An Anniversary Anthology: the 1970s

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They’ve All Gone to Look for America: A Veteran of the ’60s Searches Out the Activists of Today Bo Burlingham February/March 1976

The left bobs up and down in American history, a battered and leaky craft which often disappears beneath the tide but somehow never sinks. The reports of its wreckage are always exaggerated. It is now almost five years since the last major antiwar demonstration in Washington and since Time announced the “cooling of America.” We find ourselves in the trough of the post-Vietnam wave. The issues which moved the Movement belong to another era, as we focus our attention on the pocketbook crises of the 1970s.

Five years: time enough to ask what remains. What ever happened to that hodgepodge of groups and movements we called the New Left, the hundreds of thousands of peace marchers, the student strikers, the radical feminists, Black Power advocates, antiwar soldiers, draft resisters, welfare-rights activists, gay liberationists, environmentalists, and community organizers?

I count myself among them. Like most white Americans of my age (29) and class (middle), I grew up thinking of America as the Good Ship Lollipop, only to discover in the ’60s that it more closely resembled a Roman man-of-war. The ship’s officers I came to believe combined the vision of Ahab with the sensitivity of Bligh. I joined the mutiny, for which I was court-martialed. Meanwhile, the rebellion seemed to fizzle. I got married, had a child, and found a profession. Now, in the mid-1970s, I think of America as the Titanic, and look around for a lifeboat.

It stands to reason that a great many people find themselves in the same predicament. The Los Angeles Times recently cited the figure of 2 to 3 million erstwhile activists who retain their radical allegiance, though they may lack a cause to which they can pledge it. Even if the numbers are accurate, I told myself, there is a difference between 3 million former activists with radical notions, and radical activity. The former is just a statistic; the latter is a political force. And political force, at least for most of my friends and myself, hasn’t been a compelling preoccupation in the last couple of years.

The Rabbit That Ate Pennsylvania Ron Chernow January 1978

The Pennsylvania auto plant may prove a symbol of fiscal lunacy on as grandiose a scale [as the Lunar Rover]. In a well-publicized campaign last year, Governor Milton Shapp pledged more than $70 million to the German automaker if it would set up shop in the state. He turned Pennsylvanians, willy-nilly, into Volkswagen stockholders, hitching their fortunes to a single, shaky corporation.

What’s happening to VW is no different from what’s happening to major corporations everywhere. As formerly regional companies become plugged into national and global markets, corporate chieftains enjoy a corresponding freedom to shift their plants around like chess pawns. Large capital has liberated itself from all responsibility to a given community. Improved communications and transportation have enhanced this mobility. The result has been the bane of the contemporary labor movement: the runaway corporation.

Arthur M. Schlesinger’s Robert Kennedy and His Times Reviewed by Joe Klein December 1978

Think about it. The left has become rather precious in the ’70s, mostly concerning itself with libertarianism (especially the liberties of women, homosexuals, and marijuana smokers), corporate intransigence (which often translates into little more than enlightened middle-class consumerism), and a flabby environmentalism. The poor have been pretty much forgotten. Think about the articles you’ve read in this magazine over the past two years: exploding Pintos, defective birth-control devices, chemical additives, meditations on the viability of matrimony — all worthy topics, of course — but there’s not much about the inner cities and about the 40 percent unemployment among black teenagers. Very little about black people at all, in fact…

At one point, Schlesinger describes Kennedy visiting the Mississippi Delta hovel of an unemployed cotton picker. It was during one of those grand tours that Senate committees used to make (before it became too dangerously liberal to oppose poverty) with TV crews snaking along like Chinese dragons — a few shots of dire poverty, a few shots of senators shaking their heads, some platitudes, and then home to Washington. But Kennedy, spotting a little boy with a distended stomach on the ßoor of a shack, went inside, sat down on a filthy mattress, and held the child on his lap. Charles Evers remembered the gagging smell and pestilence of that shack — none of the others would venture inside — and Kennedy sitting there, hugging and patting the child, tears streaming down his face…

The passion of Robert Kennedy was a remarkable event in recent American politics, a moment of inÞnite possibilities. Looking back on it now, he clearly was the last politician able to unite the working class and the poor. His appeal crossed some impressive boundaries: Both Tom Hayden and Richard Daley, who would confront each other in Chicago several months later.

A Case of Corporate Malpractice Mark Dowie & Tracy Johnston November 1976

A product that has been heavily promoted and advertised gathers a certain kind of momentum, a momentum that can carry right over obstacles like bad publicity, studies of its dangers, and the like. In the case of the Dalkon Shield, this momentum brought a curious coda to its story: Throughout the entire controversy right up to the moment [manufacturer A.H.] Robins [Company] took the Shield off the market, the U.S. foreign aid program was busily sending huge quantities of the device to more than 40 countries throughout the world.

The Agency for International Development’s population-control program is in the hands of Dr. R.D. Ravenholt, a man whose enthusiasm for birth control as a solution to the world’s problems borders on the fanatical. Only when the FDA ruled the Shield unsafe (which was some time after Robins had stopped selling it) did Ravenholt and aid try to recall any Shields. They managed to get back fewer than half of the 769,000 Shields they had given away.

What America Needs to Do Next Margaret Atwood September/October 1976

What I would like to see would be the development and spread of a genuinely international consciousness, as opposed to Coca-colonization, holidayinnery, or uninationalism fostered by American capitalism. It would not necessarily be produced by democratizing the U.S., but it’s unlikely to take place without it.

The Final Entry of Pablo Neruda’s Memoirs, published for the first time in English August 1976

I am writing these quick lines for my memoirs only three days after the unspeakable events took my great comrade, President Allende, to his death. His assassination was hushed up, he was buried secretly, and only his widow was allowed to accompany that im-mortal body. The aggressors’ version is that they found clear signs of suicide on his lifeless body. The version published abroad is different. Immediately after the aerial bombardment, the tanks went into action, many tanks, fighting heroically against a single man: the President of the Republic of Chile, Salvador Allende, who was waiting for them in his office, with no other company but his great heart, wrapped in by smoke and flames.

They couldn’t pass up such a beautiful occasion. He had to be machine-gunned because he would never have resigned from office. That body was buried secretly, in an incon-spicuous spot, the corpse followed to its grave only by a woman who carried with her the grief of the world. That glorious dead figure was riddled and ripped to pieces by the machine guns of Chile’s soldiers, who had betrayed Chile once more.

New Populist on the Scene November 1978

Maverick attorney generals are not that rare, but Bill Clinton is one worth watching. For one thing, when he is elected governor of Arkansas this month — as he surely will be — he may prove to be the nation’s most populist governor to take office this year…. Political progressive-watchers always a worry ahead of the crowd are already wondering whether Clinton’s populism will survive as he advances politically.

New Orleans, Before It’s Too Late Michael Goodwin December 1977

Back at the fairgrounds, dancing and trying to take notes at the same time, someone pinches my ass. Turning around, I discover two beautiful Creole women, drinking beer and laughing like crazy. “What are you doing?” one of them asks.

“I’m taking notes,” I say, “whaddya think?”

“Yeah, for who?”

“You never heard of it.” (A safe assumption. Probably no one in New Orleans has ever heard of this magazine. And when you tell them they’ll probably call it Mother Earth.)

“Come on, who are you writing for?”

“Um, it’s a national magazine called Mother Jones.”

“No shit?” says one of the women. “We subscribe to Mother Jones! You want a joint?” She passes a reefer, I hit it, and we all start dancing. “Hey, when you write this up, be sure and mention that two fine New Orleans women got you stoned on dynamite Colombian,” she says.

Two Poems Alice Walker September/October 1976

Martin King There is no end to conversation with you my thoughts talking back to that soaring voice of yours which is all we knew we had to bring us back. And when the racists and the raced against tear you apart I put you back together with eager fingers and a loving tongue. I am no cannibal to join the feast to devour you living devour you dead.

Malcolm X Those who say they knew you offer as proof an image stunted by perfections. Alert for signs of the man to claim, one must believe they did not know you at all nor can remember the small, less popular ironies of the Saint: that you learned to prefer all women free and enjoyed a joke and loved to laugh.

Under Cover in the New Germany Abbie Hoffman’s profile of radical German reporter Gunter Wallraff February/March 1979

So here I am at the press conference in Paris, which takes place in an old library on Boulevard Saint Germain. It’s standing-room-only, as reporters from all over Europe flock to catch a glimpse of their hero-colleague. Everyone knows it’s only a glimpse — Gunter constantly changes his appearance. There is a collection of Wallraff photos taken over the past 10 years that are worthy of Lon Chaney. Long hair, mustache, crew cut, beard, head shaved bald. He’ll put on or take off 30 pounds to better assume a role. Without being introduced, it’s possible Europe’s most celebrated reporter could be in the room undetected. He’s not the only one here incognito. Five years of fugitive living has made me a little camera-shy, so I’m wearing my best wig and dark glasses for the occasion. The mysterious Madame Ange who accompanies me on such missions as bodyguard and translator (Gunter speaks no language other than German) has transformed herself into a blond model of Aryan respectability. There may be others in disguise, for press conferences dealing with any aspect of terrorism have taken on the appearance of masquerade parties.


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Learn more in “Less Dreading, More Doing,” where we lay out this wild moment and how we can keep charging hard for you. And please help if you can: $5, $50, or $500—every gift from every person truly matters right now.

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