Out here on the left fringe of '60s-style activism, we don't go in much for ritual. We lefties are about freedom, innovation, always finding a new and better way to do things.Still, there is something to be said for ritual. Repeating the same activity year after year creates an illusion that things never change, that we can turn back the clock for a moment and pretend things are still the way they used to be. So I'm going to repeat a column I published at Thanksgiving time several years ago-but with a new twist at the end, since the best rituals combine the reassurance of repetition with the joy of new creation.
Even if you are one of those '60s-style anti-ritualists, I bet that yesterday you did something old and familiar. Maybe you gathered with the same folks you share dinner with every Thanksgiving. Maybe you fixed the trimmings in the same way as always. Or maybe, like so many of us, you sang along with Arlo.
No, we don't really believe that we can get anything we want at Alice's Restaurant, excepting Alice. But it takes us back to a time when we believed we might get anything we wanted, even though we wanted the world, and we wanted it now!. Everyone we knew really could imagine fifty people, I said fifty people a day walking into the draft board, singin' a bar of Alice's Restaurant and walking out, creating the Alice's Restaurant Anti-Massacre Movement. And all we had to do was sing along the next time it came around on the guitar.
Isn't that why so many of us wait eagerly each Thanksgiving for it to come around on the guitar? It isn't just to recapture our lost youth (though perhaps there is nothing wrong with that). It's also because we were young at a very special time, when it seemed that the whole world would soon shed its aging body, worn down by war and greed and dehumanization, and regain its lost youth.
Never again, we believed, would anyone be arrested for littering. Never again would anyone be fined fifty dollars and have to pick up the garbage. Never again would anyone be injected, inspected, detected, infected, neglected and selected by their government to join the army, burn women, kids, houses and villages.
Soon, we believed, the whole world would be full of loving people who would take out the garbage whenever it needed to be taken out, bring it down to the city dump, then go back home to have a dinner that couldn't be beat. And not just on Thanksgiving, because we believed that every day would be Thanksgiving. Every day we would feel awestruck and thankful for the little miracles of life, like sharing food and song with people we love. Every day, we would do just a bit more to right the world's wrongs, to make sure that justice was really blind. And all the while, we would remember to laugh and play with the pencils there on the Group W bench.
Well, it hasn't worked out quite that way, yet. The world keeps doing all kinds of mean, nasty, ugly things. But kid, it's never too late to "rehabilitate" yourself, to start creating enough of a nuisance and singing loud enough to end war and stuff. If you've been doing it for 35 years, or more, I bet you are prepared to do it for another 35 years or more. I bet you're not proud, or tired.
Now here's the new twist: The first time I published this column, I got a thank you note from Arlo Guthrie himself. Really. Who knows what might happen this time! The golden age of the 1960s is long gone, but anything is still possible. So perhaps you can get anything you want, as long as you remember to sing it the next time it comes around on the guitar - with feeling. Because it is, indeed, a movement: The Alice's Restaurant Let's Give Thanks and Remember Why We Started Doing This and Why We Keep On Keepin' On Movement.
Ira Chernus is Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Colorado at Boulder and author of Monsters To Destroy: The Neoconservative War on Terror and Sin. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org