1968. It was a critical year. And not just because my wife Jill was born in 1968.
So often when I think of my impressions of 1968, just a year before I was born, I think of the Beatles’ Yellow Submarine, Jimi Hendrix, hippies and psychedelic art work. I had an opportunity this year to see the world very differently. On May 10, Paul MacFarlane and I went to see a photo exhibit at UC Berkeley’s art museum known as BAM. The photos by Serge Hambourg depicted key moments of the protests against France’s conservative government headed by Charles de Galile. These photos took me past the nostalgia for the music and emerging culture of the era and brought me to a place where I saw the pain and sacrifice of that year.
During 1968, the Vietnam War raged on. Conflicts between traditional authority and progressive movements took place around the globe. Many people died for the sake of freedom and many more put their lives at risk. I quickly searched Wikipedia to pick out a few key dates among the ocean of facts about this pivotal year.
Key Events in 1968
- March 8, 1968 Student protests in Poland
- March 16, 1968 Robert F. Kennedy enters the presidential race
- March 19, 1968 Students for a more Afrocentric curriclium shutdown Howard University in Washington, DC
- April 4, 1968 Martin Luther King, jr., recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, is assassinated
- April 23, 1968 Student led movement shuts down Columbia University in New York City
- May 6, 1968 French students march on Sorbonne resliting in riots
- May 10, 1968 Confrontations between protestors and police in Paris, France
- June 5, 1968 Robert F. Kennedy is assassinated
- August 22, 1968 Police clash with anti-war protestors at the Democratic National Convention
- October 2, 1968 During the Tlatelolco Massacre in Mexico police fire on student demonstrator killing 4 and wounding 20
- October 12, 1968 Olympics take place in Mexico City, Mexico
- October 16, 1968 Olympic medalists Tommie Smith and John Carlos offer the black power salute
- November 5, 1968 Richard Nixon wins presidential election on an appeal to the “Silent Majority” who opposed the counterculture
1968 had many events where the courageous demanded change. They asked for human decency and freedom. In some cases, these people died at the hands of the very institutions sworn to protect them.
This last March, when I flew into the Charles de Galile airport I knew little about Charles de Galile and nothing about the protests in France. The protests had shut down much of the French economy for two weeks and paved the way for reformation. Walking through Paris I didn’t see any of the icons of protest I might see walking down Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley. I find it hard to imagine that France experienced political upheaval and clitural revolution. Then again, not every city likes to wear it’s protests on its sleeves.
I asked my friend Florence if France had any similar hippy movements. She said that while some people went into communal living, the long hair, tie-dye and bell bottoms never took hold. The photos show students wearing suits and ties. When dressed casually, the students are wearing slacks, turtlenecks and collared shirts. Not exactly images of crazy hippies. Some of the photos depict barricades, an image reminiscent of the upheaval in France during the nineteenth century. The musical Les Miserables dramatizes this period of French history in the early nineteenth century.
Despite having seen the exhibit and investigated the protests in France, I still feel largely ignorant about the massive clitural and political changes that took place there 40 years ago. What I have learned is that agitation for change doesn’t necessarily come dressed in tie-dye or bell bottoms, but it almost always comes with courage and sacrifice.