In 1990, I became enraged with the lies leading up to the Gulf War. I was pretty isolated in my existence as a music student at Berklee. We didn’t own a television, so I didn’t follow current events at all. But the Gulf War was impossible to miss. It was also proof of my argument against owning a television. You will hear about news when it is really important. There was no missing the lead up to the war.
And my days as an activist began one Saturday morning when I happened to be in Copley Square. I was at the bank with my wife at the time. (I was married for a few years when I was 20.) We left the bank and a large crowd was marching down Boylston on the way to the Boston Common. The signs the demonstrators were carrying were in opposition to the war. This was definitely our position, so we just joined in.
There was the usual array of groups. Mostly normal people who wanted to voice their opposition to the war. Then the specialty groups. “Republicans opposed to the war!” “Irish gays for peace.” And the embarrassing hippies that were always wearing face paint and banging on drums while dancing – the group that the news focused the cameras on. At Boston Common, there was a stage with a podium and an array of speakers doing their best to work up the crowd. The most memorable speaker was Daniel Ellsberg of Pentagon Papers fame.
I thought for sure in the lead up to the Gulf War that the people would see the lies that were being perpetrated and a giant opposition would rise up against the war. I did my best to tell as many people as I could as much about the lies as I possibly could It was an eye opening experience. People were in one of two groups. There were those who were just against it but only because they were opposed to the American Empire concept. This group was unconcerned with whether or not this particular war was just or necessary. They were just opposed to all forms of war – for any reason.
The other group was represented by a particular story of a person I talked to about the whole story. He was the roommate of a really good friend of mine. He repeated the rallying cry of the day as his sole argument, “How can you not support your own troops?” I was very good at engaging people in dialog. So I talked to him until I had explained the things that were not being reported well in the news. By the end of my well constructed argument, I had him more or less. And then he said, “I see your point. But really it makes me feel patriotic.”
“On television, the drug of the nation.”
I love the resistance model as laid out by Thoreau in Civil Disobedience. It is thoughtful, and it seemed to apply. And it does apply if the event that you are demonstrating against lasts long enough. The first Gulf War was so short that any resistance was easily silenced. Even if we were rioting in the streets of Boston. But this spirit of resistance lasted right up until the election of 1992, so perhaps it was all worth the effort.
“Breeding ignorance and feeding radiation.”
Television Drug of the Nation came out in 1992. A lot of the theme seemed to be inspired by the Gulf War coverage. Even if it wasn’t, it made me think of all of the activism during the Gulf War and afterward. I’m not going to repeat a lot of the lyrics like I normally do in my entries. The lyrics aren’t specifically relevant to my story. The spirit of revolution and resistance is the thing that strikes me. Michael Franti is someone I don’t talk about nearly enough. From the Beatnigs, to DHOH, to Spearhead – he has been an intelligent voice of resistance. It was late 1992 by the time I had heard Television the Drug of the Nation when my friend Gopal played it for me. And while I know the lyrics to this song pretty well, it is my own narrative that dominates my memory of the song.
Being a music student with deadlines is difficult while organizing a bunch of activist events. And I beat my head against that wall for at least a year. Getting permission for and setting up tables in the main lobby at Berklee and talking to people. I even organized a bus of Berklee students to go to Washington for two large demonstrations. One against the Gulf War and one for the Pro Choice rally in the spring of 1992.
Now I was surprised to learn this, but musicians are the hardest group of people to motivate into activism of any sort. If it doesn’t involve a gig at the rally, then they don’t care. Berklee students in my time were the most politically apathetic group of students in Boston. It was easier motivating young conservatives at Boston University to oppose the Gulf War than it was to get a Berklee student to listen. This was also the case when I organized for the Pro Choice rally. I needed a student group to sponsor my presence in the hallway. I approached the Women at Berklee group. I realize now that it was pretty ridiculous to assume that the group supported a particular stand on abortion, but I needed a student group sponsor. They gave it to me.
Whenever I hear this song, I think of the hundreds of stories I know of this two year period of activism. The occupation of Storrow Drive in Boston during rush hour. The riot on the Mass Ave bridge when the bombing started. The riot on the mall in the Washington anti-war demonstration. The demonstrations outside of the George R. Brown Convention Center in Houston where friends of mine were arrested along with thousands of others. The friend that came within inches of hitting Schwarzkopf with a paint balloon at the Gulf War victory parade in Houston.
A lot of time when I get disgusted enough about the state of the nation, I think that my passion will re-ignite my activist spirit. But it doesn’t quite get me there. I tell myself there are bills to pay, and I have kids. And this is true. But sometimes I wish I had more latitude in my life to participate like this again. Unfortunately, there also seems to be a big mental illness trigger for me in activism of this sort. The personal involvement in civil disobedience like taking over a main thoroughfare in Boston or rioting with police and the “support our troops” people is something I will always remember with pride. Yes it’s not much more than a footnote in history, but we showed up to be counted and voice our opposition. And even though this DHOH song came out after it was all over, I remember it all with this song as its soundtrack.