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NOTES OF A NATTERING NABOB OF NEGATIVISM... Protests against democracy are a bit premature, noted here by someone who faced the wrath of a vengeful federal government during an earlier period of American stress... Be ready to protests, but why not stop whining for now and see what really unfolds...

Nearly half of the real estate area of Linden New Jersey, where I grew up, consisted of the Bayway Standard Oil Refinery and other chemical factories. One result was that local property taxes for home owners were very low, while the city had a lot of money for local services. But part of the trade off, as reported here, was that Linden was "smell city". One colleague told me, years later, that as a long-haul trucker he could tell he was in Linden by the smell. Those of us growing up in Linden woke up every morning to a different smell, as the local corporations dumped their sludge into the air on different nights. Hence, one morning I'd wake up to deliver newspapers to the smell of coffee (Tenco Coffee), another night to a perfumy smell (Volupte), while on most other nights it was an undifferentiated chemical stink. Above, the Linden refiner "tanks" with the beginning of the city's residential communities on the right.Nearly 50 years ago, after we made the mistake of electing Richard M. Nixon President of the United States, we faced nasty oppression from local, state, and federal government agencies. How we helped elect Nixon is the topic of another essay about our desire to "Dump the Hump" against Nixon's opponent Hubert Humphrey. Of course, the 1960s weren't the first time the government of the USA had been operating against its own citizens. Government oppression had been longstanding against some of us. Jim Crow was still alive and well into the 1970s, and a more subtle Jim Crow after that. And virtually all working class people were facing certain special problems as the 1950s morphed into the 1960s. Among those most serious for those of us males who couldn't get student draft deferments and then medical exemptions for "bone spurs" -- The Draft.

But the escalation of attacks on those of us who opposed the government became deadly by the early 1970s. The Vice President of the United States, Spiro Agnew of Maryland, became President Richard Nixon's spear carrier against anti- war protesters. Agnew became known for his nasty, often alliterative attacks on political opponents, especially reporters and anti-war protesters. Agnew attacked his enemies with relish, while the President himself worked behind the scenes compiling an "enemies list" and sending federal people after us. Agnew, meanwhile, would alliterative phrases, some of which were coined by White House speechwriters William Safire and Pat Buchanan, at protesters. The most famous of these -- "nattering nabobs of negativism" -- came twirling in almost as a joke. The words were actually written by White House speechwriter William Safire, who later became a New York Times pundit. Other alliterative attacks includes "hopeless, hysterical hypochondriacs of history" and pusilanimous pussyfooters. In a speech denouncing the Moratorium to End the War in Vietnam, Agnew characterized the war's opponents as "an effete corps of impudent snobs who characterize themselves as intellectuals."

But we need to remember that Lyndon Johnson had been a leader in the attacks on those of us who protested the war. In August 1968, it was Johnson's friend Chicago Mayor Richard J. Daley who sicced his police on those of us who were protesting the Vietnam War when the Democratic National Convention came to Chicago. Those attacks, later characterized as a "police riot" in a federal report, were almost as vicious as anything that was to follow under Nixon. And in the background the whole time was J. Edgar Hoover's FBI, which was more interested in attacking "communists" (by Hoover's definition, anyone who opposed U.S. policies and Jim Crow) than in stopping organized crime (despite the favorable TV portrayal of the FBI as "The Untouchables" during the same era).

When 'hard hats' (a group of New York City construction workers) attacked an anti-war protest at Wall Street on May 8, 1970, it was depicted as an example of how the American working class was against "hippie protesters." The meme was exploited by the Nixon administration, even though by 1970, it was definitely not true. While American working people had tried to support the Vietnam War through the early years of escalation (1964 - 1968) by the Johnson administration, after the 1968 "Tet Offensive" the majority turned against the war. At the same time a growing and eventually majority anti-war movement took place within the U.S. Army and Marines. That movement (called the "GI Movement" and depicted in the film "Sir No Sir!") eventually ended the Vietnam War on the ground via what amounted to a general strike of the grunts who were being ordered to fight the war. The "GI Movement" was more a reflection of the actual state of the American working class than the "Hard Hats" who were feted by President Richard M. Nixon at the White House.And so we protested in the fact of denunciations by two Presidents (Johnson and Nixon) and attacks by those who were encouraged by those Presidents. As Donald Trump becomes the latest reactionary to get elected President of the United States, the protests continue as of this writing from coast to coast. Some of the denunciations of the protesters seem to my ears an eerie echo of the days of Johnson and Agnew and Nixon.

The "arc of history" may be bending in a good direction, but those protesting Trump are helping it remain bending towards justice, one might say.

Once the Vietnam War began escalating after we elected Lyndon Johnson as the "peace" ("PEACE" in all caps, it would be rendered in 2016) candidate for President in 1964, those of us from the working class faced the draft. At least those of us who were young men and working class faced the draft, which had been in place since World War II.

I didn't know at the time I graduated from high school in 1964 that not everyone faced the Vietnam War draft equally. Most of us grew up with it, and in places where I was from (I was born in Elizabeth and raised in Linden New Jersey -- "down in the shadow of the refinery" as Bruce Springsteen sings it) when you finished high school, you went into the "service." On our block in Linden, every father (except one) had been "in the service." Our family was special because both our parents had served in the United States Army, and both had served in combat zones. My father saw combat with the 44th Infantry Division in the "ETO" (the "European Theater of Operations") from the summer of 1944 through May 1945. His war stretched from France through Germany and ended in Austria when the Nazis surrendered. My mother's war, as an Army Nurse Corps nurse, was in the "Pacific." Her war ended months after the end of Nazi Germany in the hell on earth that still makes grown men and women tremble, the Battle of Okinawa. Long before Muslim terrorists turned airplanes into flying bombs against American targets on '9-11', Japanese pilots had created the Kamikaze and used it against the largest fleet in history during the Battle of Okinawa. That's where my mother's war was ended after the Japanese surrendered, finally, following the two atomic bombings of August 1945.

The draft and "service." It was that simple. Nobody offered what became known as "draft counseling" anywhere in Union County New Jersey in the mid and late 1960s, when my friends were going off the war (some to die; some to come home "fucked up" forever; and one to spent seven years as a POW in the "Hanoi Hilton"). We either did our "service" before college, or we did it after college. But we did it.

It was as present in our working class lives as Thanksgiving and Christmas turkey dinners, or ham at Easter, or as real on your skin as the chemical stained air we breathed in Linden every morning of my childhood.

But by the early 1971, those of us who were protesting the Vietnam War (and many others things, to be outlined later in this series) were being attacked verbally by the Vice President of the United States (see Spiro Agnew). We were also being attacked physically sometimes by our own working class brothers and sisters (see "Hard Hat attacks"). Agnew called us protesters the "Nattering Nabobs of Negativism", and it is with this reminder of working class history that I begin these memories in 2016, long after Agnew and Nixon are dead. We need, in 2016, a reminder of the challenges we faced in the 1950, 1960s, and into the 1970s.

And we need to remind those with short historical memories. The challenges they may face from a Donald Trump presidency are far from real at this moment, perhaps less than we would have faced from a Hillary Clinton presidency (disclosure: I voted for Hillary Clinton, wore my Hillary tee shirt, and recommended that others vote Hillary, too -- despite my reservations about Ivy League smugness and the other attacks on the working class that have now given us the Trump presidency).

A big factor in the Trump election is the fact that the leaders of the Democratic Party betrayed the working class. Not just "white workers", but all workers. The betrayal of non-white workers has been masked for a long time by the fact that identify politics and what Trump and his supporters deride as "political correctness" have barred many people from even discussing the sheer Ivy League arrogance of those who took over the Democratic Party by the late 1980s, and with the election of Bill Clinton, with the "New Democrats" of the 1990s.

But the problems we faced as working class people began much earlier than the 1990s. Take my home town, Linden New Jersey: Nearly half of the real estate area of Linden New Jersey, where I grew up, consisted of the Bayway Standard Oil Refinery and other chemical factories. One result was that local property taxes for home owners were very low, while the city had a lot of money for local services. But part of the trade off, as reported here, was that Linden was "smell city". One colleague told me, years later, that as a long-haul trucker he could tell he was in Linden by the smell. Those of us growing up in Linden woke up every morning to a different smell, as the local corporations dumped their sludge into the air on different nights. Hence, one morning I'd wake up to deliver newspapers to the smell of coffee (Tenco Coffee), another night to a perfumy smell (Volupte), while on most other nights it was an undifferentiated chemical stink. Above, the Linden refiner "tanks" with the beginning of the city's residential communities on the right.

The troubles were serious. People were being murdered for their opposition to the war, racism, and repression.

The "Hard Hat Riots" were an example of that. As the ACLU reports:

“Hard Hat Riot:” Union Workers Attack Anti-War Demonstrators in NYC

In what became famous as the “Hard Hat Riot,” about 200 union workers, mostly construction workers, attacked anti-Vietnam War protesters in lower Manhattan, NYC, on this day. Over 70 people were injured, including four police officers.

The original anti-Vietnam War protest, involving about 1,000 high school and college students began at about 7:30 in the morning at the intersection of Broad and Wall Streets. The union workers attacked around noon. Most carried American flags and carried signs reading “America, Love It or Leave It,” and other pro-Vietnam War and pro-America slogans.

The anti-war protests was part of the national wave of protests following President Richard Nixon’s announcement that he had ordered the invasion of Cambodia (May 1, 1970), and the shooting and killing of four people by Ohio National Guard officers at Kent State University on May 4, 1970.

The Hard Hat Riot included allegations that New York City police officers tolerated the attacks on the protesters. The number of officers at the scene was small and inadequate. Some observers reported that police officers failed to intervene as the union members chased down anti-war protesters, pursuing those with the longest hair, and beating them with hard hats and other weapons. Mayor John V. Lindsay, a liberal Republican criticized the police for their lack of action. Three days later, thousands of pro-war people, including union workers and white collar workers, held a rally. Some held signs saying “Impeach the Red Mayor” and “Commy Rat.”

The Kent State murders were not the only killings of college students at that time. Jackson State was also part of our collective memories.

And a bit of that story I'll share in Chapter Two of this memoir...



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