism, con-
tinue to hold America in a tight grip. Nuclear War is a genuine
threat. The Cold war includes the Space Race, and the USSR has
a head start. In 1959 Cuba, 90 short miles away, becomes
Communist. The negative aspects of Capitalism are kept hidden
in order to compare favorably with Socialism. This is deliberate, a
relaxing of the right-wing attack on the New Deal. Corporate
Imperialism is disguised as support for military dictatorships
around the world as a bulwark against leftist revolution. Propa-
ganda touts American industrial modernization as the future for
the world; the average American’s life improves at the same rate
as the rich elite for a change. The older generation appears to
accept conformity as the price of comfort, security, and growth.
The Kennedy assassination in 1963: Almost immediately following the
release of the Warren Report, it becomes obvious there is some
kind of cover-up going on. Heavy media coverage helps fuel dis-
trust of the Government.
The Civil Rights Era: Also in 1963 – Reverend Martin Luther King’s “I
Have a Dream” speech during a march on Washington. The
struggle for racial justice in the face of hate is visible to all on the
evening news. Cities continue burning with anger from coast to
coast. By 1967, as sad counterpoint to the “Summer of Love”,
there is a well-documented story from Detroit where racist cops
kill three innocent black kids. J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI is investi-
gating King as anti-American, and will do the same to Bobby
Kennedy. Astonishing to us now, there is a third party Presidential
candidate in 1968, George Wallace, whose platform actually
rests on continuing segregation. But calling it state’s rights or
the rule of law and order cannot disguise the vicious repression
of peaceful protest.
The Free Speech Movement 1964: an attempt by Berkeley students to
have the concerns of the Cold War and Civil Rights penetrate
their “ivory tower”, to make college relevant to the real world,
leads to an immediate backlash, including arrests. It’s an early
warning that those in power don’t like to be questioned.
The Vietnam War: President Johnson continues the war, in spite of
making no progress, because he refuses to have America lose.
Through the press, official reports of military success are dis-
covered to be lies, and the secret bombing of Cambodia
becomes known. Various reasons people oppose the war in-
clude that it is imperialism disguised as fear of the domino
effect, that it is butting into a civil war on the corrupt side, that
it is immoral, and that it is unwinnable (or all of the above). By
1966 the Senate itself has hearings about whether to get out
of Vietnam. In 1968 Eugene McCarthy runs for the Democratic
Presidential nomination on a ‘Get out of Vietnam’ platform.
High School classmates are dying because of:
The Draft: This previously accepted fixture of life becomes political.
The government, by failing to protect Civil Rights marchers and
lying about the war as well as music, drugs, pollution, and any-
thing you can name, has lost the faith of young people. They
decide against being part of such a deadly mistake. It is obvious
that kids with pull are escaping the draft while poor kids are
‘cannon fodder’. Draft cards are being burned. In 1969 the Draft
Lottery is instituted. When peaceful protests are made, the
reaction is not just arrests but violence.
Christianity and Judaism fail to rise to the challenge of the Vietnam
War and the Civil Rights Movement, on the heels of an inability
to respond to the emptiness and materialism of the ‘50s. Indiv-
idual religious figures act, larger organizations are silent. Thomas
Merton, William Sloane Coffin, Daniel Berrigan, and others cry
out unheard in the wilderness. How does one believe “Thou Shalt
Not Kill” is a commandment that doesn’t apply to war – when
Jesus refused to defend himself? Once people question stand-
ards and beliefs and find them wanting, they look for meaning
elsewhere. The stage is set for Alan Watts and Gary Snyder to
introduce seekers to Zen Buddhism, and for LSD to introduce
hippies to the idea of expanding their own minds enough to
discover God – WITHOUT organized religion.
Rebels: James Dean in the movie “Rebel Without a Cause” and Bill
Haley’s song “Rock Around the Clock” signal in popular culture
even back in the mid-50s that an undercurrent of unhappiness
and a search for meaning exists in post-war America.
MAD Magazine: effectively satirizes life in the 50s (i.e. your parents).
The Pill: the first oral contraceptive is released in 1960. The Kinsey
Report, followed by Masters and Johnson’s research, shocks
prudish Middle America by actually discussing sex, and women
gain the freedom, the power, and the understanding to control
their own sexuality and pregnancy. These are no small things;
they are a critical key to a changing society and lead to the 1973
Roe vs. Wade decision. Playboy magazine adds to the ‘decline of
morality’ with the first published breasts outside National Geo-
Heavyweight Boxing Champ Muhammed Ali sacrifices his career
(temporarily) by refusing to go to Vietnam when drafted. An
attempted boycott of the 1968 Olympics by black athletes fails,
but the Black Power salute on the medal stand by Tommy Smith
and John Carlos is seen around the world.
Hippies/Drugs: In San Francisco and elsewhere, a small group of avant-
garde folks smoke marijuana, having discovered that it’s no more
harmful than alcohol, and ingest Psilocybin mushrooms and LSD
in a serious attempt to expand their consciousness. They piggy-
back on a decade of scientific research, much of it sponsored by
the CIA. Though their use becomes ‘recreational’ (and then
abused) in a few short years, some are introduced to psychedelic
drugs as a potential spiritual path. Add live rock and roll and
sexual freedom to this pot (pun intended) and you have an
alarming looking curveball thrown at society, which the excitable
media runs with. This confluence of events colors every bit of the
following years of politics, arts, and life in general. In 1967 even
as the ‘hippie’ dream dies in San Francisco, its light spreads to the
rest of America; the Monterey Pop Festival brings it into the
mainstream. “A noble experiment”, recalls Ed Sanders. (In an
amusing coincidence, that year the US, USSR, and others sign
the “Outer Space Treaty”, barring ownership of celestial bodies.)
Radical politics is separate from counter-culture, which follows
the lead of ‘peace and love’. There is no cocaine or heroin in this
world; that appears much later. In Haight/Asbury, the Diggers
have raised some issues. At their Free Store, “everything is free”
is not about self-gratification, but about consciousness. Is it
time for a step forward in human civilization in which food,
shelter, and health care are basic human rights? Fifty years
later we’re still asking ourselves this question.
FM Radio: This garden of musical freedom on the airwaves, until now
ignored by commercial interests, is planted (and grows,
especially at colleges) with the following-
Rock-and-Roll: Rock is biracial. Musically simple, founded on the emo-
tional and sexual energy of Blues, rock is instantly frowned on.
Alarmed by ‘devil’ music, the older white generation cannot re-
late. The dominant society reacts with racism and fear, stoking
teen enthusiasm; the more adult America lies about music and
dance (just as it is lying about drugs) the more popular Rock
gets. A message that “things don’t have to be this way”, it talks
to the young; it becomes an actual barrier between old and new.
By ‘67, psychedelic songs from the hippie culture dominate the
airwaves, expanding the Generation Gap. As ‘leaders’ of this
movement, musicians embrace its ethic: most of them act nor-
mal instead of being stars. No theatrics, no egos. The Beatles
alternately scorn and hate their own fame and try Transcen-
dental Meditation when being brilliant, famous, and rich turns
out to be not enough. Bob Dylan gets tired of being our social
conscience and explores his own. The Grateful Dead play for
free to support myriad good causes. Neil Young still refuses to
let any of his songs be used for commercial purposes. All this
crashes and burns later in a media storm of cocaine, elitism,
and cynical marketing, but will not change the lives and beliefs
of those of us on the ground.
The Generation Gap: This has become a cliché, usually explained by
stating that my generation reacted to our parent’s lives of de-
nial and service with a desire for instant self-indulgence. This is
a simplification which inaccurately portrays Baby Boomers as
well as 1950s society. The “Baby Boom Generation” refers to an
eighteen year period on which has been heaped negative trends
that took place long after the shorter Vietnam Era. There WAS a
Generation Gap, and it began with music (see above). My research
suggests that each of us, while responding to previous mores, do
so for personal reasons that are all different but when united are
a backlash against the older generation’s acceptance of the ob-
viously (to us) unsatisfactory status quo. At this point the World
War II Generation has had enough struggling; they relax. Baby
Boomers are without an externally imposed purpose. A desire for
meaning leads each of us to identify with the others, becoming a
community of individuals.
Movements: The hippie motto “Do Your Own Thing” has ramifications
for the Women’s movement, Gay Pride movement, etc. – If Black
people should be able to live free from oppression, so should ev-
erybody else. And right now. The Stonewall Riot takes place in
1969, alongside continuous Red Power and Chicano activity. The
Environmental movement, Health Food, and Back-to-the-Land
movements come from mounting evidence that the dominant
culture is run by businesses for profit without regard for the
safety of humanity or the planet. This generation is unhappy with
the glacial speed of positive change and the negativity toward it.
In short, the struggle for dignity, justice, and freedom includes all.
Abstract Expressionism followed by Pop Art confuses and loses most
of America, but not all. The Beats create a new climate of free-
dom in literature. The boldness of Be-Bop does the same for
music. Boundaries of what is acceptable are pushed past the
limits most average people can relate to. Beatniks dressed in
black radiate gloominess, though, which makes their ideas less
attractive. The ideas will catch on with a newer, more colorful
generation. It is rarely commented on, but most of the cultural,
artistic, and psychological changes associated with the Sixties
began with the Beats; most of the ‘leaders’ (Kesey, Leary,
Cleaver, Rubin and Hoffman, for example) were of that age, a
few years older than Sixties hippies and students and thus able
and willing to exercise personal power more effectively.
The Beatles: That they deserve their own category is itself significant.
Just months after the JFK assassination, The Beatles show up in
time to renew hope among America’s youth. They create joyful
invigorating music, the opposite of much Beat art. Already the
biggest news on Earth, the Beatles meet Bob Dylan, then com-
bine that joie de vivre with drugs and a new mindfulness. The
no-longer three minute single Pop song, simple and made for
radio, now borrows from folk and country, classical, and more
– and the Beatles make it into Art before our eyes. Indeed, it is
rock music that pulls together all the other elements; it is rock
that creates a community out of young people that don’t have
all or most of these concepts in common. Somehow the Beatles
give us permission to be ourselves, even if normal or nerdy. They
replace traditional rules of behavior. There is no precedent for
this. They survive a self-created group mind thing (7000 girls
rushing a stage), the scary force that looks like Nazism. What’s
different is that the Beatles blow it off – make fun of the fanat-
icism as it is happening. Lennon: “We were a ship at sea, not just
the Beatles, but all of us…and we went somewhere.” Of course
despite (or because of) the innocent ‘cosmic’ part of it, the ship
later sinks anyway, for them and for us. Listen again – electric
60s rock music not only encapsulates the peace and love ideal,
but also manifests the dramatic sounds of combat, that of actual
war. The reason the music is so influential was that it reflects the
beauty and horror of the times – the same way Elgar captured
the heartbreak of WW1 in his Cello Concerto, the same way
Picasso captured Spanish Civil War terror in “Guernica”. Rock’s
power is reinforced by the raw sound of the electric guitar bor-
rowed from blues. rock’s power. By the mid-Sixties, the sense of
freedom and creativity expressed by psychedelic music captures
the hearts of many. Jimi Hendrix, Country Joe and the Fish, the
Small Faces, the Dead, and of course the Beatles during their
Sergeant Pepper/Strawberry Fields phase are playing directly to
the freaks. At some point it becomes clear that the music is
transcendent and has been since “She Loves You”. It’s greater
than the four guys doing it, greater than the notes and rhythms;
it expresses the spirit of humanity. I pose this assertion: the elder
generation’s rejection of the Beatles – their music, attitude, and
even hair – and the music’s own response, was as significant a
reason as Civil Rights and Vietnam in my generation’s equivalent
rejection of previous values.
In fall of 1967 I’m dropped off in Storrs. Like almost everyone in the post-war baby boom, I‘m the first child in my family, thus there is no older sibling to model behavior. Though my Mother, a New Yorker, had a free education at Hunter College, many of my friends are the first person in their family to go to college. Most of us are solidly middle class, with just a smattering of upper middle class kids thrown in; this is UConn, not Yale. Tuition is free for state residents. Economic growth in the 1950s brought plenty of positives. At UConn the opportunity for a meaningful life awaits. But by now roads have diverged, and the one usually followed looks like a dead end. The wearing of a freshman beanie, the ritual of pledging a fraternity, the following of college traditions in the face of political, military, and religious hypocrisy have become ludicrous. Critical thinking about important events is exactly what you’re supposed to do at University, is it not? Surrounding me now in the Jungle dorm, by magic, is a small cadre of thoughtful and alienated freshmen who feel exactly as I do. To a quiet artist who never quite fit in high school society this is catnip for the mind and soul.
We are not cosmically lovey-dovey; this is a radically disparate bunch that clings together by some unstated sensibility, drawn close by attitude simply because we aren’t convinced the usual road leads anywhere worth going. The beloved country that we grew up in seems to have disappeared on us. Songwriter Paul Simon agrees: “They’ve all gone, to look for America.”
As equals, we accept each other’s differences; recognize connections (the music talks directly to us), start growing our hair, and mock the establishment. All, whether we look it or not, are sympathetic to any political or social ideas that might change the world for the better. Community rather than personal ambition is the natural place to start.
Before long some of us proudly call ourselves freaks. We see the Vietnam War as immoral. We see the laws against drugs and sexual behavior similarly. Smoking ‘dope’ and sharing our affections represent a defiant protest against the repressive mainstream culture. The delightful feeling that we are members of a secret club (a common ailment of collegians) begins there and flourishes. Both stoned and rebellious, we act as if superior in intellect, sagacity, and virtue to the rest of America, our togetherness shielding us from individual doubts. I suspect like me others recognize this as silliness; it’s really only UConn that protects us from the Vietnam War. The Jungle in 1967 is filled with marijuana smoke and that years astonishingly creative burst of rock music.
At the end of September 1967 the first protest takes place. Against the accreditation of ROTC and its place on a campus, it attracts 8 students. By December a third protest, against Dow Chemical recruiting, effectively blocks the event from taking place. Forty-five students and faculty take part. Dow is the maker of napalm, essentially jellied fire that the military uses to defoliate Vietnam so that the enemy cannot hide. Peasant farmers always seem to get in the way; they are “collateral damage”, though we don’t use that terminology yet. Less than an ‘Ivory Tower’, UConn and other colleges are closely tied to the military/industrial complex through recruiting and the stock market.
The folks that defeated the Depression, then great evil in World War 2, and watched it immediately recreated in Russia are not about to give socialism much of a chance in the US. That group had a lifelong sense of purpose: survive the Depression, win the War. Maybe they need the American myth to justify their own sacrifices, which have been enormous. Maybe they’re tired. We grow up inheriting their respect for order, religion, and the government, but for us it dies a slow death, especially after Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy are killed. Bobby seemed actually angry at America’s failures – just like us. Naivety leads us to think we can make the world fairer, cleaner, more peaceful, more ethical, and it’s now OUR responsibility.
The revolutionary tactics we use most are tolerance and compassion. The logical next step seems like expanding consciousness, which will lead to truer understanding and acceptance of each other, and it looks like it has begun. We have role models: Jesus, Buddha, Gandhi, Thoreau, and King. A lot of the negative press hurled at my generation for self-centeredness comes from the fact that we DO reach for the skies. Thus when we fall it’s a long way down.
Most of America and UConn, though, chugs on as usual in the late sixties. The ‘freaky’ hippie or radical element is a small part of the 18 year Baby Boom generation; thus when you see a statistic or comment about the lives of Baby Boomers now, it may not be representative of my generational viewpoint at all. My era lasted less than half a decade; babies kept coming afterwards. Nobody I knew was a spoiled rich kid. Everyone got a summer job to help pay for college. There has not been a single study that comes close to my own interpretation of our experience. Voices on the right still deliberately misinterpret us.
By the fall semester of 1968 the UConn antiwar movement is fully engaged. The faculty too is full of creative energy, not just the Political Science or History Department, and not just individual professors who are politically active. Len Krimerman and Robert Luyster find their Eastern Philosophy classes to be full of captivated students. Jim Scully and Roger Wilkenfeld teach a literature class called “Versions of Paradise”. In the Art Dept. Paul Zelanski nurtures the art of seeing, and in Music, Peter Hugh-Larsen demonstrates polyphony with rock music instead of classical. In Psychology, Ken Ring begins studying the near-death experience and Michael Turvey applies his perception to studying perception in standing room only lectures. It’s a vibrant time to think and learn.
As the Vietnam War persists, news leaks out that it is not going as well as the government says. (In perhaps a mirror of today, America is divided by those who are educated and those who are not). Most of literate America knows Vietnam is a quagmire we cannot win. As a potential draftee, I can accept getting killed for something I believe in. The question is – can I kill others for something I do NOT believe in? On the sidelines now, I have time for contemplation. That’s a luxury that will not continue. The conflict in Vietnam and the Draft has a personal effect on everybody’s conscience and life in a way that has not been repeated since. The lack of a draft today facilitates the continuance of two separate Americas.
By trying peaceful protest while looking and acting as we do, we bring the might of the inflexible, profit-directed machine down on us hard. Our reaction to this is amazement – we really DO have the power to at least provoke alarm. C’mon, we‘re just making good suggestions. Try sharing some more and not taking advantage of the helpless around the world just for economic advantage. Try living up to the fairness ideal that we pitch to everyone else.
What follows this knowledge is to a gleeful yanking of the establishment’s chain. As you would expect of kids our age. The more over-reaction there is, the more amusing it becomes, until it gets serious. This is why there are Yippies – the combination of political freaks and the counter-culture. In the case of UConn, an October 31st, 1968 protest (against Dow of course) advertises that the group Students for a Democratic Society will napalm a dog. This effective hoax brings the Humane Society and the State Dog Warden to UConn. Of 130 demonstrators, eight students and four members of the faculty are disciplined, but not before they make the point that there is more concern for a dog than for Vietnamese peasants in a war zone.
“In the minds of the older generation and straight Americans in general, the Yippie platform represented what they had long suspected and feared about the hippie counterculture: that lurking beneath the ‘peace and love’ façade was a sinister drug-crazed revolutionary anarchist who had cleverly disguised himself as Jesus when in reality, his ultimate purpose was to destroy the American way of life”: “The Hippies – a 60s History” by John Moretti. It is true I think of myself both as a benevolent anarchist (don’t bother me and I won’t bother you) and also as the conscience of America, the imaginary ethical America that now appears is destroying itself from the top down.
Nationally and locally, when a witty demonstration takes place and is instantly crushed, it has the opposite effect intended, creating more sympathy for those of us directly on the front lines. It’s hard for me now to write about those times without being an advocate for counter-culture positions, yet most UConn SDS-led actions were seen by sympathizers as non-productive. (I question this view today.) Some SDS people, students or faculty advisors, display arrogance and a holier-than-thou-attitude. While sincere, they have become victims of their own egos. In that they unfortunately mirror national leaders (Leary, Hoffman and Rubin, and Cleaver). I want to be supportive but can’t accept this attitude. Some, too, are die-hard Communists – and it is already clear that is no answer either. Marxism is a fantasy with tragic results. We are cautious; aware there might actually be a Russian ‘mole’ involved. Little effort is given to create a situation in which open and thoughtful discussion can take place. SDS is right about this, though: people are dying NOW.
November 11th 1968 brings a 200 person sit-in at Gulley Hall, President Homer Babbidge’s office, which he greets with equanimity. Friends of mine remember him holding the door open. This aura of peacefulness is a mirage, a bubble which pops later in the month. Recruitment for military contractor Olin Matheson takes place November 26 at 7 Gilbert Road, a date now remembered as “Bloody Tuesday”. Efforts by SDS to block the process involve trying to get into the building or onto the front porch, which is protected this time by State Troopers in addition to UConn cops. Professor Jack Roach and others attempt to get themselves arrested if they cannot actually stop the process. It works – and leads to more troopers, the Riot Act read, cherry bombs and bricks thrown, and the porch cleared, not without some swinging of nightsticks and bloody heads. Twenty one students and faculty are arrested. It’s clear now that nobody is kidding anymore. Gentlemanly President Babbidge calls it the saddest day of his life.
I and many others are there, loyal but not sure such a dramatic personal commitment will yield genuine results. This earnest effort pales when compared to 1963 on the Edmund Pettis Bridge in Selma, Alabama. We are not a warlike fringe group, not the Weathermen, Panthers, SLA: we believe in non-violence. (Note here that despite the reputation of those groups as the dangerous element of the left, almost all of those bombs went off safely in the middle of the night.)
The whole era is now intoxicating. It is evident that young students are actually moving the needle of world events. As we see it both sides are full of bull much of the time, so we just continue efforts toward creating a community of peace and justice. Mistakes are made; they get spun, exaggerated, in retrospect. The positive ideals of the anti-Vietnam War and anti-discrimination movements continue to attract despite the unsatisfactory reality of each. Alongside the drama powered by the politically active is a much larger sympathetic group busily searching their own consciences.
In 1968, “Hair” opens on Broadway (are you kidding me?) and attempts unsuccessfully to make the whole climate frivolous. We are not hippies – genuine hippies were long gone by then and we are not inclined to be worthless in order to be ‘free’. Being insultingly called a hippie just means that the name caller doesn’t get it. We might have long hair, might take drugs, might lean toward the most experimental music, art, and behavior, or not. Some are simply determined to express it outwardly. To have long hair is to invite ridicule. In fact, to have long hair and appear unwilling or unable to defend yourself is to provoke physical assault. Looking weak, having hair ‘like a girl’ triggers physical violence. (For example, two weeks after the Kent State shootings 200 construction workers attacked a huge anti-war march in New York City while the NYPD looked the other way. Seventy demonstrators were injured.) For some of us, that’s not a threat, it’s our everyday reality. It both stiffens our resolve to be ourselves – and tutors us in what it is like to be an oppressed minority, in danger just by being alive. And that lesson stiffens our resolve even more.
Spring 1969 begins with a March sit-in at a Board of Trustees meeting, students suggesting that UConn go on strike. The UConn Women’s Center is created that year, as is the Black Studies Program. Slow progress has begun but racial confrontations break out through the school year. My summer of 1969 begins at UConn with two art classes. It includes an idyllic mescaline day sitting in the cherry trees next to McMahon Hall. Late summer brings me to the Woodstock Music Festival. I’m glad to have gone but I leave early, driven out by the rain, and hitchhike home. There is no sense that it will become an iconic event. It does, however, reinforce the fact that there is a social divide in America that is growing. In October the second violent racial conflict at a fraternity forces President Babbidge back from a sabbatical. The same month a one-day anti-Vietnam War strike begins at 500 colleges and universities. Yet an impromptu and refreshing get-together at Mirror Lake attracts Homer Babbidge and his kazoo.
Heads altered by psychedelics have difficulty conceiving of political action as useful without mindfulness. Nevertheless, most of us attend the next demonstration against on-campus recruiting and many choose to be non-violently arrested along with SDS. In an act of civil disobedience, sixty nine line up in the snow, gently shove a police officer, and are peacefully arrested December 11, 1969 at the skating rink. This is no longer just SDS. Professors and close friends are included, now making a personal statement despite the potential negative fallout in their lives.
At the end of 1969 the Draft Lottery is instituted, a last straw for many of us who have lost all sense of patriotism, and it is so poorly executed it is not even random. No more college deferments; now those of us with low numbers can be called up at any time. I can find no honor left in the government. My choice for the Draft Physical, like that of several other friends with low numbers, is to first see a psychologist whose letter explains my “unfitness” for service. In this climate, my “unfitness” is a point of pride (and it remains so). I will not take part in the deadly charade. Walking up Hillside Road on my return to campus, it feels like there is no going back. An unclouded view of all institutions results from that year, one that has never changed.
Time’s momentum carries me toward graduation and an uncertain future. National protests grow angrier and include bombs. They precipitate more confrontations at UConn and elsewhere; New Haven and Washington DC are also on our agenda. John Froines and Dick Gregory speak of revolution to a Student Union Mall filled with Huskies. The country appears to have gone off the rails. It seems important enough to us to put aside normal college doings. The administration and most of the student body have trouble coming to terms with this – until Kent State University in spring of 1970, when four students (not even the protestors) are shot dead by the Ohio National Guard. Immediately afterward, two more are killed and a dozen wounded at Jackson State. The aura hanging over us is expressed in a Neil Young song: “We’re finally on our own. How can you run when you know?” These tragedies precipitate a continent-wide collegiate strike. Here at UConn, it’s an opportunity for those who wish to engage in dialogue about world events instead of Microbiology or Chaucer to do so. Students can choose no final exams and take an “S” (Satisfactory) in lieu of a grade. Efforts to engage classes that want to continue normally lead to discipline and expulsion for more radicals.
The first Earth Day, April 22, happens this spring, driven by some smart souls who are not otherwise politically involved. I’m attending Superior Court in Willimantic to watch an SDS friend on trial most of that week, and its significance flies under my radar.
On a mid-May Saturday, the Mirror Lake musical event is recreated more formally. Organizers include the Inner College, an experimental education offshoot created mostly by the Philosophy Department in which students invent and pursue their own interests for credit (I build a geodesic dome with friends and study blues music). Rock bands play, hundreds of people attend to listen, dance, and enjoy spring. Called “The Garden”, this of course follows the example of the Woodstock music festival and is a bright spot in a dark time. Like Earth Day recognition, it’s another example of students taking creative action themselves.
In 1971 the Voting Age goes from 21 to 18. That’s right, all this happened before potential draftees could even vote, or drink, for that matter. Though riots and demonstrations continue, Nixon is thinning out the troops in Vietnam. In June, the New York Times publishes the Pentagon Papers. Sixty per cent of the country is now against the war. There is a turn to harder drugs in society, away from enlightenment and toward “let’s get wrecked”, taking away the last enthusiasm for hippiedom. This decline enables the deluge of negative press later to focus on indulgence, not the initial wave of spiritual exploration. Note that Tom Wolfe called the Seventies the “Me Generation”: that’s the people half a decade behind us. Most “hippie freaks” did not become Yuppies; younger Yuppies, though, are technically part of the Baby Boomer Generation. At UConn and other universities, things begin to settle down. Antiwar activists graduate and are replaced in the fall by a quieter but no less stoned group. By 1973 the Draft is over, Watergate brings Nixon down, and except for the continued social efforts of Black students and women students, campus life turns back to ‘campus life’.
A talented and caring administrator between a rock and a hard place, Homer Babbidge is gone – he retires in 1972. A final scary thought – what if President Babbidge had been a hardline conservative instead of an open-minded and progressive liberal? Nobody DIED while I went to UConn in an astonishingly turbulent era.
Some of my UConn friends (and they are still friends 50 years later) include: The High School Valedictorian, a non-confrontational SDS member who spent his life as a teacher, then Director, of a Day Care Center. The Alpha male guy –he retired early from an international executive position to spend more time chopping his own wood, growing his own garden, and fishing. His roommate, from a big Italian family, who was lost and unhappy at UConn, though he hid it well, became a Baptist Minister who keeps a fossil on his desk. There’s a well-off Fairfield County woman who became a Child-care Center Director and lives in a house you visit by driving your pick-up across a brook. My collaborator on this exhibit left the insurance industry to spend 15-20 years as Director of a homeless shelter. The most masculine, athletic and confident guy, who could have played UConn Varsity Basketball, has been an RN most of his life.
The Sixties challenged me to think about:
Religion and Spirituality (how are they related?), Patriotism (where is it on the scale between deep religious belief and just rooting for your home team? What about people who think patriotism is above religion?), Brotherhood/Racism (who is ‘us’? who is ‘them’? Is there a ‘them’?), Society and Culture (what of it means anything?), but especially Consciousness (does it exist apart from the rational brain?) We are a naturally competitive species. How do desire and ambition interact with justice and compassion, for me and for everybody else? It looks like fear (generously described as ‘insecurity’) rules many human minds – how much is ENOUGH wealth, weaponry, whatever? How do we spread out power, control rapacity, yet still have freedom and forward momentum? Nothing new here, is there?
Yes, the vision of a ‘hip’ community is and was a mirage; with time differences became exaggerated. Perhaps it was music that held us together. We knew full well that the ‘counter-culture’ was imaginary. Well, so is a corporation. We just saw our idea as a better one. Remember to include capitalism and socialism, money, religions, and nations in your list of invented concepts. It was also possible (and still is, with a wink) to view ourselves mythically as a minor mutation in the species, or as messengers from God –somehow born at this exact time and place to fulfill this mission, make this course correction. A lot of stupid things happened, but in everything we complained about we were right. We’re still right. Even aspects of the psychedelic-influenced mind are now seen as positive. The environment became a legitimate and constant priority. The very possibility of world peace, not even a dream before, has become a positive influence on international behavior. Imagine that. Much of the good we accomplished is now taken for granted, under the radar. How did an illusion of togetherness have such positive results? Simply, the Sixties somehow became a bit of history in which goodness flourished.
It is and has always been about the haves and have-nots. Short-term individual gain consistently trumps collective conservation, thus socialism remains tempting to many. We tried to build a semi-intimate community, a village, for its social and psychological advantages. We wished to live on a planet where greed and its children, violence and oppression, are under control, where avarice is recognized as the negative side of ambition. A just and fair world that rules against aggressive economics, instead of celebrating it. In other words, the bonds of that community, an extended family, reproduced in society as a whole. You can make the argument that none of this will ever work, but you can’t deny that trying it was worth the effort. In fact, it may be all that got us to where we are now.
I remain uncomfortable with the following observation, but I suggest that without the excesses, the threats of violence, the interruptions of others liberty we engaged in, social progress and the end to the war would have come grudgingly if at all. Similarly, Martin Luther King’s pacific message was heeded in part because Malcolm X stood angrily behind him. Turmoil was needed. Great change only comes under great pressure. What sad story does this tell us about humanity?
There exists an insecurity-fueled savagery in man which has flourished for 10,000 years. Susceptible to magical thinking and illusions of power, we seem ill-equipped for peace and love. It is the job of some of us to fight barbaric evil with equivalent force and ferocity. This we justly call heroism. The calling of others is to strive peacefully for justice and dignity among all people for all time. This is sometimes called childlike naiveté. Yet without it what is the sense of pretending we have civilization at all? So yes, upon reflection I wouldn’t trade those years for any others, and I remember them with pride and affection.
The Earth is now facing an unknown, unimaginable future despite our best efforts and those of well-meaning humans from all generations. The bill is truly due. My friends had a moment on the stage, and left behind an increase in social awareness, one that spawned the Women’s movement, Gay movement, Ecology movement, Yoga and Meditation, Back-to-the-Earth, Organic Gardening, and Health Food, Earth Day and the Clean Water and Clean Air Acts. One that vastly improved Civil Rights, led to Handicap Access Rights, respect for the Disabled, and even Animal Rights. One that created the beginnings of our open, integrated multi-cultural and more relaxed society – and as a side benefit, increased variety and choice in the world in ways that didn’t exist before. It never was about self, it was about community. I’m proud we opened wide a door to spiritual consciousness and deepened our connection to the natural world.
Ginsberg, Clancy Quotes: “No Direction Home: Bob Dylan” A Martin Scorsese Picture 2005
“Red Brick in the Land of Steady Habits”, Bruce M. Stave, Univ. Press of New England 2006
“Season of the Witch”, David Talbot, Free Press 2012
“Requiem for the American Dream”, Noam Chomsky, Seven Stories Press
“In Search of the Lost Chord”, Danny Goldberg, Akashic Books, 2017
“Buckley and Mailer”, Kevin M. Schultz, WW Norton, NY
“From Head Shops to Whole Foods”, Joshua Clark Davis, Columbia Univ. Press, 2017
“The Hippies – A Sixties History”, John Moretti
“Boom”, Tom Brokaw, Random House 2007
“The Most Dangerous Man in America”,Minutaglio and Davis, Hatchette 2018
“How To Change Your Mind”, Michael Pollan, Penguin Press 2018
And a large group of loyal, thoughtful friends