Thursday, April 12, 2012

Some Notes on a Photo from 1968

Me at an Anti-War Rally, Grant Park, Chicago


I got a question about a photo I used in a blog I wrote a while ago, and thought I would just tell a little about it.

I'm 23 in the picture here, and it was taken in Chicago’s Grant Park.  We're all standing around waiting for an anti-war demonstration to begin and the Vietnam War to end.  While we wait for the soldiers to stop killing the Vietcong and for the Vietcong to stop killing the soldiers and for Jane Fonda to get back from Hanoi, we are trying to look cool. 

Do you see the button on my lapel?  If you could get close to it, you'd see that it says, "Share Water With Me."  It's a quote from a SF novel by Robert Heinlein called Stranger in a Strange Land, and it means I want to have a real, authentic relationship with you and every other person on the planet.  I took that kind of stuff seriously back then, and I guess I still do now, give or take a few people I know it wouldn't be a good idea to share water with.

There were a lot of these anti-war demonstrations back then.  There were so many that they now seem to blend into each other.  When I sit down and try to figure out when I started to demonstrate and when I finished, I can’t come up with any solid answers.  From about 1966 to 1975, I always seemed to be going to some demonstration on the northside or the southside of Chicago with my friend Bill Anderson.  A lot of these demonstrations seem small now, a couple hundred students, maybe a thousand, (especially after the big demonstrations that followed the Kent State Massacre when the National Guard killed four students), but they seemed big at the time and important too.  There weren't many people trying to stop the war before that.
File:Kent State massacre.jpg
Kent State University, May 4th, 1970
I know my dad wasn't one of them.  He and I would get into arguments about the war.  They were the only serious arguments that we ever had.  For the most part, my dad was pretty easy going and so was I, but we fought over the Vietnam War.  He was a Pole, a Polish patriot, who couldn't go back to Poland after the war because his homeland had been taken over by the Communists.  He was afraid that they would kill him if he went back.  So he couldn't see why I would be supporting the Communist Vietcong against the Americans.  I gave him some kind of explanation about the Vietcong being the democratically chosen representatives of the Vietnamese people.  I was doing a lot of reading about the history of the struggle and thought I had the answers.  He didn’t buy it, and it almost broke his heart to see me, his son, siding with the guys who had enslaved Poland.  It was a rocky few years for us until the war ended.

But that’s all politics and for most people politics is just old news.  Looking back at the picture now, I’m really interested in what I’m wearing.  

It may not seem like it if you’ve gotten your ideas about what people were wearing back then from Time Magazine, but I’m appropriately dressed as a hip/Vietcong 60's beat student.  Please notice that I’m wearing a Vietcong peasant hat, and that I don’t have long hair and that I’m not wearing love beads or flowers.  All that hippie stuff (hair, beads, etc.) was probably just a media concoction.  I didn’t know people who dressed that way, at least not in Chicago.   

Speaking of the way I’m dressed, the jacket I’m wearing in the picture has a history. It belonged to a dead man, a friend of my dad's who left him all his clothes.  Nice stuff, jackets, shoes, white shirts, and wool overcoats.  I wore them out over the course of the next ten years.  My wife Linda was happy to see the last of them go. Although she didn’t have to worry about the sport coat I’m wearing in the picture above.  A couple months after the picture was taken, I threw it away because somebody threw up on it.  Really.  I tried to clean it up (took it to North Avenue beach and washed it in the surf) and even doused it with perfume, but nothing helped.

I like the picture a lot because for me it does capture a moment.  Can you see the black fellow in the photo with his rooty-kazooty hat!  And the kid (Billy Martin, comic book fan) in front of me.  Cleancut as April.  Really, this is the way everybody looked in the 60's--even at an Anti-War Demonstration.  

Nobody was hip.  Everybody was hip.

___________________

You can read more about me in the 60s in a piece I posted at Open Salon called "1968: A True Confession."  Just click here.

By the way, Bill Anderson took the photo.  He was the official photographer for the  Chicago/Guzlowski/Anderson antiwar movement.  He died of cancer about seven years ago.  I miss him a lot.  May he rest in peace.