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1968: the year the dream died

The jig was up, and social revolution fell apart.

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History Often provides an excuse for a party. In Europe and America, romantics are celebrating 1968. It seems that every hotel in Paris is booked for this month's festivities – even the Ritz. Anniversaries have a way of cleansing the past of unpleasantness.

But what was 1968? In New York, Chicago, Mexico City, Berlin, Paris, and London young people rose up in protest against social and political confines of the time. The ubiquity of revolt encouraged illusions of righteous solidarity.

In truth, instead of being the time when "the movement" came together, 1968 was the year it flew apart, its pieces scattering weird directions. The year was more a death rattle than a glorious birth.

If we must celebrate, let's honor a different year, say 1964. On Dec. 2 that year, Mario Savio stood on the steps of Sproul Hall at the University of California and gave the best speech ever uttered by any '60s radical. "There's a time," he shouted, "when the operation of the machine becomes so odious, makes you so sick at heart, that you can't take part. You can't even tacitly take part. And you've got to put your bodies upon the gears and upon the wheels, upon the levers, upon all the apparatus – and you've got to make it stop. And you've got to indicate to the people who run it … that unless you're free, the machine will be prevented from working at all."

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