Civil Discourse Now

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Occupy Wall Street and student demonstrations of times past.

   In grade school, junior high and high school, we watched the news each evening. At least those of later to be called geeks watched the news. A chief feature of the reports of Walter Cronkite, David Brinkley (after his partner Chet Huntley succumbed to cigarette-related cancer), and whomever the anchor-of-the-month was featured on ABC was the latest in student demonstrations. Civil rights demonstrations were on as well, but as a white kid raised in rural Indiana, I identified more with the college students. At the start of freshman year, I read the thick guide to American colleges in the library. If a school sounded remotely interesting, I wrote away for its handbook. I had a shelf full of the damn things. I do well on  standardized tests. The SAT was no exception. I was (what they call now) wait-listed for Harvard. DePauw offered me money and so I went. My sophomore year we had demonstrations that shut down the school. The issue was valid---academic freedom and the denial of tenure to a prof over reasons unrelated to his competence---but our drive was, in large part, based on the news upon which we had been raised. A lot of us yearned to demonstrate, and the Vietnam War (and I know war never was declared but that was/is the nomenclature) was winding down. Our asses no longer were on the line via the draft.

   Today college students again are risen in protest, but over matters of a different nature. The Occupy Wall Street demonstrations appear driven by legitimate economic beliefs: that CEOs of businesses bailed out both by President Bush II and by President Obama have received bonuses for failure; banks given bail-out money have sat on it and not put it back into the economy; most specific to the students, they face huge debt to receive college educations of questionable economic value, given the economy.

   The demonstrations in the 1960s and early 1970s against U.S. involvement in Vietnam were driven, in part, by students' self-interest. Student deferments from the draft had ended. The drain of lives and money into that backward little corner of Asia made no sense. Students' self-interest in the Wall Street demonstrations is perhaps more direct. The spirit of youth---whatever that quality is---infused what was called the Movement 40 years or so ago. It does again today. In these demonstrations students appear to assert their concerns over the prospect of being saddled with a couple of hundred thou in student debt for college degrees that offer little hope of employment. However, at the same time they demonstrate on behalf of themselves, they advance the interests of what they call the 99 percent. I think they make a good point. And with each arrest or police attack, more demonstrators are inspired.

   The Vietnam War ended. The demonstrations had a great role in that end. I hope the Occupy Wall Street demonstrators have even greater success.       

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