OCCUPATION: MEMORIES OF 1968
In 1968 I finally had left home after a delay of several years, and I settled in Amsterdam, the fairest city in the land. I would have preferred to have left home at 16, as I was an angry kid whose aspirations for freedom and drive for independence was stifled by parental oppression and their religious fervour. In the end, even the minister was unable to keep me from “living in sin” with my unapproved boyfriend in the sin city on the other side of the nation, as far away from home as possible.
At the time, the cold war was in full swing. Tradition, middle class values and Calvinistic ethics ruled our nation. My generation of kids born after the war had no input in the political and social circles yet, as the newcomers on the block. That was soon to change.
Then, things started happening in the Netherlands.
My partner of the time was a well-connected activist and through him I met many interesting people, among others people that a few years later formed the Provo movement. One or two of them were elected as members of a political party that helped form city council.
Provo (standing for provocateur) was a fun group active in the sixties, a non-political party that stood for non-political goals, such as development of a public transit plan to use white bicycles as public property, for everybody to use as they see fit. I was indeed put into effect and functioned for a while.
Another goal was the promotion of so-called “soft drugs”: marijuana and hashish, as a way towards spreading peace and happiness. One Provo (Bart Huges) even promoted the Third Eye theory (causing a permanent enlightenment), drilled himself a hole in his forehead (trepanation), and encouraged his followers to do so as well—some actually did. When Huges and his wife split up and were looking for a home for their highly pregnant black cat, I adopted her.
During that time, public gatherings called “happenings” took place on the Leidseplein (Leiden Square) around a small bronze statue of a street urchin, called Het Lieverdje (translation: Little Darling) dancing and talking under big clouds of smoke and while paint spread about the place and bicycles.
The tactic was intended to entice the police to attend and arrest or disperse the Provos, to demonstrate that the police was solely the instrument of the establishment and to make fools out of them: they had no solid reasons to arrest or prosecute the demonstrators. Indeed none served any real time or could be persecuted.
In the year 1969 students occupied the administration building of the University of Amsterdam, called the Maadgenhuis (translation: house of virgins), a historic dwelling formerly for Catholic orphans, housing the university library as well. The students stayed for five days, to express their dissatisfaction with the fact they had no input in the way their education was structured within the institution, increases in tuition fees, as well as to express solidarity with labourers and those in other parts of the world. The building was empties by police and a non-violent action and students arrested, processed and released. They wanted to change the world and reach for peace and equality for all. By the way, in January this year (2011) another occupation occurred for the same reasons!
The restlessness of my generation was eventually funnelled into engagement and integration into the general society. They became part a fine group of adults that effected change. One of the results in Amsterdam was a more liberal city council, and the renewal of political social-democratic politics and a general move towards tolerance and innovation and yes, towards the political left. The Provos, students and other demonstrators and affiliates got their degrees, got jobs and families, and moved on to take important positions in society.
This generation eventually became the establishment. Now our societies have stagnated again, while the baby boomers are retiring or already did. Their legacy is hard to discern now, as their achievements of more tolerance and greater equality for all seem to have crumbled. The richer got richer and the accumulation of wealth and greed by the top few destroyed our financial world and threw many societies into financial disaster. Was it their fault to forget to educate and groom the new leadership and the establishment on the values of equality, fairness and tolerance?
Many of us have been watching the new Occupy X movement this year with interest, while memories of that time in the late sixties flood those of the baby boom generation, like me. That student protest took place all over Europe and North America simultaneously, just like it does now.
During the last decade, a swing to the right and to conservative governments took place in the industrialized world. Most of Europe is now conservative, with maybe one or two exceptions. Although the US has a democratic president, the government has trouble passing legislation because of the strong conservative opposition.
While the economic crisis has significantly affected many people in the US and in Europe and to some extent in Canada, yes, discrimination is also on the increase.
In France, the media recently reported the rise of renewed anti-Roma sentiments. The French government deported large groups Roma, identified as illegal immigrants from Bulgaria and Romania, under the guise these residents had not met the French residency requirements.
In France, anti immigrant street demonstrations are in creasing, anti-immigrant political groups gained a lot of strength in the last decade in France and even have representation in the parliament. The Roma were targeted as the cause of the economic troubles, as a visible minority, just like in pre war times in Germany, leading up to WWII.
Italy has made an agreement with the new government in Libya to prevent refugees from Libya (many from the African countries and/or Muslims) from entering Italy.
In the US we have seen the rise of the Tea Party that hates everything that is not white and conservative.
The European Community, beacon of tolerance and collaboration, is threatening to fall apart under the stress of economic hardships. Each individual nation seems to want to bunker in to protect against the other nations’ debts: it’s the fault of the Greeks, or next, the Italians, and so on.
Governments of all nations have hiked the student fees to astronomical amounts, offloading budget shortfalls on the students, leading to large demonstrations.
In Canada disability benefits are cut back, even for those soldiers who got back from the “war against terrorism” , disabled and unable to provide a living for their families. This is crisis management; these austerity measures are applied without ethics.
The cause of all started with the deregulation of the banking world by US governments, followed by fraud on large scale in the US financial and banking world and its unrestrained greed, resulted in a global economic downturn. Investment were lost when banks collapsed, closed, or were bailed out. Very, very few, if any, that caused this disaster have been put in jail or even arrested. The small investors and retirees living of those investments have no way to regain any losses and they experience increased desperation as a result. The housing market has completely collapsed.
In the meantime China rose up as the new economic giant of the future, while the Middle East shook off dictators. These are hardly nations with a leading edge in humanistic, democratic ideals, or tolerance to other views. We cannot count on those nations to stay humane and tolerant as a global community.
In my view, a lot of the responsibility lies with the baby boom generation that lost their way, became conservative and omitted to teach their heirs on the spirit of tolerance, sharing and equality.
A warning is due: religious zealots who find an entry into scared people’s minds will target whole nations, or another religion or culture that they will blamed for all the misery, or that simply could function as a distraction from their own sorrows: scapegoats. Within our time, history could repeat itself.
I sure hope that the gains and wisdom of the sixties and seventies will not be lost for the current generation. I wish all the more power to the new generation of occupiers who do not stand for the current status quo. I will follow them with interest and support their presence, however chaotic and diverse they might be. They have my blessing.
I would really like it if you would share your experiences, comments or thoughts with me.