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Nostalgia and Survival

February 18, 2016

Watching the Black Panthers documentary on PBS the other night (The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution by Stanley Nelson) made me predictably nostalgic, but I was also confused. What exactly had I thought of the Panthers, and their now-mythic confrontations with the cops, back in the day? In some cases I was just a few miles away when the events went down, but I don’t remember my attitude. Was I mostly on the Panthers’ side, somewhat on the cops’ side, or in my usual utterly muddled middle?

Jed Garoover, as immortalized in the Library of Congress

Jed Garoover, as immortalized in the Library of Congress

The documentary also brought up fond memories of San Francisco Chronicle columns by the late Art Hoppe, who turned political figures into comic characters such as Elbie Jay and Billy Boomer, Boy President. Parts of the documentary featured Washington’s arch-villain, the head of the FBI, and I was trying to recall: Did Hoppe invent the name Jed Garoover for that multi-chinned Mephistopheles? It seems to me he did, though I can’t now confirm that.

Most important, the documentary got me thinking about my faith in America—its culture, its political system, its fundamental being. Despite all the polarization and hatred in the Panther days, I didn’t feel, as I do now, the same overpowering sense that the American Soul was at stake. Maybe my youth made me optimistic. Maybe I believed that truth would win in the long run (hah!). Maybe I trusted in the innate sense of the common people who supposedly have the final say in a democracy.

Now I know that we commoners are marginalized by power brokers and fixers, and many of us don’t give a shit anyway. A friend with relatives in Jerusalem tells me that many young Jewish Israelis have given up on politics, neither believing in the long-assumed “two-state solution” nor searching for an alternative. Instead, she says, they live for the moment; they go to cafes and dance on the beach. Is that what we’ve come to now in America?

My new home? (Courtesy of Google Maps)

Though we survived the empty-pated Reagan and the crook Nixon, not to mention earlier embarrassments like Harding and Grant, can we survive the new Republican, Dred Crumpio? (For a sketch of Crumpio, see my previous post.) In the event that the White House, as well as Congress, becomes the fiefdom of demagogic frauds, I’m at least half-seriously considering a move to Canada. I’ve already picked out a neighborhood with a large dog park (green area on the map), though I haven’t yet researched the regulations for exporting dog and family.

So: Would I be wrong to give up on the US of A? Would that be (a) cowardly, (b) a sign of clinical depression, or (c) sane?

2 Responses to “Nostalgia and Survival”

  1. Ken Dowell Says:

    Haven’t seen the documentary yet. If I think back to the Black Panthers in the late 60’s/early 70’s I would at the time have claimed to be a supporter. But I also was intimidated by them and so I was really kind of an arms-length supporter. As a college student at the time it was somewhat fashionable to try to out-radical the next guy.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Sam Gridley Says:

      Exactly. I was certainly left-of-center at the time — my parents would have said WAY LEFT — but always with a certain unease about extreme positions. The positive view is that awareness of my limited understanding made me cautious. The negative view is that I was just a wishy-washy white liberal like so many others. In defense of our wishy-washiness, we could argue that groups like the Panthers set out deliberately to be intimidating, at least in their public posture.
      The documentary has its critics, but it’s worth watching. It sheds some light on different tactics and personalities within the party. It talks about the nasty secret ways the government undermined the Panthers, though perhaps nothing can do justice to Jed Garoover’s nefariousness. And the relevance to today’s Black Lives Matter movement is undeniable — a half-century later, so little has changed.

      Liked by 1 person


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