Roller skating took the public by storm in the years following the Civil War. Other than the cost of skates, all a person needed was a smooth surface and a modicum of courage in order to enjoy speeding along with the rush of wind through his or her hair. Fayetteville didn’t lag behind in embracing this novel sport. Crowds flocking to the rink to try their hand at this challenging new recreation must have been aware that their activities would be fodder for onlooker commentary including wiseacre sketches which made their way into the local news announcing prizes awarded for “the most graceful lady skater” or “the awkward squad.”
Fayetteville led the state in offering roller rinks to an eager public. As the sport took its various twists and turns through the years, the community met the demand with a total of (so far) twelve roller rinks. One that stands out in recent memory was the fond dream of Dayton Stratton, a visionary businessman who saw the potential of a rink to accommodate much more than roller skates. It was Stratton that put Fayetteville on the national map of live music concerts, sponsoring local performances of breakout acts like Conway Twitty, Roy Orbison, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Ronnie Hawkins and The Hawks (later to become The Band).
Read the history of local (and state) roller rinks in the forthcoming AROUND THE COUNTY: Histories of Washington County, Arkansas.
Another article in the forthcoming AROUND The COUNTY: Histories of Washington County, Arkansas
Long forgotten villages dot the maps of Washington County, places like Floss, Sugar Hill, Clyde, and Arnett. Odell is another, no longer existing as more than a place name. For a time in the 19th century, this village was a tiny but important commercial center in that vicinity the southwest county. School No. 69, Shady Grove, was located there as well as a blacksmith shop, general store, and post office, all along a long established roadway mostly following the ridge tops in this western edge of the Boston Mountains.
Both Confederate and Union troops used this road, now County Road 295, as an alternative to the more heavily traveled routes like the Old Wire Road up the middle of the county, or the route later to become Highway 59 along the state’s boundary with Indian Territory, or the newly marked-out Cove Creek Road which rose from the depths of Crawford County and led directly to Prairie Grove.
Noah West, the owner of the Odell general store circa 1900, stands proudly at its entry with his extended family, a moment and place captured for all time.
Another chapter in the upcoming AROUND The COUNTY – “The County’s Four Riverside Parks”
One of the greatest attractions of Washington County is water, fresh flowing creeks and streams with fishing, swimming, and poking around in the shallows for fossils and arrowheads. Since the late 19th century, ‘Riverside Park’ has attracted all sorts of people to the banks of the West Fork of White River in Washington County, Arkansas. Picnics, restful scenic outings, and swimming were (and are) in the offing at Riverside Park, and even in winter visitors may be found there.
But which Riverside Park?
The first Riverside Park was established by 1882 with the construction of the Pacific & Great Eastern Railroad from Fayetteville east. Fun-seeking citizens rode the train to the park where they could enjoy picnics and events as well as the simple pleasures of the river. “Excursions were run every day out to Wyman during the hot seasons, where there was provision for boating and swimming. … a July 4th program in 1882 featured an all-day picnic. Trains were to run every two hours to accommodate the public, and a printed program announced the speakers of the day would be the Honorable William Walker Bishop on “The Tariff and Financial Questions of the Day” and “Arkansas As It Was and Is” by Uncle Ann Fitzgerald. An onion-eating contest offered prizes while order would be enforced by Sheriff Ike Combs.”
A entire chapter in the forthcoming AROUND THE COUNTY.
It’s easy to take bread for granted, the first thing grabbed off supermarket shelves as people prepare for any apocalypse. And not only bread, but other products of wheat flour, everything from biscuits to pasta. But the county’s early pioneers did not have supermarkets from which to obtain bread or flour, they didn’t even have grist mills to produce it. And they had to grow the wheat!
Laboring over grinding stones with hand pestles, pioneers cleared land, plowed, planted, harvested, winnowed, and stored wheat (and other grains, especially corn) before turning their energies to building mills. Big grinding stones were turned first by harnessed mules or horses then by water power as streams were channeled to turn big mill wheels. Millwrights had to know their business, not only in the methods of capturing and directing a suitable flow of water but also in the construction of the wheels and the many mechanisms of the operation.
At first, Fayetteville settlers had to travel to Natural Dam to find a mill, then to Evansville. It wasn’t until 1836 that Fayetteville gained its first local mill, and twelve more would follow. Local mills would continue their important work for nearly a century before mechanization and corporate farms would undermine their profitability, thus ending a long mainstay of the local economy.
Coming SOON! “Around the County,” new collection of articles about the history of Washington County.
From the first chapter:
Among the earliest settlers of Washington County were two men named William Shore. Distantly related in the Shorr lineage which arrived in the British American colonies by 1750, these two men seem not to have known of each other’s presence in this county. They each set about making a place for themselves. The first, William Dahl Shore, enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1833 and served in Co. H, U. S. Regiment of Dragoons (subsequently 1st U. S. Cavalry Regiment) as they occupied Fort Gibson “employed in scouting among the Indians, especially along the Missouri frontier, a portion of the regiment going to Nacogdoches, Texas, for the purpose of keeping off white trespassers from the Indian country, and preserving peace between whites and Indians and among the Indians themselves; also in building wagon roads and bridges.” Once he’d served his three year term, W.D. Shore bought land at Taney (later Brentwood) and served as the first postmaster.
The other William Shore stayed only ten years on his land along the western boundary of Washington County before leaving with the Lewis Evans Company for the California gold fields. In the process, he quickly saw that providing meat and other supplies for the miners produced greater wealth than mining and adjusted his enterprise accordingly. Some of his siblings remained in the county.
These two William Shores, both entrepreneurs and adventurers, illustrate the type of men who helped create this county.
(Pictured: In the right foreground stands a subaltern of the First Regiment of Dragoons; in the left foreground is an ordnance sergeant-of which there was one on every Army post. By H. Charles McBarron, Jr.)
Bizarre but delicious, okra was a regular menu item as I was growing up. Sliced thin and rolled in salted cornmeal, okra was fried to a crisp golden brown. Mind you, this was not the half-cooked version found in most restaurants today. Rather, the crunchy umami of well-done okra was an essential part of the flavor.
Moving toward old age and looking toward easier and healthier methods of preparing this dish, I discovered that whole pods of okra could reach a similarly scrumptious state when fried minus the laborious slicing and added cornmeal. A little olive oil and an iron skillet render the pods golden brown after only a half hour or so.
A critical factor in this method is the size of the pod. Okra becomes increasingly tough as it grows larger, something that sends us home growers out to the okra patch on a daily basis. Those little devils can grow an inch almost overnight. Once an okra pod zooms much past four inches, you might as well throw it away.
The exception to this winnowing would be if you plan to use okra in gumbo or other stewed preparations, which cooks long enough to overcome the pending toughness while adding its mucilaginous goodness to the pot. Perhaps even frying larger pods would be acceptable IF the pods were sliced.
Frying whole pods being my current modus operandi, I have searched the local markets during the winter months when this tropical native does not grow in my tiny Ozark garden. Walmart offers a small space for fresh okra in its produce section. Alas, 99% of the time, the okra displayed there is disgusting. Packaged in plastic bags, the okra rapidly sweats itself into a moldy, mushy funk. Or some hopeful produce worker places the packages in the path of the regular misting, guaranteeing that the pods quickly deteriorate into the consistency of lumpy puke.
An alternative packaging method involves clear plastic cartons with ventilation slots. Here the okra has a better chance of lasting until a customer can purchase and, if she hurries, cook and eat it. If the package has been on the shelf more than a few days, the tell-tale signs of black mold and rot seem to be invisible to the produce manager, and the packages will remain until the entire mass has disgustingly disintegrated into a homogenous mass of putrefying vegetation.
The other problem plaguing Walmart’s fresh okra is size. In Walmart’s $4.23 12 oz. package of fresh okra, which contains maybe 20 pods, one finds only six or seven under four inches. This problem can be traced to the source. Nicaraguan and other contract Central American farmers are apparently unaware of the tenderness issue, understandable since a) okra is native to West Africa, Ethiopia, Southeast Asia, and/or South Asia; and b) farmers and their managers wish to gain the largest product for their efforts. The low sales numbers and rate of spoilage should alert Walmart admins of a problem, but they lumber ever onward, oblivious.
Fortunately, a frozen product is usually available at most stores. But don’t be misled by the pre-cut and/or the pre-breaded okra. It doesn’t cook up crisp, but rather transforms into a gummy wad of flavorless gunk. Defying the imagination, Walmart’s ‘Great Value’ breaded okra is sold in a steamable bag…
Only the frozen whole okra pods are useful, but again there is a size problem. The purchaser is indeed fortunate if even half the pods are four inches or less.
Sadly, if a person shops for frozen okra at any of the Walmart stores, as I did a few days ago, that person would be disappointed to discover that there may be no frozen okra pods in stock, thereby requiring that the hopeful buyer travel to a different Walmart. I find it consistently at the Neighborhood Walmart at 660 W. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, but never at the Walmart Supercenter at 2875 W. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. [Okay, ‘never’ is a big word and must confess that I haven’t checked for it every day as my grocery shopping trips are weekly. Still…]
I plan to grow at least 12 okra plants in my raised beds this year, with an eye to freezing some of my own for cold weather use rather than being constantly at the mercy of commercial growers and retailers’ utter lack of quality control. The real solution to the okra problem is to require growers and merchants to actually EAT some properly-sized and prepared okra. Otherwise this is a hopeless situation for okra lovers everywhere.
In political science, a reactionary is a person who holds political views that favor a return to the status quo ante, the previous political state of society, which that person believes possessed positive characteristics absent from contemporary society.
Increasingly since the 1960s, terrified conservatives and the power brokers behind them have pursued increasingly extreme political efforts to turn back time. What terrified the people were the changes wrought by new technologies and ideas of personal liberty. Suddenly women had legal access to effective contraceptives and by 1973, to abortion. To many, even more upsetting were the ramifications of the Civil Rights Act.
What terrified the power brokers were the Baby Boomers who rejected corporatism and the war machine. Young people from all kinds of families turned to the counter-culture in its denunciation of the war in Vietnam and the draft, its embrace of psychoactive substances that expanded consciousness, and a revolutionary denial of consumer culture.
The shock and horror was met by a series of efforts meant to reclaim the past. Called everything from the Silent Majority, Tea Party, and now the so-called “Freedom” Caucus, these political mavens proclaim their ‘freedom’ to not accept progress, to hang by their fingernails clenching the coattails of a vanishing way of life.
The effort puts the nation and humanity at risk.
Fundamentally, the resistance stems from love of money coupled with extremist religion (always a useful tool). Only God knows how viruses work. God doesn’t want people to question His will. God will take care of us. Et cetera. Fear drives these knee-jerk reactions, fear of learning enough to question certain religious beliefs, fear of having to think for oneself. Fear of personal responsibility.
Fear incited by behind-the-scenes power brokers.
Take, for example, the reactionary refusal to vaccinate. Science tell us that the availability of unprotected humans gives viruses fresh grounds in which to breed. And clever viruses reproduce with slightly altered offspring (mutations) that make them more likely to succeed—more virulent, or more resistant to medicine, or less likely to be stopped by the vaccine. Sadly, many reactionaries are unaware of this because they are not well informed on the nature of viruses, or of the nature of biological entities overall.
That’s because many reactionaries resisted the lessons of science that were offered in public schools. Either underpaid, overworked teachers failed to connect with the student or, more often, the student refused to allow the information to process in his/her mind. The resistance had been long taught at home through parental dismissal of science, passed on through generations.
Yet, remarkably, the same reactionaries usually turn to science when they fall ill. Vaccine refusers end up in hospitals partaking of the latest technologies and therapies science has to offer. And it doesn’t take a virus to incite their embrace of the latest scientific-medical interventions. Or take cancer, for example. Few if any persons facing a cancer diagnosis are interested in waiting for God to heal them. They rush to embrace chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery.
But perhaps I overstate the point.
Reactionaries’ views on the financial world progress much faster than their views on advances in the social order. The proliferation of the extremely wealthy resonates in reactionary minds as a promise of what they might themselves gain if they play their cards right. Conditioned by clever propaganda put forth by the rich, the reactionaries wait for the ship to come in, much as a serf waited for the lord of their domain to grant a favor, perhaps by granting an extra field to plant or a new wagon in which to haul the harvest–which coincidentally largely lined the lord’s pockets, not their own.
This faith in the wealthy stems from several religious concepts, that God grants wealth to the virtuous and that people who are rich are God’s favored children. Therefore, in reactionary logic, by accepting and respecting the excessive wealth of a few, they are acknowledging God’s plan. If they’re extra good, God might also reward them with a windfall.
Never mind that the same teachings embraced by reactionaries state that wealthy men cannot expect to be accepted by God.
A darker side of this primitive thinking is the compulsion to protect those things so honored by God. If material goods of the wealthy are threatened by angry mobs, the appropriate reaction by God’s people is to kill the mobs. Hence Kyle Rittenhouse. Hence the thousands who believe young Kyle did the right thing. But this is apostasy: valuing material things over human life is a big NO in Scriptural teachings.
Another favorite mindset among reactionaries is the accumulation and embrace of multiple prejudices. Supported by twisted interpretations of Biblical bits and pieces, the religious reactionary becomes a racist, sexist hater ready to take up arms against any effort to bring them in closer, more accepting contact with people of different color, ethnicity, or gender. The actual cause of these prejudices is not religion but rather fear—fear of the unknown, the Other–as well as the urgent need to cling to what is known.
Ironically, eliminating fear is a fundamental objective of religion. Except, of course, fear of God. In theory, if a person is suitably fearful of God, and therefore religious in following God’s rules, then God will take care of everything else. This is called faith.
For many people, this narrow faith doesn’t quite get them past that man’s dark skin or that woman’s clever mind or that ‘person’ who pretends he’s a woman when he’s probably a man. Faith doesn’t provide any assistance in dealing with people who don’t have the same religious beliefs, or who speak a foreign language.
Faith has no suggestions on how to deal with sexual desires toward a person of same sex, so the default response is to call it sin and try to ignore it. But the desire never goes away and to compensate, the person in this quandary may direct his sexual frustration in other ways, such as child molestation.
Trapped in their unquestioning religious beliefs and narrow-minded view of the world, these folks hardly experience the ‘freedom’ their mantras espouse. And the power brokers don’t hesitate to play on their ignorance to enhance their financial opportunities. Not only are conservatives bound up in their tunnel vision of the world, their every effort is to restrict the freedom of others—banning books, restricting speech to avoid words they don’t like, forbidding medical care to women—there’s a long list of freedoms the Freedom Party would eliminate from American life.
Upon reading stories about people serving forty (or more) years sentences in prison for the crime of selling marijuana, one is left with the uncomfortable feeling that something is missing from the picture. People who commit rape or murder serve less time.
What was/is so terrible about selling marijuana? Especially now that multitudes of people are making lots of money selling marijuana LEGALLY.
At least in the 22 states that have legalized marijuana, shouldn’t all the previous such ‘crimes’ be dismissed and their ‘criminals’ be pardoned?
Why is the boot of the government still on the necks of marijuana users and traffickers?
Historically, the first notable enthusiasm for marijuana prohibition came from law enforcement.,  It was no accident that the big push to criminalize marijuana came exactly at the moment alcohol prohibition ended. It gave fresh hope for employment to all the ‘revenuers’ who’d been busy tracking down and destroying bootleg stills. After Nixon declared a war on drugs, particularly marijuana, pot users became a nest on the ground for police looking to boost their arrest numbers, hence the money they could gain for the department. It didn’t hurt that arresting a pot head meant, in many places, police pocketing whatever money the hapless victim might have had in his pocket, even if it was his week’s pay meant to cover rent.
Seizure/forfeiture proceedings also led to police profiting from taking the car in which said culprit had been driving, or if at home, the house, land, equipment on the land, as well as jewelry and other valuables in the home which could be claimed as implements of a crime and therefore suitable for forfeiture to the state. The thing about seized assets is that the victim doesn’t have to be found guilty of a crime; the assets are guilty separately, and public defenders are not appointed to defend property. If the victim, now penniless, can scrape up enough money to defend his property, he might stand a chance of having it returned to him. But in many cases, his rights regarding his property are obscured in an Orwellian maze of legal procedures designed to profit the state and the arresting police department.
There has never been a calculation of the loss to individuals, families, and society resulting from these prohibition tactics—loss of employment, loss of opportunity to parent children and preserve home and wellbeing for a family (and the family’s subsequent need for welfare), disenfranchisement not only from citizenship, but also from community standing—a permanent blow against that person for getting high on marijuana instead of beer.
Jobs and money were not the only motivations for marijuana prohibition within the nation’s criminal justice system. Most state inmates are required to work at jobs within the prison system. In Arkansas, much of that labor was/is in prison farms which produce millions of dollars’ worth of crops which does not necessarily end up on prison cafeteria tables but rather is sold to profit the system. Other types of prison jobs pay a minimal wages, which benefit whichever corporate employer is able to gain this work force. The growth of for-profit prisons has increased exponentially, with states giving up their prison industry for a package deal with the corporates. 
More to the point, the lingering extremism of marijuana prohibition has been a half-assed effort to stop the awakening of an entire generation. Amid the civil rights movement whereby former enslaved persons and their descendants might gain their rightful place in society and the growing outrage over the war in Vietnam, the Baby Boom generation came of age as if awakening from a 1950s dream where their parents and America were right in the world. Slowly, as the scales fell from their eyes, facilitated by the enlightening effects of marijuana, young people were shocked then horrified by the catalogue of wrongs unfolding on their television screens and in their city streets. Police were beating people over the head for protesting. Young men of the generation were dying by the thousands in an unwarranted ‘war’ no one authorized or understood.
Slowly, the awakening of the generation produced a new vision of a righteous society. Women’s rights, minority rights, gay rights, rights for the handicapped. Organic food and natural medicine including natural childbirth. Protection of the environment. Free sex for the pleasure of it now that women had gained the right to control their bodies. These were topics of conversation among the thousands of young people as they sat in circles passing a joint. Their awakening sent shock waves through the established culture as Boomers turned their backs on corporate jobs and material consumption to live in teepees and grow their own food (and marijuana), as they joined with minorities and war veterans to demand justice. More importantly, they didn’t keep quiet about their awakening, but took to the streets to force institutions like universities and government to hear the good news.
Therein lies the slavering hatred against pot dealers/traffickers/users that has permeated American culture in the ensuing 60 years. Not only did a generation of well-fed, highly educated 1950s youth turn their backs on all their parents and grandparents held dear, they had the gall to demand those folks accept revolutionary change. Perhaps most outrageous to the older generations was the embrace of alternative spiritual belief, practices like meditation and non-violence, or the growing movement toward no adherence to religion whatsoever.
This fight is far from ending. Presidents Nixon then Reagan came to power in a backlash against this revolution. Newt Gingrich and Rush Limbaugh recognized an opportunity to motivate their audiences through hateful rhetoric, forging a new kind of political mood that empowered religious extremists. Today, the rotten fruit of their blind self-aggrandizement is harvested almost daily in mass shootings and a population at war with itself as Republican powerbrokers use these differences like a cudgel to drive hysterical evangelical voters to the voting booth.
The misguided effort to put the genie back in the bottle has led and continues to lead to the legally-sanctioned crucifixion of entrepreneurs who dare to meet the market demand for marijuana. It is capitalism turned on its head. The cost of imprisonment in 2015 averaged an annual cost of $33,274 per inmate. Best estimates for the current marijuana prison population comes in around 40,000. A quick moment at the handy calculator shows that taxpayers of the United States are spending $1.33 billion dollars annually to punish the users and purveyors of this modest weed.
Alongside the drug war and all its collateral damage has come the arming of local police forces with weapons of war and the glorification of guns. As citizen petitions slowly win some degree of sanity in nearly half our states, prisoners of this war still languish in prison cells.
What ‘they’ fear is change. When will this tragedy of fear and loathing come to its rightful end?
If you look for the roots of America’s ban on cannabis, you’ll find nearly all roads lead to a man named Harry Anslinger. He was the first commissioner of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, which laid the ground work for the modern-day DEA, and the first architect of the war on drugs.
Anslinger was appointed in 1930, just as the prohibition of alcohol was beginning to crumble (it was finally repealed in 1933), and remained in power for 32 years. Early on, he was on record essentially saying cannabis use was no big deal. He called the idea that it made people mad or violent an “absurd fallacy.”
But when Anslinger was put in charge of the FBN, he changed his position entirely.
“From the moment he took charge of the bureau, Harry was aware of the weakness of his new position. A war on narcotics alone — cocaine and heroin, outlawed in 1914 — wasn’t enough,” author Johann Hari wrote in his book, “Chasing the Scream: The First and Last Days of the War on Drugs.” “They were used only by a tiny minority, and you couldn’t keep an entire department alive on such small crumbs. He needed more.”
Consequently, Anslinger made it his mission to rid the U.S. of all drugs — including cannabis. His influence played a major role in the introduction and passage of the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937, which outlawed possessing or selling pot.
Fueled by a handful of 1920s newspaper stories about crazed or violent episodes after marijuana use, Anslinger first claimed that the drug could cause psychosis and eventually insanity. In a radio address, he stated young people are “slaves to this narcotic, continuing addiction until they deteriorate mentally, become insane, turn to violent crime and murder.”
In particular, he latched on to the story of a young man named Victor Licata, who had hacked his family to death with an ax, supposedly while high on cannabis. It was discovered many years later, however, that Licata had a history of mental illness in his family, and there was no proof he ever used the drug.
The problem was, there was little scientific evidence that supported Anslinger’s claims. He contacted 30 scientists, according to Hari, and 29 told him cannabis was not a dangerous drug. But it was the theory of the single expert who agreed with him that he presented to the public — cannabis was an evil that should be banned — and the press ran with this sensationalized version.
The second component to Anslinger’s strategy was racial. He claimed that black people and Latinos were the primary users of marijuana, and it made them forget their place in the fabric of American society. He even went so far as to argue that jazz musicians were creating “Satanic” music all thanks to the influence of pot. This obsession eventually led to a sort of witch hunt against the legendary singer Billie Holiday, who struggled with heroin addiction; she lost her license to perform in New York cabarets and continued to be dogged by law enforcement until her death.
“The insanity of the racism is a thing to behold when you go into his archives,” Hari told CBS News. “He claims that cannabis promotes interracial mixing, interracial relationships.”
The word “marijuana” itself was part of this approach. What was commonly known as cannabis until the early 1900s was instead called marihuana, a Spanish word more likely to be associated with Mexicans.
“He was able to do this because he was tapping into very deep anxieties in the culture that were not to do with drugs — and attaching them to this drug,” Hari said. Essentially, in 1930s America, it wasn’t hard to use racist rhetoric to associate the supposed harms of cannabis with minorities and immigrants.
So as the nationwide attitude towards cannabis began to fall in line with Anslinger’s, he testified before Congress in hearings for the Marijuana Tax Act. His testimony centered around the ideas he had been pushing all along — including a provocative letter from a local newspaper editor in Colorado, saying “I wish I could show you what a small marihuana cigaret can do to one of our degenerate Spanish-speaking residents.”
All these years later, many of the threads in Anslinger’s arguments are still present in the American conversation about legalizing marijuana. The act was passed in 1937, and the rest, they say, is history.
The Rage Unifying Boomers and Gen Z, By Ronald Brownstein, JUNE 18, 2020 The ATLANTIC
The 1960s have achieved almost mythic status as a hinge point in American history. Both those who welcomed and those who feared the convulsive changes the decade brought can agree on one thing: Socially, culturally, and politically, the nation was a very different place when the ’60s ended than when they began.
This could be another such moment.
The ’60s watershed moments—the civil-rights campaigns in Birmingham and Selma, Alabama; Martin Luther King Jr.’s March on Washington and the anti-war March on the Pentagon; the outpouring of demonstrations following the shootings at Kent State—can seem in retrospect like towering peaks of transformative activism far beyond any contemporary experience. But history may look back on this period as a comparable transition in the nation’s politics and culture, driven primarily by the largest generation of young Americans since the Baby Boomers who flooded the streets decades ago.
Enormous differences separate the two periods. But they may ultimately prove united by the magnitude of the change they impose.
The 1960s saw the emergence of social movements around civil rights, opposition to the Vietnam War, feminism, Mexican American activism, and environmentalism, as well as the first stirrings of gay rights. The past decade has seen youth-led movements around climate change, gun control, immigration, and inequities of gender (#MeToo) and race (Black Lives Matter).
Today’s long wave of protest shares one other quality with its predecessor: It has changed popular culture and the contours of public opinion more quickly than it has public policy or the nation’s electoral landscape. Now, as then, an electoral system that favors older generations—through structural imbalances that favor rural states with older and less diverse voters—is responding slowly to calls for change from younger Americans.
And yet, just as with the Baby Boomers before them, Millennials, Gen Z, and the generation following them will eventually define the new American mainstream through their priorities and viewpoints, as over time they become a majority of the nation’s population. In that way, the huge number of people on the streets of America’s major cities this month may offer a preview of how profoundly these younger generations may reshape the country’s politics once they vote in numbers that more closely approximate their growing presence in the population overall. “This transition is inevitable,” says Ben Wessel, the executive director of NextGen America, a group that organizes young people for progressive causes. “The question is: How quickly is it going to get here?”
The differences between Baby Boomers and today’s young people are easy enough to see. Younger generations now are far more diverse: White people made up four-fifths of the Baby Boom (defined as those born between 1946 and 1964), but represent only three-fifths of Millennials (born 1981 through 1996) and only a little more than half of Gen Z (tentatively defined as those born from 1997 through 2014).Allen Matusow, the author of The Unraveling of America, a seminal history of the country during the 1960s, noted another key difference in an email: Back then, many of the protests grew out of an assumption of abundance after two decades of the nation’s post–World War II boom; young people today face more precarious prospects. While the white, college-attending component of the ’60s generation “assumed unending growth, abundant consumption, and good jobs when they were ready to take them,” young people now face “environmental degradation, rising sea level, [and] concentrations of wealth that threaten democracy,” among other challenges, said Matusow, who is also a fellow at the Baker Institute of Public Policy at Rice University. Put another way: One movement was a revolution of rising expectations; the other is a struggle to gain a foothold.
And while the great social movements of the 1960s and early 1970s had clearly identified leaders who became iconic figures—King and Malcolm X for civil rights; Abbie Hoffman, Jerry Rubin, and Tom Hayden for the anti-war and student movements; Cesar Chavez for farmworkers; Betty Friedan and Gloria Steinem for the feminist movement—today’s activism is largely leaderless, notes Kirsten John Foy, the founder of the Brooklyn-based activist group The Arc of Justice. Particularly within the Black Lives Matter network and the broader uprising against discriminatory policing, Foy says, “We have moved beyond this messianic notion of leadership, even in the black community. It has democratized the movement and it has reenergized the movement.”
In both decades, the fulcrum of change was the emergence of a vast new generation determined to question the rules and priorities that it inherited. Young people were hardly the only voices agitating for change during the 1960s, just as they are not the sole source of activism now. But in each case, the sheer bulk of the rising generation provided a critical mass for social movements.
At its peak in 1964, members of the Baby Boom represented 37 percent of America’s total population, according to Census figures provided by the demographer William Frey. Frey calculates that, at their peak in 2015, Millennials constituted a little less than one-fourth of the population. But Frey projects that, combined, Millennials and Gen Z will exceed two-fifths of the population from 2013 to 2035. They’ll fall only to slightly below that level through 2050. (Surprisingly, there were about 11 million more births during the Gen Z years than during the Millennial years.)
In the ’60s, the huge pool of baby boomers receptive to change provided the infantry for the succession of protest movements. “The rise of organized movements among previously marginalized groups was indeed contagious in these years,” wrote the historian James T. Patterson in Grand Expectations, his sweeping history of America in the first decades after World War II. The visibility and impact of the early movements—those in support of civil rights and against the war—encouraged the development of those that came later: for environmental protection and rights for women, Chicanos and farmworkers, and, finally, the gay community. Each helped clear the path for the next.
Although today’s social movements have largely been viewed as independent, even isolated, efforts, a similar progression is visible over roughly the past decade.
The Black Lives Matter movement coalesced in 2013 after George Zimmerman was acquitted for shooting the African American teenager Trayvon Martin, and the movement took a huge leap forward in public consciousness following the fatal police shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, in 2014.
Young people brought to the country illegally by their parents—the so-called Dreamers—have kept up a steady drumbeat of protest throughout the decade to achieve, and then protect, their legal status.
The women’s marches against Donald Trump’s administration in January 2017 brought out massive crowds in cities across the country.
The #MeToo movement that grew rapidly in fall 2017 after exposés on the sexual-harassment and assault allegations against Harvey Weinstein and other powerful men has forced sweeping changes in Hollywood, the restaurant and fashion industries, and other institutions.
Students who survived the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, organized mass marches for gun control in Washington, D.C., and hundreds of other cities in March 2018.
Protesters likewise turned out that June in Washington and cities across the country to oppose Trump’s family-separation policy at the southern border.
The massive nationwide demonstrations since Floyd’s death in Minneapolis have provided a kind of culmination for these disparate strands of activism. The protests have been notable for the racial diversity of their crowds. A poll released Thursday by the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation found that while young people ages 18 to 29 account for 52 percent of all adults who have protested—more than double their share of the overall population—participants closely tracked the nation’s overall racial breakdown. “All of those things are coming together in this moment,” Foy, a Pentecostal reverend, told me. “You have not just black people on the streets … You have all of diverse America on the streets.”
Despite the legendary status of the ’60s demonstrations, recent protests have likely involved more people. King’s March on Washington attracted 200,000 to 300,000 people to the Lincoln Memorial in August 1963; the anti-war March on the Pentagon brought probably 50,000 to 100,000 people in October 1967. Although exact numbers aren’t available, millions of Americans may have participated in protests since Floyd’s death. In the Kaiser poll, 10 percent of American adults say they have joined in the demonstrations, a result that would translate to some 25 million people.
The women’s marches the day after Trump’s inauguration also brought out millions, but only for a single day. The ongoing Floyd protests may represent the most Americans who have protested in the streets on a sustained basis since the demonstrations that followed the killing of four anti-war protesters at Kent State University in May 1970, when about half the nation’s college campuses erupted in discontent.
Nor have the current protests shown any sign of flickering out. Foy’s group, for instance, is organizing motor caravans in 33 cities on Juneteenth to demand independent investigations into people who have died at the hands of law enforcement and call for sweeping reforms in police procedures. One distinctive element of the project is that the local groups will also be encouraging participants to register to vote.
That latter focus represents one of the biggest uncertainties about the current wave of protest. The ’60s movements were divided between those who wanted to influence elections and engage with elected leaders (an instinct strongest within much of the civil-rights movement’s leadership) and those who disdained traditional politics as unlikely to produce fundamental change (a tendency strongest in the initial years of the anti-war and student movements). “There were very few people who came out of the new left who were ready to plunge into electoral politics,” says Gitlin, who served as president of Students for a Democratic Society during the ’60s and later wrote a classic history of the period, Years of Hope, Days of Rage.
Reporters following the current protests have found no shortage of local activist leaders equally suspicious of mainstream electoral organizing. One of the pivotal questions of American politics over the next decade may be how quickly, if at all, the young people now protesting in the street develop electoral clout comparable to their numbers. While the Baby Boomers changed social attitudes and popular culture relatively quickly, they did not elect one of their own as president until Bill Clinton, in 1992. In fact, with only one four-year interruption (Jimmy Carter), Republican presidents who largely positioned themselves against the cultural changes that the ’60s unleashed occupied the White House from 1968 until Clinton’s victory.
While the ’60s movements contributed to important changes in law on issues from civil rights and voting rights to the environment and decriminalizing private sexual behavior, their supporters’ failure to win subsequent presidential elections is the reason why Gitlin summarized their impact this way: They were “a great political defeat and a great cultural success. That’s how we ended up with the left marching on the English department while the right took Washington.”
The next decade could produce a similarly bifurcated outcome for Millennials, Gen Z, and the even younger (and more diverse) cohort following them. Their preferences already dominate popular culture, and their tolerance of diversity has lit the path for broader changes in social attitudes, such as public support for gay marriage.
But their electoral impact remains less defined. There’s widespread agreement among activists and observers alike that the election of Trump—a candidate who overtly defined himself in opposition to racial and cultural change—has created a sense of embattlement that’s fueled the expanding protest. “We are seeing those accomplishments, the things that people died for, Martin Luther King and Malcolm X died for, literally being stripped from us,” Foy said.
But, despite their animosity toward Trump, only about half of eligible Millennials and Gen Zers voted in 2016. And while turnout among younger voters was much higher in 2018 than in the previous midterm election, in 2014, many surveys have found only modest enthusiasm among them for presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden. Significant numbers of younger voters say they are considering either voting for a third-party candidate or not voting at all.
The energy coursing through the current protests—as well as Trump’s decision to position himself against them—might offer Biden a new opportunity to engage younger voters who have been cool to him so far. The payoff would be enormous if he can: Frey calculates that Millennials and Gen Z will comprise almost exactly as large a share of eligible voters in November as Baby Boomers and their elders do now (just under two-fifths in each case). By 2024, that balance will tip toward the younger generations, and the gap will widen steadily after that.
“Millennials are a bridge between the white-baby-boom-dominated culture of the past and the diverse America that will define the nation in the 21st century,” Frey told me. “I think these protests, made up of multiethnic Millennials and Gen Zers, are the tipping point of this shift.”
While the past decade’s social movements focus on discrete issues, all of them, as Wessel notes, are drawing on “the same frustration: We have an unequal society that benefits the few—the old, the white—over the many: the young, people of color. That is the crux of all these conversations.” Trump’s political strategy relies on mobilizing the Americans on the winning side of that contrast. Like the Baby Boomers during the 1960s, the younger generations dissatisfied with those arrangements have demonstrated, year after year, that they can fill the streets in protest. Their next test is to do what the baby boom could not: tip the outcome of national elections while they are still young.
Ronald Brownstein is a senior editor at The Atlantic and a senior political analyst for CNN.
Arkansas’ new governor, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, has raised the colors for her term at the helm of the ship of this state. Not that these are ‘her’ colors, per se, but rather edicts scripted for her by her bosses behind the Republican curtain. These are the same entities who put her in front of a microphone to lie for Trump as his press secretary, apparently under the promise that they would support her efforts toward future political office.
Evidence of her bought-and-paid-for status can be found in the immediate issuance of her ban on Critical Race Theory (CRT) in the public schools. The boiler-plate executive order commands, in part, that the Arkansas Department of Education:
Review the rules, regulations, policies, materials, and communications of the Department of Education to identify any items that may, purposely or otherwise, promote teaching that would indoctrinate students with ideologies, such as CRT, that conflict with the principle of equal protection under the law or encourage students to discriminate against someone based on the individual’s color, creed, race, ethnicity, sex, age, marital status, familial status, disability, religion, national origin, or any other characteristic protected by federal or state law.
Sanders’ measure is put forth as enforcement of Title IV and Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (P.L. 88-352, 78 Stat. 241), which was established to ensure equal rights to everyone.
People of one color, creed, race, ethnicity, sex, age, marital status, familial status, disability, religion, national origin, or any other characteristic protected by federal or state law are inherently superior or inferior to people of another color, creed, race, ethnicity, sex, age, marital status, familial status, disability, religion, national origin, or any other characteristic protected by federal or state law…
This and similar bans present three absurdities. One, the ban alleges that efforts to reduce and/or eliminate the negative impact of entrenched racism are a form of racism. Two, the ban demonstrates either an utter lack of understanding of CRT or an ingrained denial of systemic racism, either of which would be remedied by a study of CRT. The rightwing furor over CRT is a perfect example of racist thinking and reassures its racist followers that rightwing Republicans will resist any effort to encourage white people to think equitably of their darker-skinned brethren.
Critical Race Theory advances the idea that multiple aspects of American law, institutions, and social structures enshrine racist ideas. Wikipedia describes the tenets of CRT as follows:
Scholars of CRT say that race is not “biologically grounded and natural”; rather, it is a socially constructed category used to oppress and exploit people of color; and that racism is not an aberration, but a normalized feature of American society. According to CRT, negative stereotypes assigned to members of minority groups benefit white people and increase racial oppression. Individuals can belong to a number of different identity groups…
Derrick Albert Bell Jr. (1930 – 2011), an American lawyer, professor, and civil rights activist, writes that racial equality is ”impossible and illusory” and that racism in the U.S. is permanent. According to Bell, civil-rights legislation will not on its own bring about progress in race relations; alleged improvements or advantages to people of color “tend to serve the interests of dominant white groups,” in what Bell calls “interest convergence.” These changes do not typically affect—and at times even reinforce—racial hierarchies. This is representative of the shift in the 1970s, in Bell’s re-assessment of his earlier desegregation work as a civil rights lawyer. He was responding to the Supreme Court’s decisions that had resulted in the re-segregation of schools.
The concept of standpoint theory became particularly relevant to CRT when it was expanded to include a black feminist standpoint by Patricia Hill Collins. First introduced by feminist sociologists in the 1980s, standpoint theory holds that people in marginalized groups, who share similar experiences, can bring a collective wisdom and a unique voice to discussions on decreasing oppression. In this view, insights into racism can be uncovered by examining the nature of the U.S. legal system through the perspective of the everyday lived experiences of people of color.
According to Encyclopedia Britannica, tenets of CRT have spread beyond academia, and are used to deepen understanding of socio-economic issues such as “poverty, police brutality, and voting rights violations,” that are impacted by the ways in which race and racism are “understood and misunderstood” in the United States.
Conservatives, including Governor Sanders’ managers, look for any advances toward greater social equity as a destructive force to their world view. Or, perhaps more to the point, greater acceptance of social equity would reduce or eliminate race as a hot button issue in driving Republican voters to the ballot box.
One conservative organization, the Heritage Foundation, recently attributed a whole host of issues to CRT, including the 2020 Black Lives Matter protests, LGBTQ clubs in schools, diversity training in federal agencies and organizations, California’s recent ethnic studies model curriculum, the free-speech debate on college campuses, and alternatives to exclusionary discipline—such as the Promise program in Broward County, Fla., that some parents blame for the Parkland school shootings. “When followed to its logical conclusion, CRT is destructive and rejects the fundamental ideas on which our constitutional republic is based,” the organization claimed.
[On the other hand,] Leading critical race theory scholars view the GOP-led measures as hijacking the national conversation about racial inequality that gained momentum after the killing of George Floyd by a white police officer in Minnesota. Some say the ways Republicans describe it are unrecognizable to them. Cheryl Harris, a UCLA law professor who teaches a course on the topic, said it’s a myth that critical race theory teaches hatred of white people and is designed to perpetuate divisions in American society. Instead, she said she believes the proposals limiting how racism can be discussed in the classroom have a clear political goal: “to ensure that Republicans can win in 2022.”
With all cannons on deck loaded with her preprogrammed agenda, we can be certain this is only the beginning of pushing Arkansas further into the sea floor. Ironically, argument can be made that the label ‘ideologies’ such as forbidden in the CRT ban could be assigned to religion, i.e. “the beliefs and practices of that religion [which] support powerful groups in society, effectively keeping the existing ruling class, or elites, in power.”
Oh, and the third absurdity? Critical Race Theory is not part of public school curriculum. It’s a college level subject.
Governor Sarah Huckabee Sanders has announced her plan to allow parents to shift their child’s ‘education dollars’ from public schools to private or religious schools. Surely she is aware of legal reasons such an action cannot occur: diverting school money to religious schools violates the First Amendment of the Constitution, which requires a separation of church and state. As a taxpayer, I am not alone in refusing to allow my tax dollars to pay for religious schooling.
Sanders makes it sound simple: Parents would take their child’s share that helps finance public schools and instead pay that amount to a private or religious school. But what an individual parent might pay toward their child’s education is a drop in the bucket compared to the money required to education a child, an approximate $10,414 for one school year. These funds come from federal taxpayers, state taxpayers, and local school district taxpayers, not an individual parent. Appropriating that $10,414 to be funneled to a private school, religious school, or homeschool is, plain and simple, a theft of public money.
Sanders promises tax cuts, but only a small portion of each child’s education cost comes from a parent’s real estate taxes.
Arkansas K-12 schools receive $638,279,000, or $1,289 per pupil, from the federal government, and would without question be withheld if any portion was directed to religious schools, at the least.
State funding, which comes from ALL Arkansas taxpayers including those without children and those who do not wish their taxes to support private or religious schools, totals $2,971,791,000 or $6,002 per pupil.
Local funding, which includes ALL local taxpayers not just the parents who demand a voucher program, totals $2,201,220,000 or an average of $4,445 per pupil.
Sanders apparently believes that allowing parents to direct funding to schools they prefer would result in the best possible education of that child, but there is no guarantee that parents have any real comprehension of what constitutes suitable education. Arkansas is one of the most poorly educated states, meaning in general that parents are not well educated. Likewise, school districts—especially small rural districts—are often governed by school boards which are often without any college-educated members.
It’s important to note that the per capita income in Arkansas averages only $29,200. And while some Arkansas counties enjoy per capita incomes which average over $27,334 per year, in other counties that number drops to $13,103. Nearly 20% of the state’s residents live in poverty. This further illustrates the vicious cycle involved:
Poverty has many causes including a lack of education and skills to bring to the work force, a family’s geographic location, a lack of community support, family structure (specifically the number of earners in a family impacts the ability to make ends meet), incarceration, and income inequality. Children in poverty experience additional problems in educational and cognitive development, health outcomes, social and emotional development and are more likely to live in poverty as adults.
Further complicating the problem are teen pregnancies. The state leads the nation in teen births, 27.8 per 1,000 (2022), due largely to a lack of contraceptives and proper sex education. A 2022 study reported the need for the following policy changes:
Create mandatory statewide curriculum for medically accurate sexual education. • Provide free access to Long-Acting Reversible Contraception. • Eliminate restriction to distribution of contraceptives in School-Based Clinics. • Target communities whose birth rates are far above the norm for their groups nationally, including White and Pacific Islander teens. • Expand access and eliminate barriers to health care for Black women and girls, whose teen birth rates are higher than the state average. • Increase educational opportunities as a protective factor. • Continue access to Medicaid, WIC, and SNAP benefits as a protective factor.
It’s a safe bet that the new governor will not champion sex education and better access to birth control for teens, even though this would be a strong step toward breaking into the cycle of low income, poorly educated residents unable to afford medical care. Young women with children are the most common household qualifying for financial assistance including Medicaid—90% of welfare recipients are single mothers. DHS forecasts total federal and state Medicaid funding of $9.46 billion in fiscal 2023 — up from $9.39 billion in the current fiscal 2022. Arkansas taxpayers contribute about 30% of this total.
Does Sanders propose to cut the state’s Medicaid funding? This is part of the Republican effort to reduce the budget. But Medicaid plays a major role in funding for mainstreaming students with disabilities.
In the 2017-18 school year, there were 61,553 students with disabilities aged 5-21 in Arkansas public schools or 12.9% of total student enrollment in the state. This does not include students in the Arkansas School for the Deaf, Arkansas School for the Blind, Division of Youth Services, the Department of Corrections, or the Conway Human Development Center. This is up from 55,874 students (11.7% of total student enrollment) in 2014-15.
It’s no surprise that the big dream of Sanders grows thornier as bill writing progresses. Surely the state’s legal advisors will warn of the potential loss of federal dollars in state education funding if she proceeds with her plan. The best path through this tangle is to eliminate the voucher section from her education plan and instead plow all available funding into public schools where students learn, collaborate, and grow alongside their peers. It will be a tragedy for Arkansas if Sanders succeeds in dividing our youth into potentially prejudicial interest groups that will expand the current culture wars.