The incident itself, in which rampaging New York construction workers beat up hippies and demanded that City Hall raise the American flag, is a piece of historical trivia; most Americans born after it have little inkling that it occurred, and even the people who were around at the time are likely to be hazy on the details. But the image of a pro-war worker in a hardhat punching a privileged protester is enshrined in our cultural memory. It's what the late '60s and early '70s were supposed to look like: college kids who hated the Vietnam War and blue-collar patriots who loved the flag. (...)
In Hardhats, Hippies, and Hawks, her new study of social class and public opinion during the war, the CUNY sociologist Penny Lewis doesn't destroy that image so much as she adds all the missing images that complicate it. (...)
For one thing, the picture changes radically if you stop focusing on public movements and instead look at public sentiments. Throughout the Vietnam era, Lewis demonstrates, studies of public opinion showed that "working-class people were never more likely than their middle-class counterparts to support the war, and in many instances, they were more likely to oppose it." Americans with just a grade school education were more likely to favor withdrawal than Americans who had gone to college; only at the very high end of the education ladder, among people with advanced degrees, did dovishness begin to creep up in popularity again.
The movement also changed over time. Antiwar activists broadened their base. The "prairie power" wing of the New Left brought more working- and lower-middle-class students to the marches and teach-ins. Black and Mexican protest groups, which tended not to be as middle-class as their white counterparts, called for withdrawal. Some unions turned against the war, though the majority stood by the Pentagon. Antiwar action even took hold in parts of the military itself, sometimes in the form of traditional activism and sometimes just in the form of skin-saving disobedience. (That last item may seem unimportant, but it arguably did much more to influence the actual conduct of the war than any marches on the homefront.)
The very figure of the hardhat is itself a stereotype. Lewis doesn't mention it, but by the 1970s several hardhats were hippies—not in the sense of living in country communes or trying to drop out of mainstream society, but in the sense of growing their hair longer, listening to rock music, maybe smoking a little pot, and otherwise behaving in ways that might have gotten them beaten up at the Hard Hat Riot. While Lewis neglects that cultural convergence, she does delve into the complicated, contradictory strands of working-class politics in this period, crediting the historian Jefferson Cowie with the observation that white workers in the '70s were "vigorously left, right, and center." (She misattributes the line—Cowie was quoting Michael Harrington.) This is a favorite topic for scholars of recent American history, who are frequently fascinated by the fact that rank-and-file labor militance was on the rise at the same time that figures like George Wallace were able to find a blue-collar audience.
Friday, January 17, 2014
Publicada por Miguel Madeira em 18:35