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Lessons From a '60s Protester

Oct 11, 2011 | Updated Dec 11, 2011

It's no surprise that our economic misery has led to street protests. The only surprise is how much these protesters have to learn.

Speaking as a flower child of the '60s -- a proud member of the generation that danced at Woodstock and elevated protest marches to an art form -- I'd like to offer some advice to the Occupy Wall Streeters.

Some pointers:

1) Protesting for protesting sake is lame. You need to know what your demands are so that when the nice reporters ask you about them you don't get that deer-in-the-headlights look.

I get that you are mad, that the whole country is mad. But you need to channel that anger and know what you stand for. Those who argue that your strength comes from not having demands are just plain wrong. Right now, you are an empty bottle. When you blow on an empty bottle, it makes the loudest noise. Aspire to be more than just noisemakers.

Demand jobs; demand loan modifications; demand affordable health care and better treatment of the unemployed. Demand caps on corporate bonuses and demand that Congress stop taking vacations until all the rest of us can. Maybe even demand that Obama stop trying to play nice in the sandbox and own up to his job. But please, demand something while you have the country's attention and the world's spotlight is on you. A mind may be a terrible thing to waste, but so are your 15 minutes of fame.

2) Stay on message. You went from wanting blood from the greedy corporate bastards (kudos to whoever thought to use that "99 percent/1 percent" thing btw) to wanting blood from the police who "brutalized" you. Mandatory viewing (and for all I know they can be found on YouTube): tapes from the 1968 Chicago Democratic Convention. Watch them and then we can talk about police brutality. For those taking Advanced Protesting 101, look up the Rodney King beating tapes as well, the ones that led to riots in the streets and an overhaul of the Los Angeles Police Department. Riots, by the way, are street protests run amok.

Nobody is thrilled that Big Banks got bailed out and Joe Homeowner didn't. And we're all more than a little sick of the hypocrisy of executive bonuses, robo-signed foreclosure papers that cost people their homes, unemployment benefits that end long before unemployment does. But pick your cause (or even causes) and stay the course. For those focusing on what's wrong with Amerika, I defer to Abbie Hoffman's "Steal This Book" for a blueprint of what to do; just don't ask me to show you the receipt.

3) You need some music. Music was the cultural glue of the 1960s and its role in the protests was paramount. Get yourselves a theme song. Bruce Springsteen might be older than most of you, but his ballads about jobs leaving and not coming back resonate a little here, don't you think?

And maybe plan yourselves a nice benefit concert while you're at it, something to raise money for your cause once you figure out what that is. You might even call it Woodstock II. (Just to set the record straight, Woodstock was a music concert only in the eyes of the blind. To those of us there, it was a generation showing its doubting elders how a society could function with communal sharing and compassion for those with less. Any of that strike a chord with what you are doing?)

4) Enjoy the moment and be present for it. Admit it: Protesting can be fun. It's as much a social experience as anything else, which is why people have been showing up with their dogs, kids and babies in strollers.

Protests are also a great place for hooking up. Yes, social media is cool, but protest marches may be where you want to give those texting thumbs a break and instead strike up an actual conversation with the person next to you. Who knows where it might lead?

Protests are filled with passion, with high-running emotions that touch your very core. That's what made them foreplay in the '60s. You knew that the guy next to you shared your values, was on the same page politically and mentally; you had everything in common and you were standing shoulder-to-shoulder in unity, underdogs against The Machine. Now think about it: Who ever got lucky over a tweet?