We will be changed by this, but how?
Last updated 6/4/2020 at 7:56pm
At the age of 13, I was convinced that racism would obviously be gone from society within five years; it made no sense and reasonable people would prevail, my young, naive brain reasoned.
It was 1968, a year that shook us as Americans, even — perhaps especially — naive 13-year-old white kids who believed in the system as presented to us. It was a year that would plunge doubts in that faith deep into the heart of the country and send us all on a journey toward a cynicism from which our nation has not recovered.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr was assassinated in April in Memphis, where two black sanitation workers had been crushed to death by a garbage truck, their death giving rise to the Civil Rights Movement.
The Vietnam War, said to be a righteous cause to protect the world from the communist menace, was being scrutinized as unwinnable. Young men were being drafted to go around the world to fight and die. The country was torn, and President Johnson, who had taken over when President Kennedy was assassinated, announced he would not seek re-election.
Protesters in North Carolina were shot and killed by police there, and dozens more injured. Universities were increasingly in turmoil, taken over by protesters. It spread around the world. Thousands of students and workers in France and elsewhere staged sympathy strikes.
President Kennedy’s brother Bobby, running for that office, was assassinated in Los Angeles, dashing the hopes of many for change.
All before summer.
The nation was reeling. It seemed that society, itself, was breaking down.
Like 1968, the nation and world will remember 2020, which is also a long way from over and points to glaring flaws in a system that many think needs to change but don’t agree on how.
Unlike 1968, we don’t have just a few, well-trusted sources of information. Three channels on the TV dial and one major newspaper in your city gave you that many choices, and they all saw the world in fundamentally the same way, agreeing, mostly, on the facts.
Today, every fact is weaponized, turned on its head and presented as an evil lie perpetrated by the other side. Many don’t know what to believe and give up trying.
When 2021 finally arrives, we may be able to meet it well only if we have made significant progress figuring out that last problem.
Without such new understanding, all our striving — against a pandemic, for racial justice, for peace, for love or money, for our planet — cannot succeed for long.
That grim prospect is made far more likely, ironically, by our improvements in modern communication systems. Social media are powerful tools, but with them our society is still about as safe as a young child playing alone with a loaded gun. SM are perfect for propagandizing and causing divisions to deepen.
We are in peril. To not understand that would just be naïve, but we also have a tremendous opportunity to correct our mistakes. Let's not slump into cynicism. Let us press on together, as Americans, and shape our country into a better future for all.
editor and publisher