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WavyGravyAtWoodstockI’ve been thinking a lot about Hugh Nanton Romney Jr., better known as Wavy Gravy, these days. Last year there were specials and movies and articles about the 50th anniversary of the Woodstock Music and Art Fair. One of the issues in setting up the concert was security. Many wanted to go with the standard police style security. Nelson Rockefeller thought about sending in the National Guard as the crowd began to gather. Fortunately, he was talked out of it. I think that would have been catastrophic. We know how he handled Attica. If you don’t, read Heather Ann Thompson’s Blood In the Water. Rockefeller orchestrated a massacre. And thank goodness the organizers didn’t make the mistakes of Altamont. They went with Wavy Gravy and the Hog Farm.

Rather than a police force, the commune organized a “Please Force.” They used talking and caring rather than confrontation. As in the Dao De Jing, softness overcomes hardness. When we feel threatened, we can fight or flee. If we are overwhelmed, our polyvagal system kicks in and we may dissociate or faint. But there is that other possible response – tend and befriend. That is what Wavy Gravy and the Hog Farm did. There was no violence. As Republican Max Yasgur (who owned the land where the event took place) said, “A half a million young people can get together and have three days of fun and music, and have nothing but fun and music, and I God bless you for it!”

These days, police forces are militarized and equipped with lots of military equipment meant for warfare just begging to be used against our own civilian population, and disproportionately against people of color – people who for centuries have been traumatized by violence perpetrated against them. That culture of violence is carried on in the stories of our country and in the epigenetic framework of our bodies. We could not criticize the Nazis in the 1930s for their treatment of Jews because they just brought up the US treatment of black people and red people and brown people and yellow people, but especially black people particularly in the South. Lee Camp gives an idea of what police do and how we got here in this article.

A lot of police got into the job to help people, and they do a good job. But many also got into it to satisfy their own egos by having power to control others. There is also a long history, especially in the South, of an overlap of Klan and police. I have written before about our police training being biased to getting false confessions. Our policing is also biased towards confrontation and control by force. “Leaders” with their own issues of ego, control and cowardice (for example, hiding behind a bought diagnosis to avoid the draft) demand harsh justice while at the same time appealing to Christians. Really? What became of “a soft answer turns away wrath?” “Turn the other cheek.” “The meek shall inherit the earth.” The virus of bullying infects not just the politicians and the police, but our foreign policy as well. People at weddings, at hospitals, and on breaks at work are killed and are just called collateral damage. Do you really think we will lessen a threat of terrorism by committing terror? What was the American reaction to 9-11? We have increased our “shock and awe” strikes and have been at war ever since. It is a never-ending cycle.

The cycle will never end until our national psyche changes, until white people quit supporting the rich and powerful who use war and domination and bullying as an economic tool to increase their riches at the expense of everyone else, including their white enablers. The white enablers are the historical descendants of those who fought for the plantation owners to maintain slavery, though their lives improved when slavery ceased to exist. And they fought unions and still oppose unions though they have reaped the benefits of unions. I wonder just how long people can be fooled? Forever?

So, I think of Wavy Gravy and the Please Force. The Peace and Love crew was going to change the world. But murders took their toll in the 1960s. JFK, MLK, RFK, Malcolm, Medger Evers, Fred Hampton, Herbert Lee, William Lewis Moore, Louis Allen, James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, Michael Schwerner, James Reed, Viola Liuzzo, Jonathan Daniels, Sammy Younge, Jr., Vernon Dahmer, Robert W. Spike, Wharlest Jackson, and more were all murdered during that decade. A list of people around the world who have been assassinated for their work advocating human rights can be found here. Who from that generation took office? The Clintons, Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Trump, McConnell, etc. The current leadership in Washington is too busy lining the pockets of themselves and their corporate buddies (a legal version of looting that is far greater than anything in the streets) to even see a civil rights issue. In the midst of the current turmoil, the party that calls itself Republican (but is really a new Dixiecrat Party thanks to Atwater, Buchanan, Goldwater, Nixon and Reagan – Atwater spells it out here) uses the fight strategy – as long as they don’t get their hands dirty and take risks by doing the actual fighting. They just channel their inner Bull Conner. Even Nelson Rockefeller would be appalled. And the ministers? These days it is Graham, Falwell, and Robertson and the like who preach the opposite of the Beatitudes and compassion. I wonder if they would have called Jesus a thug when He turned over the tables of the money changers. Would they call Him a thug if He turned over their tables of money today? How would Jesus react if a “leader” had police tear gas and remove people from in front of a church to enable a self-serving propaganda photo op? Meanwhile armed white people march on state capitols and take over public lands and are met with peace and discretion and are never called thugs, while Native Americans protecting their lands and water are. Do we live in the land of Newspeak? And I wonder if the political ancestor of today’s right-wing politicians and preachers, Jefferson Davis, called the women of Richmond thugs during the bread riots. If you want to know how the language and the landscape has changed to where something that was mainstream prior to 1980 is now considered radical leftist, watch Heather Cox Richardson in this interview concerning her book, How the South Won the Civil War. At the end she talks about how to change the language back.

For the past 400 and more years in America, black people and indigenous people have been on the receiving end of violence. When demonstrations are peaceful, too often police meet them with firehoses, mace, tear gas, attack dogs, night sticks and sometimes gunfire. And white folks pontificate against the violence and call those on the receiving end of violence “thugs” and judge them harshly. Like Pontius Pilate, they wash their hands of responsibility. I wonder where the empathy is. How would you act if you and people who look like you had been treated that way for centuries? I get irritated when white folks decry “identity politics.” The founders made all politics identity by definition when they only gave rights to people like themselves in the Constitution – white (with a very narrow definition of white) males over the age of 21 who owned property, with people of color who were owned counting as property. Anyone without that identity has had to bitterly fight to get even a semblance of the rights enjoyed and taken for granted by the privileged. I think white guys who condescend towards “identity politics” dismissing it as “political correctness” are just clueless. They are like the fish who has no concept of water – until they are taken out of the water.

I’m not sure what the answer is. I do know that if you really do believe in the teachings of Jesus, if you study trauma and how to work with folks with trauma, if you study neuroscience, if you study cultural change, you might come to think of Wavy Gravy and the Please Force as embodiments of how things can be done in a peaceful and positive way. That will be difficult. It asks those with power and their enablers to treat all with respect and dignity and to have equal justice and to share that power. It doesn’t appear they have the principles or the integrity or emotional maturity or the courage to do that at this point. But hopefully, all are capable of redemption. I hope it happens soon, for now it is starting to feel like Berlin in the mid 1930s. We need a Please Force. We need people with empathy, maturity, compassion, integrity, and decency everywhere.

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