Toronto protest against the Iraq War, March 22, 2003. Photo: Bill King
Toronto protest against the Iraq War, March 22, 2003. Photo: Bill King

Bill King's Term Paper

November 22, 1963, the day John F. Kennedy was assassinated, Dominique by The Singing Nun topped the charts. Within two months of the mortifying event, the Beatles soared to the top of the charts with I Want to Hold Your Hand, and, within weeks, She Loves You and the re-release of Please, Please, Please take over the #2 and #3 positions.  Not long after, enter the Kinks, the Animals and Rolling Stones, and the “British Invasion.” Music with a serious edge and “transformative.”

Only days later a newly sworn-in President Lyndon Baines Johnson held his first meeting on the Vietnam War with senior advisers, the same group with whom former President Kennedy had often met. According to accounts, Johnson was aggressive at the meeting. "I am not going to lose Vietnam," he reportedly said and told Ambassador Lodge to tell the generals heading the government in South Vietnam that "Lyndon Johnson intends to stand by our word."

That summer, the civil rights movement entered a new phase, and black resistance reached a decisive majority. "In three difficult years," wrote academic Manning Marable in Malcolm X, "the southern struggle had grown from a modest group of black students demonstrating at one lunch-counter to the largest mass movement for racial reform and civil rights in the 20th century." I would graduate high school in June 1964 with my head spinning. War, School, Racism, Music, and Survival.

Those were “transformative times.” 

While recently watching MSNBC Morning Joe co-hosts Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski spar with late, late-night's Stephen Colbert over the events of the day, the back and forth included observations on the Trump era and Trump’s dystopian view of the world, and President Joe Biden’s first 100 days, which both host and guests without reservation see as “transformative.” This coming on the same day Ontario Premier Doug Ford apologized after public backlash around Ford’s announcement of sweeping enforcement measures in combating the scourge and the rise in Covid numbers in the province. The rebuke came swift and stinging. Once again, “transformative.” If these events were not enough to make the head whirl, toss in a third and fourth wave of the virulent Covid-19 “variants of concern” and the George Floyd verdict—“guilty on all counts.” 

We often reflect on the ‘60s, the unrest, the turmoil, and compare notes. By any stretch of the imagination, 2020 and 2021 are light years beyond the street riots, the freedom marches, and the Klan gangs of the ‘60s for the disruption and unyielding domestic stress levelled on our daily lives. How are we doing? One journalist penned, “we are languishing.”

Trump’s election was the fuse once lit that ushered in the forthcoming revolution. It was an observant former president George W. Bush who at the inauguration of “The Donald” and after hearing Trump unleash a vindictive and divisive 2016 inaugural speech leaned into former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and said, “Well, that was some weird shit.” It only got weirder.

I always saw Trump as a bridge politician, a con man in the game for himself, nothing more. Uncomfortable around people of colour, Trump enjoyed the perks of the office, that gooey ceremonial stuff done for tinpot dictators. It was obvious, after two impeachments and incompetence on the scale of gross negligence, Trump relied on the Oval Office as protection against a bevy of tax and sexual misconduct charges. Trump loved the perks of the office, the power, and admiration slathered on him by a cadre of soulless sycophants. Once again, that “bridge back to the future politician.”

The surviving tycoons and power broker and rich industrialists who still manipulate the American economy have seen the future and are pained by what they see. The current demographics paint a future more inclusive, where black and brown become the dominant skin colour by 2045. Segregationists and white supremacists view the Republican Party as their last chance to tame and contain America. Witness the gerrymandering, redistricting, and voter suppression legislation. These folks play hardball, and President Joe Biden knows it. 

The late Gil Scott Heron once wrote, The Revolution Won’t Be Televised. 

“You will not be able to stay home, brother, You will not be able to the plugin, turn on and cop-out, You will not be able to lose yourself on skag, And skip out for beer during commercials, because, The revolution will not be televised, The revolution will not be televised.”

What Scott-Heron was saying is, you can’t passively take part in the revolution. When it happens, you must take to the streets. If you want to change the world, you must march, push back, and get off your ass. 

Witnessing the graphic murder of George Floyd at the hands of police officer Derek Chauvin, the 2020 summer of protests, the growing influence of Black Lives Matter, and push back against police violence directed at black citizens have widened the conversation around minority rights and acceptance. This is a cataclysmic shift reshaping the day-to-day narrative, rebuking the public’s fascination with celebrity nonsense and the gilded life of profiteers.

Days of Action

On the home front, I distinctly remember Hamilton Action Days, Feb 23, 24, 1996, and the march against premier Mike Harris’ Common Sense Revolution, having been there amongst the teachers protesting the proposed gutting of 10,000 teaching positions and a billion dollars in cuts to education. The public turned out. On day one an estimated 50,000 union members and activists marched in step and by day two the crowds had swelled to over 100,000. Harris played the event as if protesting teachers and essential workers were malcontents whose only purpose in life was to bleed taxpayers. Harris got himself re-elected. 

Politics of change

From day one premier Doug Ford embraced the same conflicted messaging as former PC governments; battling it out with teachers and nurses even when warned punitive actions against either would cause fewer entering the professions or a shortage in help, yet he waged a petty, vindictive self-serving war without regard to the consequences. Who could have predicted a pandemic of major relevance could derail the short-sided ambitions of a small-minded politician? A “transformative moment.”

Competence: Believe the science 

I grew up in an evangelical household where anything and everything was seen as a grave sin against our Lord and saviour. It was music, the bandstand, and older musicians who rescued me. And yes, science was continually at odds with those fire-breathing preachers bent on fleecing parishioners with stories of horrific supernatural entities ripping at human flesh. Scary stuff.

In my birth region, those on the fringe fought against smallpox and measles vaccines, birth control pills - certain big government was using the good folks as guinea pigs or seeding them with mind control serums, that crazy talk coming directly from the preacher’s pulpit right after the collection plate passed a fourth or fifth time. Science never stood a chance. Mix in a bit of cocaine, crack, heroin, OxyContin, fentanyl, and the ever-popular methamphetamine, and you’ve got a Maga cocktail worthy of those gun-toting Boone County, Wild Whites of West Virginia, and plenty of legal troubles - including larceny, prescription fraud, shootings, armed robbery, forgery, stabbings, and child custody battles. How could one expect patrons of this much chaos to buy into a life-altering vaccine or abstain from purchasing an arsenal of high-powered assault rifles for sport? 

If Gil Scott were here today, I’m certain he would modify the lyrics to The Revolution Won’t Be Televised after witnessing young 17-year-old Darnella Frazier alter the course of history with her nine-and-a-half-minute cellphone video capturing the murder of George Floyd by police officer Derek Chauvin leading to a rare conviction of a white enforcement officer. Frazier penetrated the big blue wall, and the revolution was televised. Another “transformative” moment.

As for the politicians taking jabs at nurses and teachers for personal gain, Covid-19 doesn’t play that game. Trump is gone because he failed to see into the future, was incompetent and narcissistic, and a doomed man of “anti-science” who proposed bleaching Covid away. 

Those who continue to cling to divisive, hateful rhetoric are facing a wake-up call. Recent events have proven you can’t hide from what you don’t know in a crisis. The laws of science are statements, based on repeated experiments or observations, that describe or predict a range of natural phenomena. I’m guessing a few feet under those melting polar caps, the next pandemic awaits.

We all have a term paper to complete and deliver by life’s end. From what we’ve learned over the past 14 months, it’s obvious we must attempt to step up and make a difference. Compassion, action, and understanding will get us through hard times. It has before. Let’s hope once we make it to the other side, we never forget. 

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