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All Right?

Island Life
On Parade in Chappaqua, N.Y. 5/30/63 photo Anne Ray

For them that must obey authority That they do not respect in any degree Who despise their jobs, their destinies Speak jealously of them that are free Do what they do just to be Nothing more than something they invest in.
Excerpt from It’s Alright, Ma- Bob Dylan

I’m not really sure why it popped into my head as I was contemplating this particular meditation, but it did. At the time of those times of Dylan the Younger, when the other major groundswelling of activism pulsed through my generation, I was living in Leave it to Beaver land, where protest consisted of refusing to eat that liver no matter how "good" it was for me, secretly not wearing my retainers for three nights in a row and faking sleep and exhaustion when the call came down for everyone to get in the station wagon to go to church. I did, however, proudly wear a Cub Scout uniform and march in formation in the Memorial Day parade. On the other hand, the day after one particularly wild Halloween in the neighborhood when I decided to take it upon myself to drag my red wagon around the block to pick up all the shaving cream cans that had been emptied on mailboxes and smaller, weaker goblins by the big kids with bully budgets, I learned that being proactive about the environment was bad, as my mother put it, because doing something about it implied that I had something to do with creating the mess in the first place, and "what would the neighbors think?" In some ways, I’ve had some unlearning to do.

In spite of those times, Dylan and protest were not a big part of my sixties experience, so I’m not sure why I picked this particular song title to play on my brain loop. I certainly wasn’t familiar with the lyrics, except for that one refrain about it being alright. The bleeding part, I’m only bleeding, only appears as a parenthetical addition to the it’s alright, ma of the title. It is perhaps that the reference to blood, combined with the title’s overt weight of irony, was what triggered my memory vault while watching the multitude of police state brutalizations being acted out in response to the various Occupy occupations, with Free Speech TV and Democracy Now, at least, doing their best to contradict the late Gil Scott Heron’s claim that the revolution will not be televised. It was with a bit of stunned amazement that I read the entire lyric sheet for Dylan’s song, and was made still by a shock in the recognition of its stark relevance nearly five decades later. This should have not been such a surprise, as this activist déjà vu has been anything but a singular phenomenon. One of the best examples of this for me was in finally seeing Hearts and Minds a few years back. I had heard about this Oscar winning documentary from 1974 for many years, but it wasn’t till I brought it home and watched it that there was a palpable chill rising in my spine, along with the realization that one needed only to replace references to Vietnam with the names of Iraq or Afghanistan and one wouldn’t know for certain whether one was in the Nixon or Bush era. The more it changes, the more it stays the same.

The Occupy movement was still eight years away when the Oscar nominated documentary the Weather Underground was released. This film contained many revelations for me, along with another spine-tingler at the end when Weatherman and student leader Mark Rudd was asked in a contemporary interview what he thought he had accomplished. His look and length of time to answer spoke volumes. Googling him earlier today, it seems that the Occupy clan has given him a brighter perspective on things. In being asked what advice he had for the Occupy movement, Rudd applauded the adherence to non-violence, now regretting his own turn to bombing and destruction. He also lobbied for seeking alliances with politicos, something else he now regretted not doing back then. One can only do one’s best to sidestep the irony here as well, since it was a Dylan lyric- "You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows..." that gave the Weather Underground its name. And the last refrain in It’s Alright, Ma suggests that Dylan had thoughts of anything but a peaceful means to better ends. As the Occupiers have already noted, the politicos are already owned by the residents of Wall Street, so joining forces with them seems a less than prudent venture. And with the president of these United States just announcing that he is sending troops and advisers to Australia, one can only shake one’s head in bewilderment at how history threatens a rerun in the South Pacific, while congress proclaims a pizza to be a vegetable as they puzzle over how a spending limit of $10 will affect their choice of baubles for the congressional secret Santa gift exchange.

If it were me, I would be advising a move to occupy the MBA programs around the world, as that is where the keys to greed are being cut and handed out. And of course, they/we should occupy the media. And you know, we should dispense with the irony and tell it like it is, which it seems like what this whole Occupy thing is about. It is, after all nowhere near alright, ma- I’m just sayin’.