Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The Romance of Protest

The Sixties are often a blur to me, difficult to pin point specific dates in my childhood memory. The recent “Occupy” protests have reminded me of a vivid memory of a sunburn in Seattle, that alone would be a memorable event, but it was a tan worn as a badge of some rebellious honor by one of my mom’s former MIA girls.

I remember it without any romantic thought of even pre-adolescent crushes. The romanticism was classic as she appeared at Sacrament meeting one evening after having skipped Sunday School in the morning to attend an anti-war protest at the University of Washington. Just skipping church was an attractive rebellion, and then to have the war protest on top of that!

I’ve even tried searching the net for info on a summer protest in Seattle that occurred on a Sunday but I haven’t figured it out yet. Seattle, liberal west coast city as it is, has a rich history of protest. The Anti-Viet Nam War protests began in Seattle by 1964 and didn’t let up until the war was over on that other rare, sunny day in January, 1973, when my favorite pop radio stations simultaneously played “Peace Train” by Cat Stevens at the designated hour of the cease-fire. I'm pretty sure the incident I recall was before Kent State in May, 1970, when things became so ugly and the cultural “battle lines drawn” were evidences themselves that “everybody's wrong.”

I overheard my parents talking about the girl with some concern but not in the sense that she was in any way “lost.” They liked her and had a lot of respect for her and her family. Her parents were significantly older than mine and did seem rather typical in their conservative, suburban Mormon cultural mores. They also seemed a little embarrassed by the attention their daughter was gathering showing off her protest burn.

That girl had class. And what attention she had among the other teens and us kids even younger for having been at an anti-war rally! (And skipping church!)

As already noted, I find public political movements to be interesting if only as an aspect of living current history in its creation. I’ve been fascinated in recent years by a massive, Hispanic pro-Immigrant rally that swarmed up State Street, the various, now dwindling Tea Party protests, and the Occupy Salt Lake marches past our building at work. The "Occupier" people are generally camped over at Pioneer Park with a small contingent of three or four sleeping out in front of the Federal Reserve branch across from the federal building. And, yeah, they look a little counter-culture – the people who in the Sixties would have been called “dirty hippies” by some and apparently still are [called that].

Our MIA girl in Seattle was no dirty hippie. Yet, the war protests in those days were not received well in my family, even by me, because my uncle was over there in 1967-69 with the Marines. We were proud of his service and rightly so. There was classic romance in what we saw as his Marine Corps heroism just by serving in that patriotic-colored, dress uniform.

A couple of years ago, I was showing my uncle the fascinating aspects of Google Earth finding the locations of the apartments where I had lived in Brazil on my mission in the 70s. Somehow we started clicking on Viet Nam and found satellite and ground views of the pass on Highway 1 above Da Nang where he actually fought. He was fascinated and somewhat disturbed by the raw emotion of memory. It wasn’t in any way romantic. I don't think he wore that dress uniform on Hai Van Pass.
Hai Van Pass, Highway 1, Vietnam.
Thanks to Paul Dudley who graciously posts his photos at:
We all get a little conflicted sometimes and lose a little of our romanticism in the whirling blur of history.

Now I've been happy lately
Thinking about the good things to come
And I believe it could be
Something good has begun
I've been smiling lately
Dreaming about the world as one
And I believe it could be
Something good's bound to come
For out on the edge of darkness
There runs the peace train
Peace train take this country
Come take me home again.
                                         -Cat Stevens

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