Classes of 1972 and 2012

 

I enjoyed our 40th high school re-union this past month. As the Class of 1972 we just escaped personal destruction in the Vietnam War--that was the fate of our older brothers and the classes ahead of us. Still as Larry read aloud to us news snippets from 1972 the war was there. The 1972 Christmas B-52 carpet bombing of Hanoi was yet to served up on the evening news, but the war in Vietnam and at home had been the ever-present soundtrack of our high school days.

Used to be there really was evening news before it was replaced with Kardashian fluff. Walter Cronkite, Huntley-Brinkley, Dan Rather brought the sights of black citizens being mauled by police dogs in Birmingham, the shooting deaths of voter registration civil rights workers in Mississippi, the assassination of Martin Luther King, his dream deferred exploding in cities aflame with tanks patrolling the streets. We remembered the beating of anti-war protesters at the Democratic Convention 1968,  as well as  Vietnamese kids with burned napalmed flesh hanging in strips--the napalm supplied by Dow Chemical. We remembered the My Lai massacres of Vietnamese civilians. We remembered when the war came home and four of us were shot to death at Kent State.

Many of us were activists. Our class demanded Black Studies in history. We wore black mourning armbands and participated in the Moratoriums against the war in 1969. We cheered when Yippies  Abbie Hoffman / Jerry Rubin in a bit of street theater dumped baskets of dollar bills over the rails at the New York Stock Exchange. For the political Right the 60's was just a time when we should have all just been spanked. No, it was a positive time. We believed President John F. Kennedy before he was shot, believed Senator Robert F. Kennedy before he was shot, we believed that we could change the world. We did. And we are still changing it for the better. Martin Luther King said "The arc of history is long, but it bends towards justice." But it does take us, you and I, to bend that arc of history, remembering that the forces of money and power always have and always will fight against justice and fairness.

 

On a lighter note, Laura reminded me at the re-union of my response to sophomore English teacher Mrs. Swogger. Upon the class being assigned a 1500 word essay Laura claims I offered (I don’t remember) to draw a picture, that is worth a 1,000 words, then do a 500 word blurb. Well, it musta’ been as Laura tells it. Over the last year, perhaps it is a phenomenon common to those in the second half of their Fifties, I’ve been talking with a lot of friends I have not been in touch with for decades. I think of all my classmates who grew up with me in the crazy but intensely alive late 1960s, of all the patients I’ve seen in 35 years of emergency care on the streets or in the ERs of Cleveland, Columbus and southern Ohio, of everyone, everywhere.  Many friends, many patients whose life did not turn out as they had hoped, many tragically. With Walt Whitman (and Aerosmith) I sing for them all: “With music strong I come, with my cornets and my drums/ I play not marches for accepted victors only, I play marches for conquered and slain persons” (Whitman, “Song of Myself”) . They will all be in Heaven. (see Pastor Rob Bell’s book  “Love Wins” )

I think of the three groups of kids I have helped raise, the three that came along with wife Toye, two of our own, and now raising three grandchildren full-time. I had never figured from those crazy days 40 years ago that I'd ever be so domestic. I worry that some of the many visiting teens crowded around our dinner table, bright as they are, likely do not have the financial resources to attend college.

 

40 years after the Class of 72’ stupid and tragic wars are still with us. Dick "Darth Vader" Cheney says we can't cut the Pentagon budget as we have to be ready for more wars. With that attitude we shall surely have them, to be fought as always by poorer kids. Decades of right wing “I’ve-got-mine-now’-I’ll-take- yours-too”  gangster economics policy has mugged and left for dead the American Dream for the kids visiting around my dinner table. We owe them better. Let’s start by 1) Cutting the Pentagon budget by 50%, 2) Amending the Constitution to clarify that corporations are not people and that money to buy elections is not free speech and 3) as a clear signal that our people, the kids around my table are our best national resources make tuition free at all colleges and technical schools and pass Canadian-style “Medicare for All” national healthcare legislation. We can be the great just and fair nation we were meant to be.

 

--- Brad Cotton