Hope can be found even in troubling times

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Midland Daily News December 19, 2007


            On Sunday December 9 I was riveted to the TV watching “1968 with Tom Brokaw” on the History Channel. It is so easy to forget parts of history even though I lived through it. I knew all the events Brokaw talked about but I had forgotten they all occurred in that year. Brokaw said it was a pivotal year in American history. Indeed it was.

            The United States was embroiled in the Vietnam War. About 15,000 soldiers were killed in Vietnam that year, nearly double the number killed in they year before. The total number of American deaths in Iraq don’t total the number of that one year.

The anti-war protest movement was growing rapidly.  The protestors  even managed to have Eugene McCarthy as their  candidate in various state primaries and at the Democratic Convention.     The height of the protest came during the Democratic National Convention with many angry people outside the convention hall in Chicago in August. Mayor Richard Daley order the police to use force to break up the protestors. Daly was boosed publickly on the convention floor.

            In those days it was fun to watch the conventions of both parties as the nominee was determined at the convention. We watched with intensity as the various states cast their votes for their candidate until at the end one was declared a winner.  Nowadays the conventions are a public show of the pre-selected candidate through state primaries and other back room manipulation.

            There was much division in our country in 1968 but it was a division that expressed itself in protests, demonstrations, and being involved in politics. Today the division is based on being right and people aren’t talking to each other.

Because of the war protests President Lyndon Johnson made the unprecedented announcement of “not seeking nor accepting” the Democratic nomination.   After Hubert Humphrey became the Democratic candidate he opposed the war but it was too late to rally the voters around him.

            The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was a model of non-violence in his leadership of the civil rights movement to bring African Americans into the mainstream of American life. At a speech in Memphis in April he was assassinated. Despite his non-violent attitude many riots broke out across the country. One notable exception was Indianapolis where Robert Kennedy spoke to the African Americans there urging them not to seek revenge but rather reconciliation. In a rare moment of his own personal journey he said he knew what it was like to have someone close killed by an assassin. He was  referring to the assassination of his brother President John F. Kennedy  five years earlier.

 Two months later after narrowly winning the California Democratic primary Robert Kennedy too was assassinated bringing to a halt the energy and vision of a man who said , "Some men see things as they are and ask 'Why?' I dream things that never were and ask, 'Why not?'" 

            The women’s liberation movement began in 1968. One woman said on the program they weren’t ready to call themselves feminists but this was the precursor to that movement.

            Thousands of young Americans migrated to the Haight-Ashbury area of San Francisco where they experimented in a new way of life that involved drugs and sex. They were protesting too in their own sort of way. The movement was highlighted in a song that had these words “if you are going to San Francisco, be sure to wear some flowers in your hair …” These people came to be known as hippies and the flower children.

That year ended with a rather dramatic hopeful event. In December three astronauts circled the moon and saw the earth from outer space. It was a triumphant moment in American history that took its spirit from the vision of John F. Kennedy who declared in 1961 that we would have an astronaut on the moon by the end of the decade. That actually happened in 1969.

On a personal level we bought our first home that year and our daughter Lynn was born in August  conveniently between the two national conventions.

Despite the divisions and tragedies of that year there was national and personal hope. Let’s cling to the hope of 2007 that leaders of vision will rise up to meet the challenges of our times.