Berkeley in the SixtiesThough the title of Berkeley in the Sixties leaves little to the imagination, the documentary itself inspired me enough to write a post about it. The virtues and agendas of student protests on the UC Berkeley campus are debatable – I’m not really sure where I stand on them – but it was nonetheless moving to watch a police car stalled by a bunch of top-heavy utopians in the Cal quad.

As part of the ‘whatever’ generation – a label I derive from the elegant and ubiquitous catch-all that is completely malleable to context and interpretation – it was, and is, difficult for me to take a passionate stand against anything. Perhaps a comfortable suburban upbringing spent lampooning any sort of public message, be it a commercial or a class assembly, honed my criticism while leaving my powers of belief atrophying in the locker room.

At some point it became cool to opt-out. To act was to be vulnerable; to be the criticized instead of the critic. The multitudes caught on and soon it was socially precarious to voice an endorsement of some not-yet-vetted trope. I’d like to think that appendage is purely vestigial, but I get the impression many people my age still rely on it.

If we all lived in the sixties now, many of my friends would be up on the steps of city hall giving fascism what for. Perhaps even me. Are our lives today simply better then they were for kids our age back then? Was more at stake? Do we think protest is ineffectual?

Not only do civil disobedience and street protests seem too one-dimensional for very fractured issues, it’s not clear what all the quasi-revolutions by students in the 60s accomplished. In many cases it seems to have sent people back to the drawing board as to how power is checked and what democracy should be. Or, in our case, we grew up at the drawing board and haven’t seen a plan good enough to spur us into action.

And so I pose these questions: Is there anything we can do now to directly oppose that which oppresses and kills? Are we forever mired in arguing over the definition of those words to put an end to them? What kind of person would it take to fill this vacuum of leadership and convince you to participate?

I think the tactics of the past are antiquated and too easily marginalized, not just by the media, but by our own cognitive dissidence. We need to engineer a better technology of protest that isn’t just a series of coups, that doesn’t just transfer power, but spreads it evenly. I think most people would agree that it should be very difficult for anyone to grab as much power as Bush has, politics aside. We need something simple enough for people to understand and believe in, but also versatile enough to assuage complex reservations.

What will it take for me to put you into this protest today?

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