Jon Wiener ’66
The book: Set the Night on Fire: LA in the 60s (Verso) is an in-depth look at the history of 1960s Los Angeles from the perspective of several militant movements of the time, including civil rights, antiwar, gay liberation, and the women. From Malcom X and Angela Davis to Chicano Blowouts, and the Californian LA counter-culture was a hotbed of political and social activism.
Beyond the protests, Mike Davis and Jon Wiener 66 delve into the often forgotten grassroots struggles of advocacy movements as they have occurred. By combining their personal history of activists with archival research, interviews with personalities of the time, Set the night on fire offers a deep and exciting story.
The authors: Jon Wiener ’66 is a longtime editor at the Nation and host and producer of Start Making Sense, the magazine’s weekly podcast. He is Professor Emeritus of United States History at UC Irvine, and his books include Give Me The Truth: John Lennon’s FBI Files and How We Forgot the Cold War: A Historic Journey Through America. He lives in Los Angeles.
Mike Davis is the author of City of Quartz, Late Victorian Holocausts, Buda Wagon, and Slum planet. He is the recipient of a MacArthur Fellowship and the Lannan Literary Award. He lives in San Diego.
Opening lines: EP Thompson, one of the authors of the New Left, called the 1950s the “apathetic decade” where people “looked to private solutions for Public ailments. “Private ambitions,” he writes, “have shifted social aspirations. And people have come to feel their grievances as personal to themselves and, likewise, the grievances of others are felt to be the business of other people. If a connection is made between the two, people tend to feel – in the prevailing apathy – that they are powerless to effect change. 1960 will always be remembered as the year of the birth of a new social conscience which repudiates this culture of moral apathy nourished by resigned helplessness. “Our political task,” the veteran pacifist AJ Muste wrote that year, “is precisely, in Martin Buber’s magnificent formulation,” to push the plow of the normative principle into the hard soil of political reality. ” The method was direct action, nonviolent but inflexible.
First behind the plow were the black students of the South, whose movement would be called the Nonviolent Student Coordinating Committee (SNCC). The lunch counter sit-ins in February started out as calm protests, but quickly turned into thunderclaps heralding the arrival of an uncompromising new generation on the front lines of the battle against segregation. The continued eruption of student protests across the South has re-energized the wounded movement led by Dr King and was picked up in the North by picketing, boycotts and the growth of the Congress for Racial Equality (CORE) . Moreover, the Nation of Islam grew rapidly and the powerful voice of Malcolm X began to be heard nationally. Meanwhile, as the United States continued to install ICBMs in Europe, the growing revolt against nuclear weapons, as historian Lawrence Wittner put it, “marked the end of the Cold War between important segments. of the American population … 1960 had been reestablished as a major social movement. The same could be said of student activism and radical scholarships at some of the great Cold War universities. Progressive campus organizations such as SLATE at UC Berkeley (the precursor to the Free Speech Movement) and VOICE at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor have significantly broken the ice of student apathy, while newspapers like Studies on the left (founded 1959 in Madison) and New academic thinking (Ann Arbor / Detroit 1960) gave a voice
what everyone will soon call the “new left”.
A younger generation was also awakening in Southern California, despite the stunted character of political and intellectual life in much of the region, and the year 1960 provided a glimpse of the social forces, ideas and issues that would blend into “movements” over time. of the next decade. This chapter follows month by month the emergence of a new agenda for social change and presents some of the key actors and organizations. “Agenda” in this case meant something more than just a menu of problems and causes. Indeed, the events and protests of 1960 also defined the “question of problems”: the dynamic tectonics of racial segregation that shaped the future of Southern California. With the blessing of federal lenders and the full complicity of the real estate and construction industries, exclusive racial suburbanization created a monochromatic society from which blacks were excluded and in which the Chicanos had only a marginal place. Legal victories for civil rights in the late 1940s and early 1950s had yet to produce edible fruit. In a booming regional economy, irrigated by billions of dollars in military spending, minorities had little more than low-skilled toes in the region’s three main industries: aerospace / electronics, film and television. construction. Los Angeles schools, on the other hand, separated more students than any city in the South, and for most people in south-central Los Angeles, the LAPD might as well have flown a battle flag. Confederate in front of his new “glass house”.
See again: “The familiar, monochromatic image of Los Angeles in the sixties – all Hollywood pop and boredom Didion – demanded that a million people of African, Asian and Mexican descent be ‘edited out of utopia’, like Mike Davis and Jon Wiener said. What these people actually did, alongside antiwar feminists, high school kids and others, is at the heart of this book, and it’s a big heart. could tell these crossover stories better than Davis and Wiener, and their book gives us back the greatness of a great city in its movements, edges and other centers, many of which are forgotten. –Rebecca Solnit, author of Memories of my non-existence: a memory