I read somewhere that everyone who ever lives thinks he or she lives during a time of great transition. The thing is, I know I do.

The biggest reason is that I am a product of the 1960s. I started college and graduated, worked in many temporary jobs, started teaching junior high, had long stays in New York City going to and coming from a year abroad, crossed this country several times – all in the 1960s.

I saw the decade from many perspectives. I’m not sure how much my worldview and my psyche would be different if I’d been born a decade earlier or later, but I suspect quite a bit.

During my long stays in New York City in 1968-69, I looked around and realized people appeared radically different. Styles were in upheaval. There was essentially no dress code, for the first time in my life.

Hippies were a major subculture, wearing tie-dyes and clothes from India and Africa. Long straight hair was the androgynous choice of many young people, except if they were black. The blacks (a new designation) were wearing Afros, and “Black is Beautiful” was the mantra of the times.

Widespread recreational drug use began. The sexual revolution was in its early years. You didn’t need to wait for marriage, a new value for the young people. Their parents definitely did not agree, and that caused many a family rift.

In 1969, I remember thinking that life back in 1960 had more closely resembled my grandmother’s time than it resembled the days I was observing just nine years later. Now that’s transition!

In the ’60s we were making such strides! We were eradicating racism. We were pushing for gender equality. We were thumbing our noses at materialism and corporate greed. We were rejecting the tight strictures of dress codes and excessive morality and unquestioned societal dictates. We were burning our bras. We were enacting exciting civil rights legislation that was making discrimination of most kinds illegal, and we were enforcing it.

But the biggest influence was the Vietnam War. I often wonder if that war was the cause of the changes, or if it just added to a movement that had its own momentum.

In New York City, faculties of colleges and universities were buying full-page ads in the New York Times explaining why the war in Vietnam was morally wrong. I was personally very against the war and would have done anything to end it.

But I loved our troops, hated what they had to endure and wanted only the best for them. My junior high students wrote to our soldiers over there as a continuing class project, and the soldiers wrote back.

I’ve heard younger adults say, “Our people were ambivalent about the Vietnam War.” Only someone who hadn’t lived in the ’60s would say that. No one was remotely ambivalent. We all had passionate views on it, unfortunately we were at polar opposites, and that was tearing our country apart.

There were demonstrations that turned into riots, and occasionally people were killed in our streets and on our campuses.

About half the nation thought, apparently for the first time, that it is not “my country right or wrong,” but instead it is a personal moral decision whether or not to support a war.

And we had assassinations. The big three (Kennedy, King and Kennedy) were probably not tied directly in any way to the Vietnam War but certainly added to the violent climate and edginess of the decade.

In one of my favorite “Law and Order” episodes, a woman who committed a crime in the ’60s and had been living underground ever since, was finally going to jail. The assistant district attorney ended the show by saying, “She will be out by 2010. Maybe the ’60s will be over by then.”

I think the ’60s won’t be over until all of us who lived it are gone.

But I sure hope the strides we made aren’t gone. I shake my head to read that racism has reared its ugly head on college campuses. I cannot believe women still aren’t leading our country, corporations and colleges in equal numbers compared to men.

And once again we are in a war that is deeply dividing our country.

But I have also heard that tremendous leaps in human consciousness are made at the millennium times, the decades right before and right after the change of a millennium. I am counting on that being the case. I hope that racism and sexism, and bigotry of any kind, are taking their last gasps during this decade!

And I hope, pray and work for humanity’s ability to move past war as an option. I know there are terrorists. But if for the last century the “first world” countries had communicated effectively and listened diligently, and had policies sensitive to all the different cultures and religions of our earth, maybe the terrorists of today wouldn’t be terrorists at all.

We need some more times of transition to head us in the right direction.

Dianne Russell Kidder is a writer, consultant and social worker, who is based in Lisbon. She is a regular contributor to this column. She may be reached by e-mail at [email protected]


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