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Thursday, May 2, 2024

Student Protest Then and Now

 Jeff Greenfield at Politico:

The political consequences of the upheaval became clear. While the doomed liberal campaigns of Eugene McCarthy and Robert Kennedy draw most of the focus in retrospectives of the era, the fact is that in November of 1968, Nixon and Wallace combined for 57 percent of the vote, close to the levels of historic landslide wins of LBJ in 1964 and Reagan in 1984.

Even after the Vietnam War faded as an issue with the end of the draft and the withdrawal of most American troops, the impact of those campus protests retained political heft — and gave a boost to the right.

In November of 1968, a professor of semantics named S.I. Hayakawa became interim president of San Francisco State University, a campus beset by protests and strikes. Two weeks later he climbed onto a sound truck used by the demonstrators and ripped the wires. That image, and his subsequent efforts to break student and faculty strikes and restore normal classes, made him something of a folk hero — so much so that years later, in 1976, he won a seat in the U.S. Senate as a Republican.

It would be folly to draw exact parallels between today’s unrest and those of 60 years ago. But some do resonate. Peaceful and lawful protests are out there, but they don’t have the same visual impact as police tangling with demonstrators; seeing protesters replacing American flags with Palestinian flags does bring back images of Americans waving the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese flags; and the sight of students attending an $80,000 a year university making it impossible for anyone to teach or study gives a very different meaning to the word “privilege.”