50 Years On
2018 – a year of anniversaries. Prague, Paris, Chicago, Martin Luther King, Robert Kennedy. Names and places that resonate today. All of these will be talked about and read about this year, fifty years on from assassination and riots. For me, a year of personal memories.
1968 – the year of revolution
1968 – the year of revolution! The year of change. The year when young people took to the streets around the world and made their voices heard. We don’t like the way things are, they said. At least, that’s how I remember it. I was there. And now, 50 years on, how is the world looking? Not so good, most people would say.
First there was Prague where, in 1968 a wave of liberalisation was being greeted with hope and optimism. Maybe the new leader Dubcek would be able introduce reforms. Socialism with a human face. But hopes were dashed when Soviet tanks entered the city in August. Demonstrators protested but it was a hopeless cause.
Then there was Paris. May 1968 and young people again on the streets protesting against capitalism and US influence. Finally there was Chicago in August. Young people flocked to the city where the Democratic convention was taking place. It was partly a protest against the ongoing Vietnam War but partly just a protest against the way things were.
I was there
I was caught up in this amorphous movement. I wasn’t in Paris in May but I was in Chicago in August and three years earlier I had been in Prague where I had felt the flowering of the liberalisation movement. I was in Chicago simply because I was in the USA as a student on holiday and everyone, it seemed, was going to Chicago.
I sat in the sunshine with my friends in Lincoln Park enjoying the bands that were playing and felt the menace as helmeted and armed police surrounded us. We crept away.
Chicago was the stimulus for my first piece of journalism, my first published writing. When I returned to university, I wrote an account of the Chicago riots for the university newspaper. I remember that my American tutor loved it! At last someone has done something interesting in the holidays, he told me.
Here is a taste of that report:
The various groups [present in Chicago] are trying to establish new values and find a new and deeper awareness of themselves. They reject nearly everything which present society has to offer as corrupt and meaningless. … They are a generation in search, not of a final and all pervading answer but of a deeper consciousness which will open their minds to further questions. … They are seeking to loosen the restrictions imposed by a rigid social and political structure.
Now my generation are the ones who have been running the show for decades – and once again the young are not happy.