I wasn’t in Grant Park the night Barack Obama won the election, which is a pity as it seemed like a joyous and life affirming event. But I’ve been in Grant Park with tens of thousands of others, the last time 40 years ago. There was tear gas everywhere, students and others being clubbed to the ground by berserker Chicago police and people running in terror and fury. Grant Park was full of anger and violence. So it was with wonder and a full heart that I looked on images of Grant Park Tuesday night:
“Look at these people — old, young, black and white — I’ve never seen anything like it, ” said Vernita Gray, 59 surveying the crowd after Obama’s acceptance speech.
“Today he won, Mom!” Brooke Mosley, 16, screamed into her cell phone. “Fifty years of civil rights, and he won!”
Brooke and her cousins attended the rally with their aunt Valerie Holden. “This is unbelievable,” Holden said. “This has been a great experience.” Watch crowd erupt after announcement »
“I’m stunned, I’m in shock,” said Dana Easter as she stood in front of the Chicago Hilton and watched revelers drive by, honking their horns and shouting. (CNN)
Forty years is my professional adult lifetime. I was already a doctor, then, and I didn’t realize the trajectory of my future life was to be shaped by opposition to the war that brought us to the Democratic Convention in Chicago that August in 1968. Not just my life. Almost everyone in our country was being sentenced to live four decades in what historian Rick Perstein called Nixonland, a deliberate and cynical Manichean narrative of American life that exploited anger, fear, envy and resentment to divide and conquer for purposes of keeping hold of political power in the service of unfettered commercial greed, domestically and internationally.
The mythology of Nixonland was a powerful, and at times dominating foe, and its destructive effect on where I spent my professional life was profound. As the years from 1968 passed I saw public health become a marginalized and weak force and its practitioners marginalized and demoralized along the way. The mission of public health, to protect the community from disease, disability and premature death started to recede and be replaced by new notions of “marketing ideas,” cost benefit calculations and promoting privatization of any function that might turn a profit, relegating to the public sphere only those money losers that couldn’t be jettisoned altogether.
Starting in 2003 I started to see a turn around. My students were more dedicated and idealistic, the anger and outrage returned, but with it optimism and hope and determination. The 2006 election was the first fruit. And this week, a new hope and optimism and determination and dedication to make this a better world broke through the rotten corpse of Nixonland, even as the McCain campaign was groaning the last strains of its marching songs with its dying breaths.
The two events in Grant Park are like bookends for the Nixonland story. Grant Park in 1968 was the birth of Nixonland. Grant Park in 2008 was its funeral.
Good riddance. I am dancing on its grave.