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Saturday, May 11, 2024

I remember the 1960s crackdowns against war protesters. This is a repeat | Robert Reich | The Guardian

I remember the 1960s crackdowns against war protesters. This is a repeat | Robert Reich

"I’ve been spending the last several weeks trying to find out what’s really going on with the campus protests.

I’ve met with students at Berkeley, where I teach. I’ve visited with faculty at Columbia. I’ve spoken by phone with young people and professors at many other universities.

My conclusion: while protest movements are often ignited by many different things and attract an assortment of people with a range of motives, this one is centered on one thing: moral outrage at the slaughter of tens of thousands of innocent people – most of them women and children – in Gaza.

To interpret these protests as anything else – as antisemitic or anti-Zionist or anti-American or pro-Palestinian – is to miss the essence of what’s going on and why.

Most of the students and faculty I’ve spoken with found Hamas’s attack on October 7 odious. They also find Israel’s current government morally bankrupt, in that its response to Hamas’s attack has been disproportionate.

Some protesters focus their anger on Israel, some on the Israeli government of Benjamin Netanyahu, some on Joe Biden for failing to stand up to Netanyahu, for giving Israel additional armaments, and for what they perceive as Biden’s patronizing response to the protests.

Like any protest movement, the actions have attracted a few on the fringe. I’ve heard scattered reports of antisemitism, although I haven’t witnessed or heard anything that might be interpreted as antisemitic. In fact, a significant number of the protesters are Jewish.

To describe the protesters as “pro-Palestinian” is also inaccurate. Most do not support Palestine as such; they do not know enough about the history of Israel and Palestine to pass moral judgment.

But they have a deep and abiding sense that what is happening in Gaza is morally wrong, and that the United States is complicit in that immorality.

Many tell me they are planning not to vote this coming November – a clear danger to Biden’s re-election campaign, which in turn increases the odds of a Trump presidency.

When I tell them that a failure to vote for Biden is in effect a vote for Trump, they say they cannot in good conscience vote for either candidate.

Quite a number tell me that “the lesser of two evils is still evil”. I tell them Trump would be far worse for the world – truly evil. Many remain unconvinced.

I have sharp memories of the anti-Vietnam war demonstrations, in which I participated some 55 years ago.

I remember being appalled at the unnecessary carnage in Vietnam. I was incensed that the first world, white and rich, was randomly killing people in the third world, mostly non-white and poor. As an American, I felt morally complicit.

I was angry at college administrators who summoned police to clear protesters – using teargas, stun guns and mass arrests. The response only added fuel to the flames.

The anti-Vietnam war movement became fodder for rightwing politicians like Richard Nixon, demanding “law and order”. The spectacle also appalled many non-college, working-class people who viewed the students as pampered, selfish, anti-American, unpatriotic.

I vividly recall the anti war demonstrations at the 1968 Democratic convention in Chicago, and the brutality of the Chicago police and Illinois national guard – later described by the National Commission on the Causes and Prevention of Violence as a “police riot”.

As the anti-war protesters chanted “The whole world is watching”, network television conveyed the riotous scene to what seemed like the whole world.

I had spent months working for the anti-war presidential candidate Eugene McCarthy. The convention nominated Hubert Humphrey. That November, the nation voted in Richard Nixon as president.

History, as it is said, doesn’t repeat itself. It only rhymes.

The mistakes made at one point in time have an eerie way of re-emerging two generations later, as memories fade.

I remember the 1960s crackdowns against war protesters. This is a repeat | Robert Reich | The Guardian

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