Sunday, August 16, 2009

Woodstock, Health Care and the New Silent Majority

By Harold Michael Harvey

“Son, I’m glad you are not here this summer, they’ve got these long haired, hippy type fellows all over the place, they are smoking a funny cigarette that smells like burnt rope, and the white girls are running around naked,” the voice of my mom said on the other end of the telephone. I’d just finished a shift at the old Homestead Hotel in Hot Springs, Virginia where I had helped to accommodate the party of former President Lyndon Baines Johnson, I think, or some such politico, as they were always dropping in for lunch or dinner .

It was Independence Day 1969. I was away from home earning money in the summertime for fall college expenses, as my mom had done when she was my age. The summer before, on the heels of the twin assassinations, I’d read at the family barbeque, Fredrick Douglass’ epic diatribe “What is the Fourth of July to the American Negro?.” My family was perplexed as I’m sure Douglass’ audience must have been.

Mom was not describing Woodstock. That “happening” would occur the following month. She was describing the crowd gathered at the behest of Phil Walden, an enterprising music promoter, who had produced what was billed as the Atlanta International Music Festival at the site of a motor speedway 120 miles south of Atlanta in Byron, Georgia. Byron is about 20 miles south of my hometown of Macon.

News of the concert and naked white girls spread in the region fast. “They got I-75 blocked off and you can’t get to Fort Valley,” my mom continued to lament the fact she could not visit her two sisters in Fort Valley.

Boy, did I wish I was home. That was all I could think about as mom brought me up to date on all I was missing. Not only did I miss the precursor of Woodstock, I also missed an opportunity to meet the afro-haired young woman I would later marry. She was a student at Spelman College in Atlanta and drove down to Byron with other Spelman sisters. What would have become of such a meeting had we stumbled upon each other in Byron? Would we be here together after 28 years? We were destined to meet ten years later. When we did meet she answered two important questions for me: What was “Byron” really like and what made Spelman College a “Packard” school?

But these are stories for another time. What is important about Byron is that it set the groundwork for Woodstock. It is the first venue where the famed guitarist Jimi Hendrix performed his rendition of “The Star Spangled Banner,” giving meaning to Douglass’ speech, which I had delivered in Macon a year before. Hendrix would perform the national anthem for the second time a month later at Woodstock, and receive such acclamation that he extended his time upon the stage and began to play in free style far longer than his gig was suppose to last.

What then was this “happening” called Woodstock. It was more than three days of peace, love and music. It was the birth of a nation. Young people who opposed a war their elders had gotten them into, came together and proved that a half million Americans could co-exist with limited resources by extending a helping hand to their fellow humankind. It was as if the people had returned for a second sermon on the Mount to learn they were expected to display the lessons learned from the first sermon.

Through the rain, mud, sun and heat, they cared for each other and created such a strong bond among themselves, that it extended to other like minded humans who were not present in a way “Byron” did not. This bond created a statement heard throughout the land which said this country belonged to the young as well as the old.

A year before, a rumbling of this energy that exploded in upstate New York, had check mated a sitting United States President, causing Lyndon Baines Johnson not to seek re-election.

Following Woodstock, this energy targeted the War in Viet Nam. It became a loud and vocal advocate for peace. There was unrest in the land, young people were demanding answers and none were forthcoming. The nation’s sagacious new president, Richard Milhous Nixon, before buckling to the drumbeat for peace summoned the “silent majority” of Americans to turn a deaf ear to the protest raging in the nation.

Did the “silent majority” exist? Surely they must have existed amongst the “anyone over 30" set who were members of our greatest generation. They had faced up to Hitler from the east and Japan from our west. The oldest baby boomers in 1969 were a mere 23 years of age. The greatest generation was less inclined to vocalize their support for governmental action. Yet they voted and fought with their baby boomer offspring. A generational divide appeared. Each side went off to do their own thing and no one watched government for nearly two generations, until a baby boomer born of the Woodstock nation decided he wanted to be president.

Health Care Reform was much discussed and debated in last summer’s presidential cycle. No one in opposition at that time seriously believed the forty-fourth president would be Barack Hussein Obama.

He is. And central to his platform for economic revival is lowering the cost of health care. How do you lower the cost of health care?

His idea is to create competition for the insurance companies in order to encourage them to lower their costs to protect their business interest. Obama’s health care plan provides that Americans can elect to be covered by private insurance or by an insurance plan funded by the federal government.

Not very much socialistic about that proposal. Competition is “as American as apple pie” as Huey Newton was fond of saying in the late 60's. Yet critics on the fringe, who themselves are baby boomers, are yelling their lungs out that the government is rapidly heading down the slippery slope of socialism, if not already there.

Where then are the people who support Obama on Health Care Reform? Do they exit? Is the entire nation afraid the United States is in bed with the Kremlin?

Support, perhaps comes from the new “silent majority,” Woodstock nation baby boomers who know what it is like to win a forty year non violent revolution, “live and in living color.”

(c) August 16, 2009


HG200 said...

Interesting blog, Harold, but it’s missing an important part of the equation: Generation Jones (born 1954-1965, between the Boomers and Generation X). Google Generation Jones, and you’ll see it’s gotten a ton of media attention, and many top commentators from many top publications and networks (Washington Post, Time magazine, NBC, Newsweek, ABC, etc.) now specifically use this term. In fact, the Associated Press' annual Trend Report chose the Rise of Generation Jones as the #1 trend of 2009.

It is important to distinguish between the post-WWII demographic boom in births vs. the cultural generations born during that era. Generations are a function of the common formative experiences of its members, not the fertility rates of its parents. Many experts now believe it breaks down this way:

DEMOGRAPHIC boom in babies: 1946-1964
Baby Boom GENERATION: 1942-1953
Generation Jones: 1954-1965
Generation X: 1966-1978

Here is an op-ed about GenJones as the new generation of leadership in USA TODAY:

Here's a page with a good overview of recent media interest in GenJones:

Harold Michael Harvey said...

HG200, I go by Michael.

Thanks for the information. This piece sought to give explanation to a generation as it was perceived at inception of the Woodstock nation.

With that said, your point is well taken.

Brad Bechler said...

What an exploratory account of the human psyche, juxtaposed against social mores, readiness of the times, cyclic events that shape our modes of thinking. You touch on a triad of things that all go against an expected grain,creating somewhat of a paradox when the dust settles. I'd like to think of life not compartmentalized into closed systems without clear boundaries of points of inception. Instead, I think of life as a systematic neural line of events that gains or loses its efficacy based on barriers to thinking. If we look at life in its simplest form as in a molecular manner, thoughts, motivations, milestones, etc, all emerge from a periphery, that is tantamount to a concentric circle. The Rhetorical question is: To What ring do you belong? Where lies your loyalty.

Great Article and marvelous critical thinking.

Brad Bechler
Author, "When Will The Sky Fall?

Harold Michael Harvey said...

Thanks for your observations.

Brian Taylor said...

Good an insightful article, maybe the Woodstock generation lost themselves over the years a bit when it comes to health care? Instead of hope there is fear and perhaps the Woodstock gen are a little more like their parents than they first imagined. This doesn't apply to all Woodstockers but when you lose a dream and become a skeptic then a person really has lost themselves.

Just a thought.

Harold Michael Harvey said...

Brian, you make a good point. Thanks for contributing to this discussion. Hope to see more of you on The Harvey Journal.

Publican said...

"His idea is to create competition for the insurance companies in order to encourage them to lower their costs to protect their business interest. "

How does one do that without lowering prices of medicine, hospitals and doctors?

How does one do that with a reform which include tort reform that raises the prices of all of this. We have high prices in part because of risks of tort and punitive damage. If there were limits on this; we might get a handle on the prices of health care and possibly come to some solutions.

I don't hear of this being a consideration; of course lawyers (of which most politicians are) don't want us to talk about their adding to the cost of health care.

Harold Michael Harvey said...

Thanks Publican for adding to this discussion.

Anonymous said...

I read your article and thought it was well done, informative, and memory provoking. Such a long time ago and so much has happened since. Health care has many problems that need fixing, but helping one person should not harm another. I want them to get it right the first time, so to speak, so we don't get into a worse mess. (You might want to read my essay on Associated - "Wisdom Behind the Wrinkled Brow".

You have quite an impressive profile and your voice needs to be heard.


Anonymous said...

Hi Michael, I just finished reading your blog, and it was very interesting. It seems to me that now that the baby boomers are on the edge of retiring and they are feeling a bit panicky about what will happen to medicare and social security as the warnings that the funding will run out rings louder in their ears. It's an interesting shift how the children of woodstock are now sharing the same concerns their parents did twenty to thirty years ago.

Congrats on getting your novel published, I would very much be interested in reading it.


Anonymous said...

Michael I read your is good...very good.

Have you ever thought of running for office?

We need some honest down to earth people like YOU guiding this country.


Anonymous said...

Wonderful piece your article is both enjoyable and informative.

H. Lewis Smith

Anonymous said...

Hope to read your novel and we do have that in common. For it is my hope that someday I will be publish with my own work of literature. Read your blog and you have inspire me to start one myself. You are an amazing individual, just keep up the good work.

Peace to you, Richard P.

jacqueline said...

I thoroughly enjoyed reading your post. The historical content was particularly stimulating.

When it comes to the health care debate, it seems that more people are yelling than listening. Few seem willing to understand. What are people really afraid of? The truth rarely has an opportunity to speak through so much noise.

I look forward to reading your upcoming book. Thanks for sharing.

Anonymous said...

Dr. Harvey,

Very well articulated! Talk to you soon!

Nickalus T. Holt

Anonymous said...

Fantastic article! I was at the story goes: I went up to Woodstock, NY that Friday with some friends who did not want to go to Sag Harbor, again. A friend named Sylvia had met this guy (a black state trooper) invited us all up to his place in Woodstock because she did not want to go that far alone. So the 5 of us, 2guys and 2girls, and Sylvia headed to Woodstock. We had no idea that weekend would be that big. It got late so we booked into a cheap motel then went out to some of the local bars to eat, drink, and be merry. We were high and cool but got into the folk singing and good times.We tried to leave on Saturday but the traffic and the rain was just too much so we stayed until Sunday morning and snaked our way out of Woodstock never going to the concerts.

Anyway you brought back some memories.


Juanita said...

I love the way you describe life in America at various times. And you toss in an opinion about modern times so smoothly I always manage to understand the link. History is so key to understanding our mistakes and trying not to repeat them. Thanks for another great story.

Joseph (@oldsoul85) said...

We agree that the health care system needs to be reformed. We disagree on what has caused the problems and how we should solve them. Insurance companies are a problem, but not the entire problem.

First, government regulations that prevent the purchase of health care across state lines have stifled completion. Adding a government option will not increase competition. It will add yet another monopoly in the insurance business that will hinder competition. If Mr. Obama was serious about increasing competition, he would make it easier for the consumer to shop across state lines and find an insurance plan that meets their needs.

Second, government spending on health care has increased and private spending has decreased for the past three decades. I believe the increase in third-party payments has contributed to the rising cost of health care. When the government picks up the tab, demand increases. Thus the costs of what needs to be produced, or to put it another way, the costs of what is demanded increases. Having the government pick up more of the tab is not going to lower health care costs.

Third, the government give individuals the same tax incentives that employers get to provide health care.

Fourth, the government needs to stop telling insurance companies what they must cover.

Fifth, any discussion of health care reform must include tort reform.

I’ll stop here. There are plenty of factors that have contributed to the current situation in health care. I won't name all of them here. We need less government involvement and more consumer driven reforms. The situation will improve when the government gets out of the way.

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