THE BLOG
10/28/2011 10:37 am ET | Updated Dec 28, 2011

Memo to Occupy Protesters: Don't Make The Mistakes We Made in the 60s

We were marching for social justice and the end of the Vietnam War. It was called the Peace movement and while it may be responsible for forcing a President (LBJ) to not seek a second term and the eventual end of the war, the Peace train somehow got sidetracked and lost its focus.

I believe it was because of sex, drugs and rock-n-roll, or as Timothy Leary put it: "turn on, tune in, drop out." Not that I am condemning Woodstock, which is an iconic symbol for that period of social unrest expressed through music and celebration. There is a rebellious appeal surrounding pot, LSD, rock, and free love. I just think it is what derailed the hippie movement. For not only did it fall into the narrative that the "establishment" dumped on us protesters as dirty, unkempt, irresponsible, anti-American youths (sound familiar?); the emphasis on drugs distracted the movement from its real purpose -- peace.

It also indirectly led to the drug culture of today that plagues the poor and urban communities. There is no better way to suppress a population or movement than have them hooked on alcohol, crack cocaine, heroine, and now prescription pills. The establishment won that part of the battle. When someone has a drug addiction it consumes their life and creates a barrier to social protest.

An LSD experience, good or bad, is an individual trip. The peace movement started out as a powerful group phenomenon with a goal to benefit all of mankind. I remember going to D.C. for a war protest in 1972 and feeling a sense of oneness and commonality with all involved. The mission was clear: an end to war.

Somehow the hippie movement lost its unity and credibility when it became about flower children making love and tripping out instead of what we can do together to end war and create social justice.

The times now are totally different with the youth of today facing even more adversity than we did. For while the anti-war movement is resurfacing as a part of the Occupy Wall Street protests, economic justice is the driving force. There is high unemployment, sky rocketing college loans, home foreclosures, rising health care costs, and a shrinking middle class; all while big corporations have posted record profits and Congress is gridlocked by bitter partisan bickering. Overseas wars have become commonplace and since there is no draft, there is no outrage about sending young boys to die against their will.

So while most Americans welcome an end to our military involvement in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Libya, there is no outcry to reduce Pentagon spending even though we wasted trillions of dollars in the last ten years (seriously adding to our debt and economic problems.) 9/11 and the subsequent "war on terror" allowed the past administration to use fear to numb us into submission of accepting a bloated defense budget.

In the 1960s and 70s we used to complain about how the Defense Department was taking too large a piece of the American budget's pie. Today that percentage is astronomical.

Maybe this present movement is forcing us to re-listen to that conversation. I hope so, because I believe it is a large cause of our economic woes today and it is related to greed, big oil, Wall Street banks, corporations, and the rich 1 percent.

Maybe what is happening today is what President Eisenhower warned about regarding the "military industrial complex."

So while the goals and demands of the Occupy movement (economic justice, social justice, peace?) are still being sorted out, my advice to the protesters is to try not to fall into the pitfalls that we did over forty years ago. Drugs, alcohol, and other substances are not the way. Keep your eyes on the prize.

From my experience of visiting Occupy Philadelphia two times, I view this movement as embracing the practices of non-violence championed by Dr. Martin Luther King when leading the civil rights protests of the 1960s. Witnessing the tear gas tactics in Oakland and other recent arrests made against the 99%ers around the country, it seems the movement is heading for a test of wills between the protesters and the authorities. I say, stay strong and true to your principles of peaceful resistance. Civil disobedience is an American right and actually an honor.

We would not have the human and minority rights we have today if not for the persistence and courage of the social justice marchers of the civil rights movement.

The radicals that veered off into violent actions did us no favors and furthered derailed the peace train. You don't fight fire with fire, but water. Violence, hatred, and drugs have no place in a peace movement.

Both times on the way home after interviewing folks involved with the Occupy Philly movement, I felt a sense of oneness with the people I was sitting with in the train. They were all complete strangers to me, yet I felt a connection because the experience of meeting and conversing with those at the protest site sent me to a place of feeling my humanity and the common bond we all share. I would much prefer to be transported to this place than a drug induced state anytime.

To me, this is the purpose of the movement: to connect us to work together to find peaceful solutions for the problems that plague our society. It's a good start and maybe this time we will achieve our goals.

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