We just watched the film, “The Trial of the Chicago 7” and I highly recommend you have a look if you haven’t seen it. While there is some debate about the merit of the film, what came through for me is what James Berardinelli said in his review:
“In his screenplay, Sorkin does a masterful job of picking through months of testimony to find significant exchanges that speak a universal language about the corruption of power and the desire to silence opposition voices.”
I remember 1968 very well because I was a 35 year-old with 3 children. I was in Detroit and the issues in Detroit and Chicago were closely related in terms of protest, police and the government’s response to issues of racism and peaceful demonstrations. I was one of the voices involved in protesting around the issues of racism and the Viet Nam war, not a popular position in suburban Grosse Pointe, Michigan, where I lived and worked. I have written about that in another blog entitled “Understanding Racism” and here’s a link if you haven’t read it previously: https://garygruber.com/understanding-racism/
More details of my personal experience are documented in a small book, in Chapter Three, “Turbulent Times: Rocking the Boat” in this little memoir:
Fast forward from 1968 to 2020 and what do we have now? Some of the very same kinds of behavior from those in power who would like to silence the voices and actions of opposition to that power. Sometimes I feel like I have my needle stuck on the same themes that I have been playing for so many years – working to teach people, both young and old, the importance of compassion, empathy, equity and inclusion in every human endeavor and relationship. It is idealism with a dose of realism and not giving up or giving in. It is a kind of refusal to accept the status quo and believing that by working together we can make things better on many fronts. In the midst of several enormous crises, it’s hard to pick one.
In 16 days, a national election and referendum will decide what kind of leadership we will have in place to help deal with so many pressing issues. I cannot remember another time when this has been as critically important for the future of our country as well as for the future of our children and grandchildren.
What is our “universal language about the corruption of power and the desire to silence opposition voices.?” There are numerous phrases and quotations that describe this situation that prevails in so many parts of the world. If history teaches us anything of importance from which we might learn a different response, it could be summed up in this reminder from George Santayana: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” It is not only about remembering, it is about learning sufficiently from the past so we do not keep making the same mistakes over and over, eventually leading to our own self-destruction. It’s reminiscent of this definition of insanity – doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.
Let’s consider briefly “corruption of power” and “desire to silence opposition voices.” One of the more popularized quotes about the former is the statement made by Lord Acton, a British historian of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Writing to Bishop Creighton, Acton was trying to make the point that that the same moral standards should be applied to all men, political and religious leaders included. It was Acton who said, “Power tends to corrupt; absolute power corrupts absolutely.” This was an observation that a person’s corruption may increase as his or her power increases.
As for the “desire to silence opposition voices” we saw the response to opposition and protests in 1968 just as we have seen in 2020. I still hear the voices of MLK, Malcom X, JFK, Medgar Evers and RFK, as well as others from the 60’s and we know how they were silenced. Now we see and hear similar responses to opposition and protest as we saw then, the presence of police and military units to limit and restrict those who are peacefully demonstrating their rights of free speech and assembly as guaranteed in First Amendment of the Constitution of the United States of America.
The next chapter in the ongoing story of the Great American Experiment is about to begin. What role will we play in helping to write and tell that story?