That summer of ’69 I had neither a car, nor a license; I was living at home and about to start my last year of high school.
On August 16, I was one of about 200 people to tour Gardiners Island, a 3,318-acre private island between the twin prongs of eastern Long Island. The island had been in the Gardiner family since 1639 and it was the first time the public was allowed to tour the place. My family was intrigued by the 400-year-old white oak forest and the fact that ospreys nested on the ground (no predators).
I remember standing on the dock with a transistor radio (remember those?), listening to reports of a massive traffic jam around Bethel, New York (Woodstock).
Now, 50 years after Woodstock, it’s time to assess what has changed and what hasn’t. Aside from the music, the event seemed characterized by mud, tie-dyed clothes, marijuana and psychotropic drugs. A majority of headliner Woodstock performers are no longer with us, but we’re still blessed with Carlos Santana and, separately at least, Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young.
What stands out to me is how much I/we didn’t know about what the next half-century would bring.
I didn’t know anything about Sarasota, other than there was this New College. I didn’t know that I’d end up attending or that my guidance counselor would never speak to me again after I took a pass on Cornell. Or that 49 years later I would still be here.
It turned out our suspicions about Nixon were on target (George Will has confirmed that Nixon illegally sabotaged cease-fire talks with Vietnam), but we had no way of knowing that Neil and Buzz would end up, 50 years later, representing one-sixth of all the people ever to do the bounce-house thing on the moon.
We didn’t know waterbeds would fade and be replaced by purple mattresses that come rolled up. We didn’t know how long it would take for marijuana to be recognized as more therapeutic and less threatening than politicians told us. And we didn’t know that, thanks to Rick Doblin and others, psychedelics would start proving beneficial for the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder.
We knew we were supposed to boycott lettuce, but not that, three years later, Cesar Chavez would eulogize New College student Nan Freeman as the first martyr of the farm workers' struggle after she was killed by a Florida sugar truck.
We had no real way of knowing that, a half century later, there would come to be 55 different flavors of Oreos, not even including alternative configurations (the minis and the extra-thin ones and the extra-fat ones).
Bob Dylan informed us in 1964 that the old order was rapidly fadin’, but, in retrospect, it doesn’t seem all that rapid.
Guys that look like me still have their hands on most of the knobs and dials. I’m a privileged Euro-American male and can’t really comment competently on how things have changed for women, people of color, LBGTQ, the differently abled, etc.
My sense is that, generally speaking, things have gotten better, but that things have gotten better for the one percent so much faster that the perception is one of falling behind. The last few years of retrograde motion are no doubt particularly painful. Young people such as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Greta Thunberg and Bree Newsome are speaking their minds, but, as Stephen Stills pointed out, getting so much resistance from behind.
August of ’69 was more than a half-year before the first Earth Day, but the ’69 Santa Barbara oil blowout, combined with color photos of Earth from space, catalyzed an incipient environmental movement. We suspected, and the oil companies knew, that fossil fuels were creating a major existential planetary problem that Washington still hasn’t faced up to.
I won’t be around in 2069. We’ve seen enough Oreos; perhaps we can get on with the real work.
One intriguing idea is the Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act, which might be seen a cross between the Green New Deal and Andrew Yang’s "Freedom Dividend." It offers to reduce U.S. carbon emissions by 40% in 12 years while paying Americans a dividend each month. Check it out.
Jono Miller, a Sarasota resident and longtime community leader, is a contributing columnist.