Saturday, May 13, 2017

Remembering The Open Arts Be-In A Half Century Later

A half century ago today, Saturday (yes, same day of week) May 13, 1967 was the first (and I think only) Human Be-In in Madison, Wisconsin, which was on Picnic Point, a wooded spit of land sticking out into Lake Mendota.  It was organized by a group called Open Arts, which was led by Zack Berk, who had long black  hair and was indubitably a Very Groovy Guy.  It was a beautiful sunny day.  The star of the event was Beat poet Allen Ginsberg, who chanted for some time near the entrance.  He had read poetry the previous evening in the famously odiferous Stock Pavilion, in conjunction with a performance by The Fugs, who sang their  most famous song, "Kill for Peace,"among others.  I knew a lot of people at the Be-In. One good friend was Rod Clark who sat near Ginsberg while he chanted, nodding and grinning broadly.  Rod is now the editor of the literary magazine, Rosebud, and independently coined the term "econophysics," in his science fiction novel, Redshift: Greenstream from 2000, in which he used the term not too differently from academics, although I am unaware of him attempting to estimate power law distributions from financial time-series ever.  Another person there I did not know then but do now was Econospeak's own Peter Dorman.

It was a day of full-blown idealistic enthusiasm, with the assembled hippies wandering and grinning among the trees while looking at the lake.  Anything seemed possible.  In particular, there was a lot of mumbling about how Flower Power was going to Sweep The World and bring us all Peace, Love, and Happiness.  Would that it had turned out to be so. But it was not to be.

Indeed, just over five months later on October 19, 1967, students demonstrating against the Dow Chemical Company at the University of Wisconsin there ended up clashing with police in what most Google links label a  "riot."  The billy clubs and the tear gas came out and people ended up in the hospital.  My friend Rod Clark got his skull pretty badly bashed in.  In this case he was dealing with real power laws.  It changed a lot of attitudes, and the flowers were nowhere to be seen.

This change would culminate nearly three years later on August 24, 1970 when the so-called New Year's Gang would bomb Sterling Hall in an attempt to  get at the Army Mathematics Research Center, then directed by my late father.  A physics grad student, Robert Fassnacht, would die in the blast.  The dream of a half century ago was fully dead, and there has  been no going back since.

Barkley Rosser

Addendum:  One can read a very detailed account of the runup, the events, and the aftermath of the Dow demonstration/riot at UW in the 2003 best selling book by David Maraniss, They Marched into Sunlight: War and Peace America and Vietnam 1967.  It also deals with a simultaneous not-widely-publized battle that US troops lost in Vietnam that apparently convinced LBJ that the US could not win that war.  Maraniss, author of widely praised bios of Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, is the son of a longtime former editor of the progressive Capital Times newspaper in Madison and was at the Dow demo/riot.  I do not know if he was on Picnic Point for the earlier  Open Arts Human Be-In.

1 comment:

John Frampton said...

It doesn't seem right to mark the "end of the dream" with bombing of the Mathematics Research Center. Why not the police attacking police attacking peaceful protesters and sending some to the hospital?