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The Triumph of Progressivism: Graduation 2013 and 1968

By       Message Robert B. Reich       (Page 1 of 3 pages)     Permalink

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Many of you soon-to-be college graduates are determined to make the world a better place. Some of you are choosing careers in public service or joining nonprofits or volunteering in your communities.

But many of you are cynical about politics. You see the system as inherently corrupt. You doubt real progress is possible.

"What chance do we have against the Koch brothers and the other billionaires?" you've asked me. "How can we fight against Monsanto, Boeing, JP Morgan, and Bank of America? They buy elections. They run America."  

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Let me remind you: Cynicism is a self-fulfilling prophesy. You have no chance if you assume you have no chance.

"But it was different when you graduated," you say. "The sixties were a time of social progress."

You don't know your history.  

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When I graduated in 1968, the Vietnam War was raging. Over half a million American troops were already there. I didn't know if I'd be drafted. A member of my class who spoke at commencement said he was heading to Canada and urged us to join him.

Two months before, Martin Luther King Jr. had been assassinated. America's cities were burning. Bobby Kennedy had just been gunned down.   

George ("segregation forever") Wallace was on his way to garnering 10 million votes and carrying five southern states. Richard Nixon was well on his way to becoming president.

America was still mired in bigotry.  

I remember a classmate who was dating a black girl being spit on in a movie theater. The Supreme Court had only the year before struck down state laws against interracial marriage.

My entire graduating class of almost 800 contained only six young black men and four Hispanics.

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I remember the girlfriend of another classmate almost dying from a back-alley abortion, because safe abortions were almost impossible to get.

I remember a bright young woman law school graduate in tears because no law firm would hire her because she was a woman.

I remember one of my classmates telling me in anguish that he was a homosexual, fearing he'd be discovered and his career ruined.  

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Robert Reich, former U.S. Secretary of Labor and Professor of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley, has a new film, "Inequality for All," to be released September 27. He blogs at www.robertreich.org.

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