Sunday, October 23, 2011

The Beat Goes On

We must not confuse dissent with disloyalty. When the loyal opposition dies, the soul of America dies with it. ~ Edward R. Murro

I sort of slept through the provocative 60’s because I was busy having babies and pretending to be June Cleaver. Chasing after two rambunctious boys left me way too tired to focus on anything more serious than Pablum. I thought the Beat Generation was a tired group of housewives and mothers like me.

Years later, far removed from the self-containment of my earlier days, I woke up from my civic narcolepsy and joined a protest march against the war. My personal efforts did little more than insure that my name and photograph would be forever embedded in a folder at FBI headquarters. But by that time, I didn’t care because I had done something I felt strongly about and it felt good; I had broken with tradition and survived. I was proud of myself and I stood a bit taller.

That was back when I believed God favored America above all others because our country was a beacon of freedom, a place where dissension was not only possible without fear of reprisal, it was expected. Adlai Stevenson said, The sound of tireless voices is the price we pay for the right to hear the music of our own opinions.

The existing dissention throughout our country today has made me rethink my earlier perceptions. It is no longer acceptable to question authority, to ask why. Politically, when friends disagree they too often become hostile. Ordinary citizens are afraid to express different opinions because saying the wrong thing to the wrong people has consequences.

What’s wrong with this picture?

Every day, 24-7, our brave military men and women are fighting in other countries for our inalienable rights while the liberties they defend are snatched away, one by one, in our own backyards.

Even obscured by a fog of indifference in the radical 60’s, I was to learn the messages set in motion by the Beat Generation, if you can believe that. By opening up a political Pandora’s Box, cans of bureaucratic worms were forced to wriggle out. Kesey’s unbridled arrested childhood may not have been popular in conservative America, but he and his group of merry men stood up for what they believed in and it took guts.

Jack Kerouac. Neal Cassady. Allan Ginsburg. William Burroughs.

I was changing diapers and making formula when Kerouac took his first cross-country trip. If there was a difference between the Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test and Clorox’s tests for removing grape Kool-Aid stains, I wasn't aware of it. Long-haired hippies? They did not live in my white bread neighborhood. By the time I was in a position to boogie with the Grateful Dead, I was too old.

I never met Ken Kesey, but he took me to the movies. I willingly went with him on a journey inside of his head, a much shorter trip than he ever took, I’m sure. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest was my Aha Moment so when I walked out of the theater that day, I felt like my brain had been washed clean by new thoughts.

At that time, I was more like June Cleaver than June Cleaver, but I easily identified the counterculture and anti-establishment in that film. Many people raised in the 50’s, middle-American housewives like myself, only saw a stellar performance by Jack Nicholson as R.P. McMurphy, and Louise Fletcher portraying Nurse Ratched. In personifying the nurse’s total authority, I got that the Ken Kesey film exposed the inherent dangers when authority figures are given too much power. It was a wake-up call for me as well as for America. Or so I thought at the time.

I don’t want government or its banking minions to control my thoughts, my decisions, my speech or my pocketbook. I don't march around holding protest placards these days, but as an American citizen, I insist on retaining the right to do so. I am not willing to give away that privilege. The Bill of Rights says I don’t have to.

If we are to make our dissenting forefathers as proud of us as we are of them, we cannot sleep through White House shenanigans or the partisan games being played by our elected officials. It is up to us to preserve the vision of those brave patriots who defied England two hundred and forty-one years ago in order to insure our freedoms. As Americans, can we do less than honor their courage?

The beat goes on.

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