Stonewall riot in Greenwich Village
First Earth Day
Invasion of Cambodia
“Peoples Army Jamboree” in Portland
Trial of Seattle 7
Are there any lessons in all this for a new generation of campus activists at Reed? Probably not many. It’s a very different era than the one I encountered when I went off to college. We took it for granted in 1968 that the dominant political party was the Democrats, and that the dominant political strain within that party was liberalism—the burning political question of the moment, for us, was how far and how fast we could drag the country to the left of liberalism in the 1970s. Prophecy was not our strong suit.
There were other differences. In 1968–1970, for all our anti-capitalism, we implicitly understood that we could drop out from a conventional educational or career path without any lasting personal consequences, because expanding economic opportunity was a given in the United States. On today’s campus, in contrast, not even the most conservative believer in the wonders of the free market can have the same degree of confidence of graduating into the prosperity that we baby boomers took as our birthright. There is a war today, just as there was in the 1960s, and the current conflict in Iraq is every bit as disastrous as the Vietnam War. But the draft, which was wondrously effective in the 1960s in concentrating the minds of 18- to 26-year-old males on the war, no longer exists. And, while the civil rights movement is still inspiring to read about in the history books, it’s been a long time since we have had a practical example of how a small group of committed activists can speak truth to power and actually change the world for the better in doing so.
The one valuable lesson I do see in our experience at Reed in the late 1960s is that it taught us to listen to our own better instincts. Reading New Left Notes or listening to the harangues of national SDS leaders did not prove very useful in answering the question: “What is to be done?” We were at our most creative and effective when we stopped trying to import a model of campus confrontation that simply had no relevance to our situation. We were better off when we followed the suggestion: “Know thyself,” variously attributed and inscribed over the entrance to the Temple of Apollo in ancient Greece—and, come to think of it, that’s something I learned in Hum 110. Good words for radicals to live by.
Photos: Special Collections, Eric V. Hauser Memorial Library