The Whole World Is Watching

By

Leonard Zwelling

         The crowd was chanting; a crowd with “marching, charging
feet, boy.” This was Chicago, 1968.

         I was driving back from my first trip west of the
Mississippi River where I visited my very wealthy fraternity brother from
Beverly Hills. He drove up to San Francisco in his new, yellow manual
transmission Land Rover and met me at SFO when I flew in after a family
celebration in Ohio. He and I were to return to LA and then east across the
country in the next few weeks. Las Vegas, Arizona, New Mexico and then into
Texas. It was the first time I ever saw the Astrodome.

In
San Francisco, we visited the Haight-Ashbury district—one year too late.  The Jefferson Airplane had flown into the mainstream
and hippie culture was already vanishing to be engulfed and then obliterated by
Woodstock and Altamont (Google it as ‘Altamont Race Track+Rolling
Stones+murder’ or just see the film ‘Gimme Shelter’) the following year. In two
years it was James Taylor not the Grateful Dead that had taken over the
airwaves. Janis, Jimi and Jim were dead soon, but very much alive in 1968.

We
were passing through Texas on our way to Massachusetts and my fraternity
brother’s new life at Harvard Law School. He would drop me off at my parent’s
home on Long Island about a week later. It was barely my home any more. A week
after that, another fraternity brother would drive me back to Duke for my final
undergraduate year. I had no car then.

The
Land Rover took the southern route across America as we briefly “married our
fortunes together.” More fraternity brothers along the southern route than
along the northern one when your ZBT chapter was at Duke, not Cornell. More free
meals and free beds. It would be a few more years before the throngs from the
northeast would discover Durham, NC as the home of a destination university and
many years before Coach K arrived and turned Duke basketball from a regional
religion into a national cult.

Of
all the places we could be that evening, we wound up in San Antonio for the
HemisFair, a small world’s fair compared to the one of my final high school
years in Flushing Meadows, NY. Now you see why I am so crazy. Any teenager who
was experiencing the Beatles, the NY World’s Fair, Duke basketball, the Fillmore
East and Janis Joplin in one three year period was bound to be damaged
permanently.

On
television in the motel in San Antonio we saw the riots from the Chicago Democratic
National Convention. The crowd was protesting the Vietnam War and the police
response to their demonstration. Remember that war had sunk the presidency of
LBJ causing him to resign on March 31, 1968, 5 months before. All of a sudden,
the Democratic Presidential race was on fire and after that night, “the whole
world was watching.”

Young people,
our age were camped in the park and the police were throwing tear gas their
way. The police were beating them as well. My fraternity brother wanted to jump
in the car and drive to Chicago and join (we were such liberals!), but there was no need. After the
assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy, the country was
watching and hearing its children say enough is enough. We will not kill for
you and we won’t die either, though many did. 58,000 at least.

For
old guys like me, what we see in Ferguson, Missouri in HD now is very
reminiscent of what we saw on the black and white screens of 1968. It is a
police riot, a crowd riot, and now the police are armed even more like RoboCop
than they had been in Chicago in 1968.

After
Chicago and the defeat of Hubert Humphrey, we got Richard Nixon and Kent State,
Iran Contra and the list goes on. When my father was my age he understood what
his friends died for in Europe. I have no idea what my fraternity brother
Warren Franks died for in Vietnam. His name is on black marble slab 9W on the
Wall on the National Mall.

I
have only one question with regard to this latest example of police out of
control, looters out of control and an entire city on edge. Is the whole world
still watching? Does it care?

In
1968 there were three networks, no cable, no satellite communications for the
public and what we were seeing had not really been seen before–the police
beating white people. Today, what we see in Ferguson is barely the news. The
news is about the shooting death of a young black man and how a policeman could
have emptied his gun into the boy. But what about the crowds trying to protest
peacefully and being met by assault gear and what about the influence of
outside trouble makers splintering all attempts at order in the majority black
community with very few black policemen and women? Are we still fighting the
battle of the 60’s (1860’s, that is) and does anyone care enough?

You
would think that Mr. Obama would be doing a whole lot more to address the
issues of militarized policing and local rioting not to mention the death of a
young black man, who whether or not he was a thief seems to have been dealt
with using a disproportionate degree of force.

It
is my hypothesis that after the clear and constant barrage of governmental
misdeeds from Iran Contra to Monica, from Watergate to Iran hostages, from
WMD’s to a non-policy against terrorism by the current administration,
Americans no longer believe their government, their leadership or any other
figure of authority.

Doctors?
No!

The
Supreme Court? No!

Lance
Armstrong? No!

Major
League Baseball? Give me a break.

Who
then? Steven Colbert?

It
is no different in academia and especially at our beloved MD Anderson. We have
now been through a second administration riddled with misdeeds and a lack of faculty
trust. The fiduciary responsibility for fixing this is clearly with the
Regents, but do you trust those guys or the indicted guy who appointed them? Me.
Neither.

Perhaps
I am looking for a Messiah when I ask leaders to step up and act like they have
some principles. I am not asking for perfection, but do these guys (and it is
mostly, but not only, guys) always have to think of their pocketbooks and
portfolios first?

What
strikes me is that at a time when the whole world really could be watching
thanks to the internet, we are in such electro-sensory overload that we accept
corruption as expected behavior and in fact tune out.

The
more we can watch, the less it seems to affect us and the more the bad guys are
getting away with. I don’t think any of us wants a revolution, but is a little
competence and service leadership asking for too much? So far, it seems to be.
It was in Chicago and Washington, DC in 1968. It is in Ferguson and in some
organizations in Houston, Texas.

But
none of this has to be. Are you watching? Are you JUST watching?  

Leonard Zwelling