1972: War was waging in Vietnam and kids were coming home in boxes. Hippes and yippies went clean for Gene McCarthy, but George McGovern won the democratic nomination. Tricky Dick Nixon was the one for the Republicans and the so-called Silent Majority. I was a sixteen-year-old runaway revolutionary of peace and love, living in a commune, wearing hair down my back, stoned all the time, too cool for school, chanting “Give Peace A Chance.” I dreamed longingly of the day I’d be a cool old guy of twenty or so. Freedom! My girlfriend and I volunteered at the New Party offices and stuffed envelopes for the McGovern campaign between epic (and very confusing) makeout sessions in Peacock Park on McFarlane Lane by Biscayne Bay. (Gay liberation hadn’t yet reached the commune.) We burned incense, sang songs, gave everyone long sensuous hugs (you’d be busted if you tried it now), got naked in public, and dreamed of Woodstock Nation. And we had an incredibly awesome soundtrack.
And, yes, we meant business. And, yes, we brought change. And, a whole lot of it was as goofy as fuck. We recognized Bob Dylan as a poet (hooray!), along with Rod McKuen (huh?). We understood that Allen Ginsberg, meditating and chanting with his harmonium in the midst of chaos, was a hero. We had more hope than hate. I wanted to be a professional astrologer when I grew up.
1984: I am a university student. Ronald Reagan is President. There is war in El Salvador, Granada, Nicaragua. I know it goes on but I am more engaged in my special cause of gay liberation. The demonstrations were changing and they changed for real with the deaths of Harvey Milk and George Moscone, the tragedy of Jonestown, and the armageddon of AIDs, when the indifference of “President” Reagan taught this faggot to hate.
Life went on in the ‘90s, and there was an anti-war movement and an anti-nuclear movement and gay liberation continued to march and it was all good and important but it wasn’t central for me, not like it was in the ‘70s.
Then came Occupy which seemed like a rebirth of hope. And President Obama. Then Black Lives Matter.
Inconceivably, we are faced with President Trump (the SCROTUS—So-Called Ruler of the United States) and our culture is once again on the cliff edge of cataclysm. Things are not yet as crazed as the 1970s, but those who remember can see the writing on the wall. What made the difference then were the dead bodies. As families are torn apart by Trump’s hateful deportation policies, as young Black men continue to be slaughtered by an occupying police force, as reactionary forces clamp down (as they will) on the new demonstrators, leaving severed limbs in the alleys, there will be bodies enough. It’s a hard rain’s agonna fall.
And so, folks are in the street again, and it is becoming more central to more lives than it has been for a long time. And so, I step out.
It’s different than it was and it’s the same-oh, same-oh.
March 4, 2017: I have supported demonstrations from afar, but today I will attend. A group of Trump supporters have announced that they will gather in Berkeley to “March Forth” (fourth, get it?) for Trump. Local activists have responded with a planned counter demonstration. The police are donning their riot gear, and warn of violence. I have to work (it’s the money, honey) but I feel I can’t stay away. This is discussed with my partner, Argyle C., and we agree that I will go with my video camera and be a witness. I promise to call ACK! (Argyle C. Klopnik, that is) when I arrive, and periodically throughout the event, to assure him of my safety. But I’m not that worried. It’s Peace Park in Berkeley, for Pete’s sake. In the middle of the day. How bad could it be?
When I arrived at the demonstration around 3 p.m., faces were already bloodied. I had missed the fist fights but I saw the aftermath: angry posturing, tense police in riot gear, confused folk on both sides (pro-Trump and anti-Trump), mostly disoriented.
Masked anarchists were seemingly out to intimidate everybody. One grabbed my video camera and flung it to the pavement, I have no idea why. Another postured a few feet away, fixing me with a hate stare, threatening violence, clearly out to scare the fuck out of me. I suppose they want to let it be known they mean business, and so do we all, but I found them as scary in their masks and black hoodies as fascists in brown shirts. I have never before been frightened at a demonstration, unless it was fear of the police.
The Trump demonstrators seemed odd and out of place, folk not accustomed to this kind of scene. One guy, wrapped in a flag, was shouting: “It’s obvious you people hate God!” Huh? Trump is conflated with God?
One very angry guy (who was he with?) spun in circles, seemingly in a kind of trance, yelling: “Pakistan! Pakistan!” over and over again.
Bad vibes, man, like a gathering storm.
What could I do? I know I stand against Trump, but I felt no solidarity, no vision, no hope: just fear and anger and hatred.
But I remembered Allen Ginsberg, a hero, meditating in the midst of violence in Chicago. This is something I can understand: the solidarity of witness and the desire to hold a center. I sat down on a tree stump and did the same. Eyes closed, I heard angry shouts. I opened my eyes for a moment to see a woman with a mask and a baseball bat being detained by the police. I let my lids drop. I sat. The temperature changed—the day began to give way to night.
I felt a hand on my shoulder. An older man, who looked like an aging hippie, like me, looked down at me. He had been demonstrating with the Trump supporters. He seemed grateful for my calm.
I’ll be back. Where else would I be?
Be careful, folks. Times are interesting and may get harder. If nothing else, be a witness and refuse to be silenced. It matters.
Rumpus original logo by James Lorenzato, aka Argyle C. Klopnick (ACK!). Photographs taken and provided courtesy of author.
“The Storming Bohemian Punks the Muse” was originally developed as a column under the editorship of Evan Karp at Litseen. An earlier incarnation of this work can be found there, along with many other interesting things.