I wrote what follows two days before Martin Luther King was shot. If it was true then, it is truer now. Today Chicago and Washington are burning, tomorrow the entire country may be in ruins. We have known this was to come, it can certainly be no surprise. Some have thought that Johnson's decision not to run again would bring peace it cannot. Some are still hoping that by placating Black people with memorials to Dr. King a crisis will be "averted " but it cannot. Only by coming to terms with its own sickness, only by returning to the foundation, to its own beginnings, can this country resurrect itself from the ashes of its pride and its possessions.
There will be no peace in Vietnam until America knows and feels that it has lost in Vietnam. There can be no peace at home until America feels the fruits of its injustice to the Black Man. There will be no freedom at home until we create it here, from within ourselves to all that is around us. It is in that spirit that the piece which follows was written.
It has always seemed to me that the great diversionary tactic of society is to force some kind of rivalry that the main issue of life might be forgotten in the great rush of competition. This insidious task is not one forced on the people by their leaders, but is unconsciously created by the mass of the people, and it manifests each individual's unconscious attempts to avoid coming to grips with the great question "Who am I?". Thus do colleges have athletic rivalries, nations military rivalries, and individuals personal rivalries all toward the end of avoiding the painful but revealing process of introspection. If students at Harvard are chiefly concerned with beating Yale, they will spend little time putting their own institution to the test. If most Americans are concerned with stopping Communism, they worry not about their mistakes at home. But the deepest main concern of mankind on this planet is to understand himself, and if he does not set himself to this task, then it is brought home to him in various and unpleasant ways. And so we come to the summer of 1968.
America, the great United States of America, is in for the internal drubbing of its life. It is a tribute to this country's evolvement that it has reached such a powerful stage, but that will not lessen the violence and magnitude of its identity crisis. The Black Revolution and the dissatisfaction of young people will bring our national concern right back home where it has been too long absent.
Why is this happening, why at this time? The answer is written on the faces of the people in the street. Spend some Saturday afternoon hanging out in Harvard Square or some similar congested gathering place, and take a good look at the fat and the greedy, the sly and the conniving, the uncaring and the unconcerned. You will know in a moment why such a holocaust is coming our way. There's an old joke about a farmer who claimed to have the most obedient mule in the county. Another farmer, wishing to buy the mule from the first, put the mule to the test by commanding it to lie down. When the mile refused to move, the second farmer looked skeptically at the first. The first, picking up a huge stick, soundly whacked the beast on the, head and said "Lie down" The mule obediently lay down. "He's the most obedient mule in the county," said the first farmer, making the sale, "but first you have to attract his attention."
All those people out there on the street need something to attract their attention. Sound asleep from day to day, they wander vacantly about looking for some new entertainment, voicing some new complaint, never looking at themselves and wondering what's wrong with them. Or another variety, not much different, is entirely lost in the securing or aggrandizement of possessions. They will not wake up until all they have is gone. The choice today is simple, give it all up today, or have it all taken away tomorrow; there's little difference, it feels the same either way, he who tries to hang on until tomorrow is just putting off the inevitable.
Yes, go out there and hang out in the street for an afternoon, look at the faces, if you can stand it. Then, go home and look at yourself. Where do you stand in the midst of all this and what difference do you make? Precious little, I'll wager. Better get to work on yourself, my friend, become a tool of what's happening, it's willingly today or like it or not tomorrow. Nobody gets left out, there's not a way out of this one. We're all up against the same wall, and the poison gas we've been making all this tune has now completely filled the air in this little room, and in a moment we shall all have to breathe.Wayne Hansen