By Michael Strelcheck
This year our country celebrates the 50th anniversary of two significant events in its history, and when looking back from today, they now seem to reflect two radically different perspectives that were developing within our society. The iconic events of 1969 were the Apollo Moon landing and the Woodstock Music Festival. At the time only one seemed to stand out as a grand accomplishment, while the other seemed more of an anomaly, but both were attempting to provide a type of “vision” or a road forward for the country.
In the summer of ‘69 our country accomplished what seemed to be humanity’s greatest technological feat – the successful journey to and back from the moon. This goal was set by President Kennedy early in the 60’s and at the time seemed impossible, but somehow we did it. Accomplishing this goal led many to believe we would soon be traveling to far distant planets and living in space, but, surprisingly, it turned out to mark the end of human exploration into space, for it was the last time humans left the earth’s atmosphere. Nonetheless, the space program inspired our culture and its technological revolution, which has led to an incredible array of achievements including the recent advances in medicine, communication and entertainment (and of course Tang a powdered juice drink created for the astronauts) of which all owe their existence to the 1960’s space race.
The Woodstock Festival on the other hand began with much less lofty expectations, but was critical to the “peace movement” of the time. Late in ‘69 the “hippie” culture was attempting to expand out of the west coast and came to a sleepy little farm community in New England. This legendary event brought a half million young people together for 3 days of music, peace, (drugs) and love. Few gave this event any chance of succeeding without violence and mayhem, but somehow it worked! The event stands out in human history, for it presented the evidence that humans of all races and creeds could peacefully coexist, even if was only for a short time. Unlike the Apollo mission, Woodstock was disorganized and chaotic, lacking enough medical support and food for the many and was impossibly doomed at its beginning. But remarkably the festival inspired something unexpected that saved it – good-will! As the event progressed it became clear that the organizers were far short of the resources needed to serve the unexpected multitude of fans – and quickly became a humanitarian crisis. The governor of N.Y. considered forcibly ending the event and called up the National Guard, who then stepped in, but surprisingly – not to end it – but to support it by bringing medical services. And the locals, who were “shell shocked” and a little terrified at first by the arrival of thousands, rallied to feed the hungry and saved the event. Not long after, the disturbing events of the 70’s and the country’s conflict over the Vietnam War buried what Woodstock was, and the festival’s message or “vision” of a kinder and gentler society seemed to die with its memory.
Looking back now, with the power of hindsight, it’s clear that these two events were “signposts” representing different possible roads for our culture’s future. One path exemplified the way of technology and the mastery of mind over Nature. The other presented a more passive approach, a choice to live with Nature in the most “natural” way. Needless to say, our society leaned more towards the “flashier” vision and threw its resources into creating devices and machines to serve its needs and desires. But the other “vision” never really died. It just went to seed awaiting its renewal sometime in the future.
Fast forward to today. We now find ourselves, as a nation, standing again at an important crossroads-just like in 1969. Just as before we have two roads emerging for going forward – one more material in focus and one that is more humanistic in its goals.
Our current modern industrial society is chugging along steadily churning out newer versions of its material technology and it offers a familiar road, but we also find another, one that’s promoting a growing interest in moving toward “green” industry with more liberal social policies. Could the growing interest in “liberalism” (or what some consider to be Socialism) actually have its roots in 1969’s peace movement, where many young people were seeing a path forward that was more harmonious? Could those seeds of LOVE be sprouting once again?
We can see these two perspectives being debated in our current political environment, and the two options are splitting the electorate into nearly equal camps. It’s fascinating that almost the entire field of Democratic Presidential candidates is on record as supporting the legalization of marijuana (in some fashion), something that seemed impossible in ‘69. Or, how about some of the policies being floated by these same candidates wherein all would receive medical insurance or a free college education? If these don’t sound like ideas from a 60’s wish list, I don’t know what does. Like the baseball great Yogi Berra used to say – “It feels like Deja Vu all over again!”
Obviously, the more generous policies suggested today may be “a bridge too far” for our current national budget (considering the debt our industrial society has built up), but likewise there are problems with the conservative perspective that is mortgaging our nation’s future on stuff! So what if we, the electorate, call for some of both? It seems our society is hung up on the idea that it must be one or the other! Maybe it’s time to compromise! This may seem impossible given the current political climate, but what the heck, who would have ever believed that politicians would ever sing the praises of “pot?”
Maybe the best road forward is where diverging roads merge to form a “wider” road? Perhaps the smartest policies for the country are the ones presented by the citizens and not the career politicians; for after all, it’s the citizens who have to be practical, for they live in the “real” world. Let’s all let our opinions be heard.