Is a youth driven mass movement possible today?

By Mark Rudd (May 16, 2017)

My friend, Glenn Silber, a filmmaker in Santa Fe, is currently screening his 1979 gem, “The War at Home,” which tells the story of the anti-Vietnam War movement in Madison, WI, from 1963 to 1970.

I attended the opening showing on May 5, as well as an earlier screening at University of New Mexico, Valencia campus. If you’ve never experienced what a momentum-driven mass movement looks like, now’s your chance to see the thousands of young people take to the halls and streets. The movie has a powerful dramatic arc, since it ends with the bombing of a US Army research center and its aftermath. A naive viewer is exposed to the inner logic of movement participation, even up to violence.

The large majority of the audience at the opening were old people, veterans of the New Left like myself. A handful of younger people were there also. During the Q and A with Glenn after the showing, one of the latter, Cathy Garcia, a teacher and organizer with the new Santa Fe chapter of Democratic Socialists of America, asked two questions which got to the core of the problem of the value of this 50 year-old history. I’ll try to accurately capture her question : “Seeing this mass movement is all very well, but how did we get from that to the mess we have now? Was something important missing, like knowing how to create an intersectional movement?”

Glenn wasn’t able to address the questions, unfortunately. I have an answer to the first one, though: the mass movement helped end the war but we didn’t build it into something that could take power. Meanwhile, the far right had no problem with going for power, having started in the early sixties with Goldwater’s candidacy.

As to building an intersectional movement, that understanding emerged in the last decades and remains to be acted upon. A young friend explained the concept to me later than evening: “Identity politics has failed, so this is an attempt to unite as many people as possible recognizing the various different experiences.”

Cathy’s questions thoroughly shook my faith in the value of studying this ancient history. For me this is a big deal, since part of what I do is sell history, that of the New Left, the student anti-war movement, and the misbegotten Weather Underground. But if this history is seen by young people as a dead end (which in a way it was), and if the lessons are primarily negative–don’t do this again, maybe it’s best to just move on and not waste time with it. Speaking of time, the movie is 100 minutes long. It demands undivided attention. Will young people even sit through it without being coerced to do so (which I’m philosophically opposed to)?

Has the world changed so much in 50 years that images of well-to-do white kids at an elite state school wearing ties and jackets and full skirts as they picket with their anti-war signs, are like finding ancient hieroglyphics? Is all this stuff so pre-digital age that it belongs somewhere long time ago, like World War I felt to me growing up in the fifties?

There are so many reasons that such a mass movement has not and will not arise among students that I won’t even begin to list them. Though such an accounting might be useful in some other context. How the current momentum-driven mass movement will grow to include young people I don’t know. Millions voted for Bernie, but now another step–organizing–has to be taken.



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