The Sixties and New Movement For Humanity

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Rennie Davis earned fame as one of the Chicago 8 who stood trial for organizing protests outside the 1968 Democratic National Convention after the nomination of pro-Vietnam War candidate Hubert Humphrey for President and coordinated the 1971 May Day protests in Washington, D.C. which saw the largest civil disobedience arrests in American history.

Nearly a half century later, Davis revisits the 1960s movements in his book The New Humanity: A Movement to Change the World (Las Vegas: BlissLife Press, 2017) which aims to inspire activists who are part of a budding global movement Davis calls “New Humanity.”

This movement is responsive to the outrages of the Trump presidency and massive global inequality spawned by the neoliberal economic order.

Led by millennials cut off from access to the American Dream, Davis predicts that the New Humanity movement will soon become even bigger than the 1960s movement because it will have to reconceptualise how humans live and interact with the environment in order to mitigate the impact of climate change.

Davis points out that one of the central legacies of the 1960s movement is the idea that the people are often far wiser than their governments and need to act collectively on their own to fight against wrong-headed policies and injustice.

During the 1960s, it was the people – and not the government – who challenged racist Jim Crow policies in the American South. And it was the people who realized that the U.S. government’s policy in Vietnam was deeply immoral and who fought to end the war.

Davis himself took several trips to Vietnam and witnessed first-hand how the Vietnamese people mobilized to fight and defeat the Americans. They had prepared in advance for U.S. carpet bombing attacks and built underground tunnels which enabled them to survive the onslaught, and banded together to share their resources, rebuild infrastructure and contribute to the war effort.

Their example can provide a model for dealing with climate change, the key being the need to prepare in advance for its effect and mobilize together.

Davis grew up a happy-go-lucky teenager in rural Virginia who was largely “ignorant of the state’s troubling past [with racial segregation].”

His political awakening occurred at Oberlin College in Ohio when he came in contact with Tom Hayden, who drafted the Port Huron Statement manifesto calling for a new participatory democracy. Davis went on to support the Freedom Riders in the South and came to direct the Economic Research and Action Project (ERAP), which confronted local political machines in undertaking community organizing in northern urban ghettos.

Later, Davis traveled to North Vietnam with Hayden to gain a better understanding of the effects of the Vietnam War.

He was most horrified by the use of cluster bombs which spewed metal shrapnel over an area the size of multiple football fields, killing or wounding people with “an indiscriminate devastation.”

Davis boldly trekked up to the Panhandle between the 17th and 19th parallels and visited the heavily bombed city of Vinh, which he said resembled “the moon with crater upon crater, like the aftermath of the atom bomb without radiation.”

Even though the city was gone, Davis was astounded that many of its residents survived by setting up quarters inside a deep tunnel system and he was moved by the performance of women singing and dancing for a free and independent Vietnam inside the tunnels.

The New Humanity provides important insights about the Vietnam War and 1960s movements which helped “yank the United States from an entrenched cultural oppression of Afro-Americans” and “sparked a grass roots revolution that forever changed the way we think and act as a nation.”

The movement flourished because young people learned to think for themselves and “had each other’s backs.”

If Davis wanted to travel cross country, he could just walk out his front door and hitch a ride. When activists were arrested, legions of people would support them, and the fear of igniting a revolution deterred the government from imposing draconian sentences.

The ‘60s movement was subjected to considerable surveillance and repression. It included many active duty soldiers, who gave authenticity to the allegations of systematic war crimes in Vietnam.

Activists of the period engaged in an eclectic mix of protest styles, from traditional marches and petitions to acts of political theater and mockery that won them many supporters.

During the Chicago Eight Trial, co-defendants Jerry Rubin and Abbie Hoffman exposed the proceedings as a farce through comedic antics and facetious comments towards the judge, Julius Hoffman, who came across as a dinosaur (like today’s GOP and many Democrats). Davis, Tom Hayden and David Dellinger were the “straight men” who used the trial as a platform for explaining their mission to end the war in Vietnam “with reason and logic.”

Davis ends the book by stressing how the 1960s movements ought to serve as a building block and model for today’s “new humanity movement” which will resist the efforts to deport Muslims, privatize the general welfare, build dangerous crude oil pipelines and restrict voting rights and health care. New Humanity at the same time seeks to advance a permaculture network, breakthrough clean energy technologies and sustainable agricultural practices. Davis says that coming events will turn public attention our way if we will remember the vision of Vietnam – to set up and get ready now before the storms arrive.

This is indeed what we ought to be doing.

Jeremy Kuzmarov teaches at the University of Tulsa and is author of several books on U.S. foreign policy as well as web articles on the history of the Korean and Vietnam Wars. See http://peacehistory-usfp.org/vietnam-war/

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