where have all the flower children gone?

I spent a bunch of time this weekend reading Union Dues, a 1977 novel by John Sayles that was recently re-published by Nation Books. (BTW, I’m not actually sure what the title refers to. There are unions in this book, but not really at the heart of it.) It’s about a father and son from West Virginia who live in coal country until the son decides to take off to Boston, in search of his older brother (recently returned from Vietnam). The father takes off after him and ends up working in a variety of blue-collar jobs, while the son ends up living in a house with a bunch of young radicals in a group called the Third Way.

I was barely alive during the sixties, but the book, with its descriptions of young white kids who spend all of their time developing political positions and arguing with each other about whose ideology is more pure was still strangely familiar to me. Partly that’s because I know a lot of people who worked as organizers for various lefty groups, or who were student activists, or who burned their draft cards or their bras in the sixties. Partly it’s because I’ve been one of those crazy middle-class white kids, living in a collective house and arguing against any compromise with the military industrial complex, in my own young adulthood. And partly (and perhaps even more strangely to some of the people that I lived collectively with, back in the day), it’s because I’ve become a parent, and I can now imagine dropping everything to go find my teenage kid who might be going in the wrong direction.

It’s one of the few books I’ve read in a long time that made me wish it had a sequel. I wondered what happened to all those young activists, in particular. I know that not everyone who was politically active in the 60s and 70s still is, but I know some pretty cool people who cut their teeth doing actions then–I’d lke to see Sayles write a novel where they went on to be NOW state presidents, or university professors who are active in their union, or whatever.

So in the spirit of the sixties, let’s all go out and protest the 3rd anniversary of the Iraq War’s beginning, this weekend. If you’re looking for info on events, here are some good sites to check out. (In the spirit of anti-sectarianism, I’m being inclusive.)


March 13, 2006. books for grown-ups. 6 comments.