In the 1960s, a decade ended when I was but 15, the world configuration was wholly different from now. America neared the end of its uncontested reign as chief economy in the world. We lived in a time of military equilibrium between the major powers of two major economic systems, while war raged in Southeast Asia sold by our leaders as a clash of these systems for supremacy, when in reality it was for the right of self-determination by the people of a nation tired of foreign intervention and occupation.
America had begun to deal with its great contradictions – its racial inequality, the great gender dichotomy with one automatically anointed to leadership and entitlement, the other, not so much. We marginalised gay folk, and we looked askance at immigrants. Poverty held sway in inner cities and in rural spaces, one constricted, and the other encroached upon as suburbs swelled with an expanded middle class looking to live the American dream.
Some disliked missing the train to middle class life. Humans have a nasty habit of ornery about loss of hope or an endless parade of days with not enough to eat. Some tired of slurs and put downs and marginalisation, of ill treatment by those purportedly charged to uphold law that in reality institutionalised the injustice. Added to the mix came the unneeded war, in reality within this country an encroachment upon those swelling suburbs. Its young wished not to die in jungles and rice paddies for a war we had no business fighting, but the young of the other areas, a curious mix of rural and inner city, did a disproportionate amount of the dying on our behalf.
As a 15 year old at the end of 1969, despite it all, despite a queerness I did not yet understand yet well knew should bury, the intricacies of the renewed struggles against gender oppression, or the centuries old one to end colour as an accepted means of judgement of human beings, hope filled the air.
Many pushed against war, pushed against racial and gender discrimination; a movement gained momentum for the queer community, sparked by the doings of Stonewall. From the time of Kennedy’s tragic death through the early 1970s, we gained civil rights, the clean air and water acts, Medicare, Title IX, and a host of other legislative redress designed to improve our society. We went after tired mores that made a young mother an outcast because a child was born to her, yet she was unmarried. We were a generation on the march, this time to elevate humanity.
Now, the 15 year old just turned 57, sandwiching in between the prime of life. What looked so promising then seems out of vogue now. Listen to the American candidates for president, read what others in office or running for office around this country propose to do with laws designed to better the human condition and our society. What is out there is ugly.
In 1969, the highest tax bracket carried a rate of 70%. The country thrived. Today, it’s half that, and the country struggles against itself, wondering where it all went wrong, turning ears to those who would roll back the clock to our darker doings and ways of living. When we should be educating everyone, we look for ways to divert resources to those of means. When we should be training those in need of new skills, we look to divert to those with the most. We see communities still trying to find their way in a society that intentionally locked them out, after society stripped away culture and generation-to-generation education, marginalised and isolated, only for those who did this to judge them for the struggle. People run for office with no will to stand and encourage one another to help everyone regardless of their identity, but rather to bring back those nasty, tired old ways, to aggregate more wealth to those who couldn’t possibly spend all they have now.
We see proposals to limit or privatise Social Security when not 3 years ago the private sector wiped out a good deal of private retirement money. Same wish to roll back Medicare, child labour laws, and the minimum wage, to cut taxes for the wealthiest they laughably call ‘job creators’ when the reality is consumers create jobs, and those they claim are the creators are in fact opportunists who have had ample time to make it work – and have not.
There are the proposals to strip away union rights, court decisions that limit the ability of those aggrieved from wrongful gender discrimination and harassment to seek redress. A proposed amendment would strip citizenship from children born in this country to illegal immigrants. We see plans to cut tax rates for capital gains and the higher income rates, while those who propose this are okay with higher rates for those of lesser income. We see pressure to end the right of choice, the one thing in society where men do not dominate, and would love to control again. And they push hard against queers, because they have apparent need to have someone to hate.
America has lost its way and is in danger of falling into an every person for themselves sort of society, creating a survival of the economically fittest – curious, for all the talk I see about creationism as good, and evolution as bad.
Hillary was right, it takes a village, all of us, taking care of each other. If someone stumbles, if a family struggles, we need to help, not turn our backs. We are only as strong as the weakest amongst us, although the current candidates would never render such an admission. We all go forward together; else, this grand American experiment proved a sham, or we three hundred million ceded our right to be the decision makers.