I came of age in the 1960’s. I was brought up Jewish, in a synagogue whose Rabbi was an enthusiastic supporter of the civil rights movement, travelled to the South on several occasions in solidarity with Rev. Martin Luther King, and asked probing questions about segregation and racism in our home community, Dayton, Ohio. While this dismayed some members of the congregation, it was fine with my mother, and we used to go to “interfaith retreats” where we would spend the weekend mixing it up with people–mostly Christian, many African-American–who were similarly interested in a cross-cultural experience. I joined a local civil rights group, the Dayton Alliance for Racial Equality, and did door-to-door canvassing for them in Dayton’s African-American ghetto, as we freely called it. This was not a neighborhood of towering, run-down tenements. Homes were mostly single-family, mostly small, and often a little threadbare. In those days–the early to mid sixties–somebody was usually home during the day. There was no air conditioning, so I often found myself knocking on a screen door as I looked through it into the family’s living room. I had been brought up comfortably middle-class, but through this exposure I began to understand poverty.
The people I worked with, or, rather, for, were in their 20’s and 30’s, and pretty much all African-American. DARE was a small group, with a half-dozen to a dozen regular members, which, I learned in the course of writing this, did not excuse us from FBI surveillance. We all had a tremendous admiration for Rev. Martin Luther King, whom we humorously but reverentially referred to as “Maximum Leader.” I lost touch with DARE when I graduated from high school and went off to college, and I’ve often wondered if they followed Rev. King’s lead through his final year, marked by his famous speech at Riverside Church in New York, where he took his crusade for civil rights to a whole new dimension, saying:
….the words of the late John F. Kennedy come back to haunt us. Five years ago he said, “Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.” [applause] Increasingly, by choice or by accident, this is the role our nation has taken, the role of those who make peaceful revolution impossible by refusing to give up the privileges and the pleasures that come from the immense profits of overseas investments. I am convinced that if we are to get on to the right side of the world revolution, we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must rapidly begin [applause], we must rapidly begin the shift from a thing-oriented society to a person-oriented society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights, are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.
A true revolution of values will soon cause us to question the fairness and justice of many of our past and present policies. On the one hand we are called to play the Good Samaritan on life’s roadside, but that will be only an initial act. One day we must come to see that the whole Jericho Road must be transformed so that men and women will not be constantly beaten and robbed as they make their journey on life’s highway. True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar. It comes to see than an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring.
A true revolution of values will soon look uneasily on the glaring contrast of poverty and wealth. With righteous indignation, it will look across the seas and see individual capitalists of the West investing huge sums of money in Asia, Africa, and South America, only to take the profits out with no concern for the social betterment of the countries, and say, “This is not just.” It will look at our alliance with the landed gentry of South America and say, “This is not just.” The Western arrogance of feeling that it has everything to teach others and nothing to learn from them is not just.
A true revolution of values will lay hand on the world order and say of war, “This way of settling differences is not just.” This business of burning human beings with napalm, of filling our nation’s homes with orphans and widows, of injecting poisonous drugs of hate into the veins of peoples normally humane, of sending men home from dark and bloody battlefields physically handicapped and psychologically deranged, cannot be reconciled with wisdom, justice, and love. A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death. [sustained applause]….
A genuine revolution of values means in the final analysis that our loyalties must become ecumenical rather than sectional. Every nation must now develop an overriding loyalty to mankind as a whole in order to preserve the best in their individual societies…..
We are now faced with the fact, my friends, that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding conundrum of life and history, there is such a thing as being too late. Procrastination is still the thief of time. Life often leaves us standing bare, naked, and dejected with a lost opportunity. The tide in the affairs of men does not remain at flood—it ebbs. We may cry out desperately for time to pause in her passage, but time is adamant to every plea and rushes on. Over the bleached bones and jumbled residues of numerous civilizations are written the pathetic words, “Too late.” There is an invisible book of life that faithfully records our vigilance or our neglect. Omar Khayyam is right: “The moving finger writes, and having writ moves on.”
We still have a choice today: nonviolent coexistence or violent coannihilation….. If we will but make the right choice, we will be able to speed up the day, all over America and all over the world, when justice will roll down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream.
Rev. King called for “a revolution of values.” A turbulent year later, he was shot dead by one of those so-called “lone gunmen” who have so conveniently removed a great many other “troublemakers” from our society, from John and Bobby Kennedy to Malcolm X and John Lennon.
And then the turmoil and urgency of the 60’s turned into the complacency of the 70’s, which turned into the corporate counter-revolution that has been our dominant Zeitgeist since 80’s. In that process, what has happened to King’s struggle to for a “revolution of values” that would open the doors of opportunity equally to all, regardless of skin color or socioeconomic status? While the “revolution in values” bubbles along in the hearts of a significant number of Americans, the corporatists who run this country have “opened the doors of opportunity” to anyone willing to side with them, and so we have a reactionary, misogynistic African-American Supreme Court Judge who seemingly doesn’t give a rat’s ass for keeping the doors of opportunity open, let alone whether “the edifice that produces beggars needs restructuring.” Under President Cheney, we had two African-American Secretaries of State who had no problem spreading lies, deceit, and “burning human beings with napalm, of filling our nation’s homes with orphans and widows, … injecting poisonous drugs of hate into the veins of peoples normally humane, (and) sending men home from dark and bloody battlefields physically handicapped and psychologically deranged.” Thank you, Clarence Thomas, Condoleeza Rice, and Colin Powell. Heckuva job, y’all, heckuva job!
And our current triumph-of-the-civil-rights-movement-African-American President? Mr. Obama seems only too happy to do the bidding of those whom Rev. King called out as the “individual capitalists of the West (who invest) huge sums of money in Asia, Africa, and South America, only to take the profits out with no concern for the social betterment of the countries.” For all his rhetorical posturing he makes it clear that he supports our current order, in which, to once again use Dr. King’s prophetic words
machines and computers, profit motives and property rights, are considered more important than people.
Somehow, the system on which King declared loving war, so to speak, absorbed the energy of the Black Liberation movement without changing its selfish, materialist focus. Will the “Black Lives Matter” movement grow beyond police brutality into a wider critique of our society? The “fierce urgency of now” is, today, even more fierce and urgent, as is the choice between “nonviolent coexistence or violent coannihilation.” If we continue on the course we are on, our culture’s detritus will soon be joining the “bleached bones and jumbled residues of numerous civilizations (on which) are written the pathetic words, ‘Too late’.”
Around the time Rev. King started taking things to a whole new level on the racial justice front, Women’s Liberation joined the fray, vowing to re-align society away from masculine and towards more feminine values, noting the basic role that patriarchal thinking plays in constructing our planet-destructive society. A world with prevalent feminine values would be more communicative, more co-operative, more peaceful, and more egalitarian, the feminists claimed. In the words of bell hooks,
Patriarchy is the single most life-threatening social disease assaulting the male body and spirit in our nation…..I often use the phrase “imperialist white-supremacist capitalist patriarchy” to describe the interlocking political systems that are the foundation of our nation’s politics…..Clearly we cannot dismantle a system as long as we engage in collective denial about its impact on our lives.
Another milestone event that took place in those years was the “Stonewall Riot” and the birth of gay liberation, a rebellion against the shame and secrecy that had shrouded same-sex intimacy through the whole history of our culture. Stonewall led to the birth of the “Radical Fairies,” a brotherhood of gay men deeply committed to creating a culture in which they were accepted. They were sure it would take a kind of “revolution of values” and a radically changed society in order for that to happen. Tragically, many of these 70’s radicals fell victim to AIDS, and what remains of the Radical Faerie movement has been marginalized, contained in a few small islands of free thought scattered around the country. They are delightful places to visit, but they do not seem to be on the brink of becoming commonplace.
And how has the patriarchy/corporatocracy dealt with this threat? Again, it has mostly absorbed it. Our Supreme Court, which I and many others have often excoriated as a reactionary crew of rich, heterosexual white men (and a couple of somewhat more liberal women) could find no Constitutional reason for the state to interest itself in the sexual plumbing of marriage license applicants. The daughter of our reactionary, warmongering former de-facto President, Dick Cheney, has felt empowered to come out as gay, while she continues to wholeheartedly support her father’s work. Many more so-called “Log Cabin Republicans” perform the remarkable contortions needed to be gay and support the anti-gay-rights Republican agenda, and our military has decided that it doesn’t matter if you’re gay, as long as you’re willing to kill for your country. At the other end of upholding patriarchy, there are now gay CEOs. It no longer matters so much what kind of line gets your bottom working, as long as you can make the bottom line work.
This acceptance is hardly universal. Many people, especially white men, feel severely threatened by what continues to be a challenge to their values, if not yet a full revolution, and African-Americans, women, and gays continue to be singled out for horrific violence. As I can’t point out too often, violence towards a demonized “other” is one of the hallmarks of patriarchy.
And now, another issue with paradigm-changing aspirations has come to the fore. Marijuana is legal for all adults in four states, and for various medical conditions in 19 more. The momentum for its broad acceptance in society appears to be growing, despite the fulminations of Republican Presidential candidates and the fact that the federal government still lists it as a “schedule 1 drug,”
…with no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse. Schedule I drugs are the most dangerous drugs of all the drug schedules with potentially severe psychological or physical dependence. Some examples of Schedule I drugs are:
heroin, lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD), marijuana (cannabis), 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine (ecstasy), methaqualone, and peyote (i.e., mescdaline)
Psylocibin, the active ingredient in “magic mushrooms” is also “schedule 1,’ as is DMT, the active ingredient in the South American preparation known as “Ayahuasca.” I am sure that the shamans of South and Central America and the desert regions of Mexico disagree with this characterization of the plants that have played a central role in their spiritual practices for thousands of years, but that’s a subject for another time.
Marijuana, too, has a very long cultural history, dating back to the earliest human societies. It is a very adaptive plant, and will grow well almost anywhere, from subarctic regions to the Equator, in jungles and desert oases. It is not strongly attractive to grazing animals or insects, and rarely troubled by plant diseases. When I first became aware of how easy it is to grow marijuana, back in the late 60’s, it seemed like a wonderful gift from the universe. What a transformed world it will be, my friends and I fantasized, when we are free to use–and grow–this marvellous plant. Surely the legalization of marijuana will bring revolutionary, paradigm-shifting change.
Now, I don’t want to belittle the astounding progress that has been made towards universally legalizing marijuana, but that progress has come with a great price–literally. It is no longer a simple peasant crop. Marijuana growing has become one of the most thigh-tech, energy intensive kinds of farming there is, often grown indoors under lights. Large, outlaw, outdoor growing sites have also gained notoriety for the variety of noxious agricultural chemicals employed to fertilize the plants and suppress, um, weed growth around the weed. Where marijuana is legal, many states have set high financial requirements for potential commercial growers to meet. As NORML put it,
In Massachusetts, for example, those seeking a license to commercially cultivate marijuana were required to put $500,000 in escrow before their application would even be reviewed. And in Florida, where a medical marijuana bill was approved permitting only low-THC, high CBD marijuana, applicants for one of only five licenses for a cultivation center were required to post a $5 million performance bond and pay a $100,000 non-refundable application fee, and demonstrate they have been in the nursery business in Florida for a minimum of 30 years.