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The Seventies: Change

In 1970, President Nixon sent troops into Cambodia. Students protested. The National Guard killed four students at Kent State University in Ohio, and numerous universities shut down in protest. Jerry Rubin returned to the Berkeley campus to rally those opposed to the war. He was excited by the nationwide protest and he announced with enthusiasm that revolution was just around the corner.

In 1970, Rubin had his book, titled Do It, published, and it was making money. It was not a book like Lenin's What is to be Done. Rubin did not write what young people were to do other than to rebel. In his book he mostly boasted about his own actions. Rubin was claiming in the early seventies that the American economy was doomed to collapse, because, he said, capitalism had "no soul." Young people with soul, he believed, were going to overthrow capitalism by doing "their thing."

The counter-culture that Rubin had placed his hope in was changing, but not in the direction he wanted. The so-called hippies were not revolutionaries in the old sense of power, wealth or property rearrangements. They wanted to enjoy each other's company and experience the ecstasies of freedom, sex and what they saw as harmless drugs. Like the song about "girls," they just wanted to have fun. Into the 1970s, fewer among them were receiving checks from their mothers or fathers. They could not escape economics any more than they could gravity. Some of them drifted into economically viable agricultural communes – a return to the world of work. Some took whatever work they could find or small-scale commercial enterprise. The hope of paradise diminished. The Haight-Ashbury in San Francisco looked like a ghost town compared to what it had been in the mid-sixties. Many among the new crop of teenagers acquired a taste for the music of rebellion and new hairstyles; pot smoking had increased in secondary schools; but fewer kids were leaving home.

The counterculture was losing what some viewed as its shine. In 1970, Janis Joplin died from an overdose of heroin – just four years after arriving in San Francisco. That year the famous black guitarist, Jimi Hendrix, also died. In 1971, Jim Morrison of the Doors died. By now the Beatles had broken up. John Lennon and Yoko Ono were living in New York and hanging out occasionally with Jerry Rubin. Musicians were intentionally turning to sensationalism – not because they believed in it musically but because they wanted to attract attention and sell records. The leader in sensation and posturing was the group Kiss. Musicianship did not matter very much, and new opportunity was open for the so-called garage bands. And with this developed what was called punk rock. There was an urge by the new crop of young to identify with something different.

Punkers were no more inclined toward political organization than the so-called hippies, but one group that was into political action, and after something new, was the Zippies. They wanted to replace the Yippies, and in New York they "trashed" Jerry Rubin's car as a stunt to advertise their new identity – which angered Rubin and gave him something to think about as he was engaged in one of his new interests: group massage gatherings.

With the arrival of the seventies, more people were majoring in psychology increased, at least at UCLA. At the University of Washington in Seattle, credit was given for the study of extra-sensory perception, hypnotism and yoga. The new decade was described as a new age of narcissism – in other words, immediate personal gratification. Enrollments in courses on traditional religions increased. The 1970s was the decade of Jesus Christ Superstar, Godspell, the Exorcist, the Omen and the Bermuda Triangle. Religious cults were on the rise, including the Hare Krishna's, the Reverend Moon's Unification Church and Jim Jones' People's Temple. Rennie Davis, former SDS leader, became a follower of the fifteen year-old guru Maharaj Ji, who promised perfection on earth by 1976. Werner Erhard, an encyclopedia salesman, had started his Erhard Seminar Training (EST), and by 1977 he was earning six million dollars annually. And by the end of the decade, Jerry Rubin had given up on revolution and was working as a stockbroker.

One kind of entrepreneur that was declining was the independent seller of little plastic baggies with marijuana. The drug trade was being taken over by drug lords and organized crime. Needle parks were appearing. Addicts were replacing happy hippies.

Also having a hard time in the new decade was Abbie Hoffman. Hoffman was both a clown and a serious activist, working with SCLC and SNCC until 1964, when the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) expelled whites from its organization. Like his fellow Yippie, Jerry Rubin, Hoffman had looked to the counterculture for change. Hoffman had given short but entertaining speeches. He had written a book called Revolution for the Hell of It, and he had asked that people to steal the book. He had said that wages were insultingly low for many and that stealing was a way of maintaining self-respect. He had described property as excrement. Schools, he had said, should be destroyed. He had said that people should be able to do whatever they want. Hoffman was bound to be disappointed. In the seventies he was arrested for selling cocaine, and he went "underground" for eight years. The decline of "the movement" left Hoffman depressed. He was described as a manic-depressive, and in 1989 he was found dead in a New Jersey motel, a suicide at the age of 52.

One last gasp at revolution took place in 1974. In Berkeley, off-campus revolutionaries had organized what they called the Symbionese Liberation Army, led by a young black man who called himself Cinque (pronounced sin-Q). The Symbionese Liberation Army assassinated the Superintendent of Schools in Oakland, California, Marcus Foster, because it did not like what they called his "fascist Board of Education" and his plan to create a "computer identification system." They kidnapped heiress Patty Hearst, who had been attending the university at Berkeley, and this became a media sensation. Patty Hearst became the revolutionary called Tania. The Symbionese Liberation Army ended in a blaze and smoke in Los Angeles, the police having tracked them to a home which was set afire by a hot tear gas canister. "Tania" and a comrade, Wendy Yoshimura, were elsewhere and remained in hiding, to be captured in San Francisco in 1975.

The hope for revolution died in the 1970s. The word "revolution" had been co-opted by corporations to describe their sugar-waters and other manufactured products. What remained was the pursuit of reforms – everyday politics and targeting of specific issues. In Berkeley, various neighborhood streets were blocked at one end to keep speeding traffic from passing through. A carryover from sixties activism appeared in the form of Earth Day across the nation, with 1.5 million people participating. In 1971 an organization called Friends of the Earth was formed. The idea of protest was enhanced, and homosexuals began organizing to defend their rights. In the early seventies women were organizing and lobbying on women's issues. Gloria Steinem and Ms magazine appeared beginning in 1972 – the year that Congress passed the Equal Rights Amendment, designed as a constitutional guarantee of fair treatment for women. American Indians were trying to address specific issues, and the American Indian Movement (AIM) was making news. In the early Seventies, Ralph Nader formed his citizens lobby group, called Nader's Raiders, aimed at protecting consumers. Also in the early seventies another lobbying group, Common Cause, was formed. In the 1970s, Caesar Chavez was still active with his farm labor union. And blacks were still working on specific issues, the Reverend Jesse Jackson among them having created an organization called PUSH.

A few blacks at universities put their revolutionist rhetoric behind them and graduated into the workaday world. The power that blacks expressed was at the ballot box. Free to vote, African-American voters represented a portion of the population equal to their number, and a minority capable of swinging elections – as they had for Harry Truman in 1948. In 1967, Carl Stokes was elected mayor of Cleveland Ohio and Gary Hatcher was elected mayor of Gary Indiana. In 1968, people in the Bedford-Stuyvesant district of New York elected Shirley Chisholm to Congress – the first black woman member of that body. In 1972, one of Martin Luther King's closest aides, Andrew Young, was elected to Congress from the state of Georgia, as was Barbara Jordan, who had been a state legislator in Texas. In 1973, Maynard Jackson was elected mayor of Atlanta Georgia. In 1974, Marion Barry was elected mayor of Washington DC. The State of Massachusetts elected a black Republican, Edward Burke, to the Senate. And in the House of Representatives, Ron Dellums, from Oakland-Berkeley, remained in office and became chairman of the Armed Services Committee. The appeal to hearts and minds, used by Martin Luther King Jr., appeared to be having some success, not in an absolute sense, with many who were not thinking in absolutes were looking forward to more progress for those whose parents had been disadvantaged.

Into the 1970s, schools in the South became more integrated than schools elsewhere in the United States. To desegregate these other schools the courts ordered busing across school-district lines. Many whites disliked the coercion, and in Detroit and Boston there were riots. Largely, the busing laws were obeyed, but more whites began sending their kids to private schools. Here and there, blacks were moving into white neighborhoods, or to the edge of white neighborhoods. But even in the liberal San Francisco Bay area, blacks remained in predominately black neighborhoods – where many preferred to live. And at schools, blacks preferred to associate mainly with blacks and whites with whites. But improvement was occurring in race relations. Interracial socializing was increasing.

Aside from integration, a big issue for blacks was employment for those who had not acquired marketable skills, and this shifted attention to both education and to the attitudes of adolescents. With the turmoil of the 1960s had come a disrespect for "the establishment" and "the system." Between 1965 and 1978, a decline in student achievement developed. note66   Some community leaders recognized that if one were to have hope one had to have some respect for the system, and that if one were to become a productive citizen one had to learn to respect others. Black leaders were disturbed to find among some black students the attitude that black kids who were studying and getting good grades were doing so because they wanted to be white.

In the 1970s an improvement in education was attempted through the federal government's Head Start program. More minorities were attending what had been all-white schools. And more minorities were attending universities. Educators recognized the need for addressing issues item by item: class size, the quality of teachers, teacher's pay and good nutrition for children. Educators realized that improvements in education would come as did improvements elsewhere, in increments and by addressing specific problems. It was recognized that in homes where education is more respected, kids are more likely to develop into good students, and kids whose parents believed in reading were likely to do better in school. Rather than a vague dislike for what some had called the system, it was realized that progress might be made by changing attitudes.


"The Diggers and the Haight-Ashbury Exit the Stage,"

Bettina Aptheker on the rise of the Women's Movement in Berkeley,1995,

"Rebellion against the oppression of gays in New York – the Stonewall riots," a CNN report

Ronald Reagan, an American Life (the autobiography), 1990

Brown V. Board of Education: A Civil Rights Milestone and Its Troubled Legacy, by James T. Patterson, 2001

"Free Speech Movement Chronology," (10 Sep '64 to 4 Jan '65)

The Free Speech Movement: Reflections on Berkeley in the 1960s, edited by Robert Cohen and Reginald E. Zelnik, 2002

Campus War: a Sympathtic Look at a University in Agony, by John Searle, 1972

Berkeley at War, the 1960s, by W.J. Rorabaugh, Oxford University Press, 1989

A Taste of Power: a Black Woman's Story, by Elaine Brown, 1992

Revolutionary Suicide, by Huey P. Newton, Harcourt Brace Javoanovic, Inc., 1973

Copyright © 1998-2018 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.