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I grew up in what today seems like an unimaginably repressive regime, where the privileged wielded tremendous power over ordinary citizens. Some cities and towns still had active sundown laws which made it a crime to be within city limits after dark if you weren't white. In the South, not being white was considered 'just cause' 24/7. My public high school had mandatory ROTC for boys; essentially, conscription into military training for sixteen year olds. Young women could be denied primary public school education for violating wardrobe rules or for the crime of teen-aged pregnancy. Prostitution was formally illegal but protected by the police and business leaders, who owned the buildings housing bordellos. (Wink, wink; nudge, nudge.) The John Birch Society was considered a community service organization.

When I graduated from high school (having successfully evaded the ROTC draft and regained admission in spite of my hair having been judged "too long"), my government put my birthdate into a hopper along with every other eighteen year old's, and conducted a public lottery to determine which of my generation would be forced to serve in the military and fight a transparently unjust war in Vietnam. To be chosen and to submit was considered an honor by those patriots not subject to that draft. I was drafted, burned my draft notice, then successfully evaded conscription, thanks to the help of some unlikely partisans.We discovered each other. Many considered mine a dishonorable act. One of my best friends from high school served two years in a Federal penitentiary for the then heinous crime of pacifism. An old family friend, an FBI agent, arrested him on Christmas Day, and felt honorable for committing that act.

If you could gain admission to a college, you could honorably avoid the draft.

Walking down the street with shoulder-length hair would often attract a police cruiser to follow me around. America: Love It Or Leave It bumper stickers were common. I once had to resort to wearing a short hair wig in order to secure a job cleaning out race track stables, a "casual labor" job, which meant that I was an indentured servant to the labor contractor for the day. Casual labor was the only work available to long haired white boys and people of color because conventional employers wouldn't hire us; and didn't have to.

Bigotry was common; misogyny, normal. Equal Rights Under The Law was widely considered a radical concept favored by wild-eyed lunatics like women, hippies, and non-whites.

I came of age in an alien country, one which seemed determined to oppress me at every turn. One which demanded unconditional fealty as a precondition for a liberty which was actively reserved for 'betters.' We protested with what seemed at the time little effect. We protested anyway.

We banded together and could recognize each other by a certain glint in the eye. We made marvelous music together, huddled around in a living room, passing jug wine. We felt especially blessed in spite of the oppression. We reassured each other that we were not crazy just because we could see through the hypocrisy toward a truer democracy. We helped lose a war imminently worth losing. This helped awaken many who'd fallen under the thrall of dominion.

America was not anything like great then. It was paranoid. Like an abusive father, it seemed most terrified of losing a grip it never needed: stingy with trust, harsh in punishment, delusionally righteous in its justifying explanations. Families fragmented over political differences. The Federal government continually lied to its citizens, playing them for fools. Our President resigned to avoid impeachment. This could happen again.

In the more than forty years since then, we've carved out a more perfect union, but we have not forgotten the coping skills we honed in our adolescence and young adulthood. We remember how to trust and care for each other. We remember how to pass. We remember how to subtly undermine the bastards who firmly believe their judgment's better because of their race, religion, or social standing. We know that the Trumps of this world teeter on top of a power they very temporarily hold, and that they possess little real power over anything. We understand how to help lose those wars imminently worth losing and how to enjoy the great freedom our purposeful, striving communion brings.

Let us now make some beautiful music together again.

©2017 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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