The last week feels like 1968 all over again. It was alarming, scary and heartbreaking. I already lived that year. So, it’s an unpleasant surprise to live it all over again.
This week I planned to return to discussing climate. But events overwhelmed me. I am struggling to find meaning in all of this. It’s 2020, haven’t we learned anything yet?
1968 Was Traumatic
It seems silly now, but in 1968 I was a very idealistic young rocker. I had dreams about how we would change the world with our music and our vision for a better future. It was a traumatic year. In one fell swoop, it shattered the idealism of my generation.
We had multiple assassinations, unending violence in the streets, and the escalating War in Vietnam. We grew an intense distrust of our political leaders, which turned out to be justified in the end.
2020 Feels Like 1968
2020 is eerily similar. First, we had COVID-19. Then, just like 1968, my media filled with images of tear gas, police in riot gear smashing people with batons, the armed National Guard, and bloodied protesters. All of this over issues we had hoped to fix fifty years ago.
For me, that is the biggest heartbreak of all. We are reaping the rewards of the old trouble that we never fixed. We just buried it behind a façade of high ideals. Even now, in the midst of the chaos, I hear the old familiar saws that there is no racism in Canada, this is all the work of troublemakers, and we shouldn’t import the US’s trouble here.
But there are harsh realities we have to face. No, we didn’t fix this. Yes, the façade is a sham. And yes, speaking from personal experience, there is racism in Canada. The biggest difference is, for the most part the racism here is more subdued, less obvious, and much more subversive.
1968 Wasn’t That Great!
Social media is full of angry Canadians and the leaders who prod them along. They demand their right to have guns for protection from the invading hoards, distrust people of colour, and pine for a fictional “traditional Canada” where we all shared a language and values. But I am old enough to remember those “better times”. They weren’t that great. It wasn’t a good time for women, First Nations, minorities, and the gay community. We had actual problems.
1968 and 2020 Have Differences
While there is much these years have in common, there are some obvious differences.
We have social media. Everything is being recorded and shared in real-time. This is leading to more accountability, and slow as it may feel, creeping justice.
Also, we are witness to flashes of great hope. I saw police officers taking a knee to show support, chiefs taking off riot gear and marching with protesters, and police and demonstrators talking, sharing and hugging.
All of this turned potential violence into moments of healing. And we had peaceful marches across Canada.
And, because of the real-time record, we have new tools to address the injustice that led to all of this.
There Will Always Be Trolls
It seems, no matter how just our mission, it will attract trolls who exploit the situation for their own aims. We see this in the Black Lives Matter demonstrations. Extremists on all sides exploiting the situation to wreak havoc and have it blamed on others. We see it in the COVID crisis, with scam artists and fringe advocates pushing miracle cures and conspiracy theories. And we see it in our climate resilience work with sceptics and paid pseudo-experts who try to derail progress, discredit scientists, and make mischief. Trolls are always with us, and they never seem to be happy until they break things.
1968 and 2020 – We Have Lessons to Learn
I think my main take-away from this is the realization that in these crises we share a common mission. We have to speak the truth and then, unlike 1968, work together to do something concrete to fix the problems, once and for all.
This may seem optimistic, but we have to learn from our history. We are living through yet another historic moment. It is time to learn the lesson.