For the reader on your holiday list…

…a delightful book about an incredible time.

Millennials and teens are fascinated to discover an era when young people discovered they could change the world.

Boomers can relive a time when the world was changing faster than anyone could believe, as people walked on the moon, a youth culture blossomed, and a distant war raged.

Over a thousand people have purchased Some Way Outa Here since it was published last winter. They’ve posted 30 five star reviews on Amazon, with praise like…

  • “A terrifically engaging memoir that captures a pivotal year’s drama, daring and urgency.”
  • “This gentle, sensitive narrative is told with compelling characters that capture the innocence, idealism and intensity of the era…with vivid imagery, fast paced storytelling and fun-to-remember details.”
  • “I can’t recommend it highly enough!”

As we enter a new, uncertain future, Some Way Outa Here will inspire readers. It’s a story about both discovering the world and changing it. What better gift to help someone start the coming new year?

Order on Amazon.
Mark Lauden's memoir

The Unforgettable Image

Ieshia Evans
I can’t get this picture out of my mind.

It was in Baton Rouge, after the death of Alton Sterling at the hands of police, and the killing of five officers in Dallas.

The woman is Ieshia Evans, a nurse from Pennsylvania who traveled to Louisiana to stand up – literally, it turns out – against police attacks on black people. (The photographer is Jonathan Bachman.) The image is surreal, a frozen moment. Evans has been characterized as a superhero, as the statue of liberty, and the small crack in the street between her and the police has been likened to the opening chasm that divides us.

Such is the power of an image.

Images have made Black Lives Matter possible. Shamefully, they didn’t seem to matter so much until cell phones began recording the deaths of people like Sterling. Finally, the deniability that protected racist police evaporated. The world could see and remember the images of people dying…and of people standing against injustice.

Pictures have the power to reframe the world. It happens all the time.

In the 1960s, the onslaught of gripping images, published by news magazines and newspapers, helped drive the Civil Rghts movement, with images of Southern lynchings, demonstrators being attacked with water cannons and dogs, and the iconic March on Washington in 1963. The pictures of brutality shocked us, but the images of courage, like that of Ieshia Evans, gripped us and wouldn’t let go.

Consider one of the iconic images from the 1968: Olympics – the award ceremony for John Carlos and Tommie Smith:
Smith Carlos 1968

The Civil Rights movement was transitioning to the Black Power movement. The demand for “power,” not just “rights,” made a lot of white people uncomfortable. Carlos and Smith had the gall to bring the movement to the Olympic podium, and the nation was shocked. This photo had an impact that is hard to imagine now – horrifying many, inspiring others. It captured the fears and hopes of the country in a single frame.

Vietnam brought a deluge of unforgettable images. Three are so memorable that most people recognize them, even now: The photo of a young girl, naked, fleeing a napalm attack; bodies stacked at My Lai, massacred by American soldiers, and a young woman bending over a student at Kent State, blood streaming onto the pavement. Each told the story that had to be told. No words were needed.

Another heroic image gripped the world in 1989. The world was in turmoil as Communist countries began to collapse. It seemed that China would be next, as demonstrators converged on Beijing’s Tiananmen Square. When the army responded, a single man challenged the Chinese army, stood his ground, and stopped a row of tanks in its tracks. One person, armed only with unfathomable courage.
1989-Tank-man

Images like this tell stories that can change how we see the world. They can change how we think and what we do. They make us question what we assumed to be true, and they can give us courage to act in ways we didn’t know we could act.

As a teenager, the act of John Carlos and Tommie Smith not only gave me new respect for the Black Power movement – they inspired me to similar actions (documented in Some Way Outa Here). Likewise, the photos from Vietnam and Kent State spoke to every American, and drove many of us to action, fueling the antiwar movement.

Of course, pictures never tell the whole story. How many people know what happened to Peter Norman, the Australian on the podium with Carlos and Smith? The silver medal winner, Norman wore a Black Power patch on his uniform in support of the Americans, for which the Australian sports federation banned him from competition for life. It’s easy to forget that the brief victory of Tank Man was followed by the massacre at Tiananmen Square that ended the reform movement. And a few days after Ieshia Evans confronted (and was arrested by) Baton Rouge police, several officers were killed by a gunman who sought to avenge Alton Sterling’s death.

History is never simple.

But now we all carry cameras with us. All the time. Everyone has the power to record events, to report (or even make) news, and to change how we see the world. To change our minds. And our hearts.

You have a powerful tool in your pocket. Use it well.

Ali – The Troublemaker Who Inspired Us

Muhammad-Ali-on-courageMuhammad Ali was a widely admired American icon. Many have forgotten that he was widely hated in the 1960s, a victim of racism and the Vietnam war. But amazingly, he became a hero to many who once despised him.

I first heard of Ali – then Cassius Clay – when I listened to the radio broadcast of his first championship fight in a far-off place called Lewiston, Maine. . I lived in the south then, and the consensus among my sixth grade classmates seemed to be he was the devil himself. Among adults, the term “uppity [N-word]” was common. I was intrigued. Unlike my white classmates, I had attended integrated schools in the north, and a poetry-spouting black boxer was exciting…and a little subversive.

I watched Ali’s fights over the next few years, and came to marvel at his astonishing prowess. I didn’t really even like boxing – I just like watching Ali. Then, in 1966, Ali did something remarkable.

Like so many young Americans, he was classified as eligible to be drafted for the Vietnam war. His response was “I ain’t got nothin’ against them Viet Cong.”

In 1966, this was shocking – the antiwar movement was in its infancy, and the draft was an unpleasant reality of life. Ali applied to be a conscientious objector, citing his Muslim beliefs. The press attacked fiercely, and Ali was branded a coward.

In 1967 he was stripped of his boxing title and convicted of draft evasion. He lost his livelihood at the height of his career, and faced prison. He was branded a traitor by many.

Was he a coward? I didn’t think so. He routinely faced opponents who could have killed him – I had seen the films of Benny Paret being killed in the ring, and knew well Bob Dylan’s “Who Killed Davey Moore.” Boxing took courage. Taking on the American government and giving up his career? This man was no coward.

Ali’s conviction was overturned, but he lost almost four years during his athletic prime. During those years, the war raged, the antiwar movement grew, and Ali became a symbol of resistance. He inspired many of us who faced the draft, showing us that sometimes it was more important to follow your conscience than to do the popular thing. By the fall of 1970, his opposition to the war was vindicated and he was allowed to return to his sport.

In the 1970s, Ali made a comeback, regained his title, and ultimately was brought down by the ravages of a brutal sport. But his determination to prevail gained him the admiration of many who had once despised him; his illness gained him the sympathy of others. He became an American hero.

For me, it’s young Muhammad Ali I remember most – a young man who was not afraid to do the right thing.


My own struggles against the draft are at the center of Some Way Outa Here.

 

Hair Wars

Would you go to war over your hair?
Some of us did. When we fought to stop the war in Vietnam and tried to overthrow “mainstream culture” in the process, hair became one of the battlegrounds.

The Beatles started it. Previously, boys had short hair and a “longhair” was a professor or a “classical music snob.” After the Beatles first appeared on TV on February 9th, 1964, long hair became a symbol – first among musicians, then among the rebels we called hippies, and then it became a symbol of rebellion, especially against the war.

Along the way, the symbol became an “issue.” Boys with long hair were called “fags” and “queers,” a curious proposition when most gays were trying desperately to blend into the mainstream. Adults often assumed that boys with long hair were drug users. (OK, some of us were, but hey, they were alcohol-users, right?)

Some of us fought screaming battles with our parents about who was in control. School dress codes were enforced with rulers and sometimes with scissors. You could be sent home – or to the barber in the case of a friend – if your hair touched your ear or your collar.

Girls’ hair wasn’t judged by length, but it was still a symbol. At a time when girls routinely rolled and twisted their hair into carefully concocted styles, long, straight hair was a symbol of rebellion. If it wasn’t naturally straight, it could be ironed to look “natural.”

When a play about the antiwar movement and the “counterculture” arrived on Broadway, it was called – what else? – “Hair.”

A camaraderie grew among longhairs. You felt you could trust someone who had long hair, especially if it was a little scraggly. It meant you had similar values, liked the same music, and spoke the same language. “Far out,” “right on,” and “outasite,” were good…but even your hair wouldn’t help you if you said “groovy.”

And then suddenly, as we turned the corner into the 1970s, everyone had long hair. At first, it seemed like we had won, and that peace and love would reign. Instead, the symbols of rebellion had become the new normal. The war wound down, and the sense of rebellion passed. Eventually, long hair became unremarkable, found most predictably on rock stars.

Hair is still a potent symbol of who we are. But it rarely starts fights or inspires revolutions any more.

You can read about my own hair wars – and how we won – in Some Way Outa Here.

Got any good hair stories of your own? Reply below!

beatles hair-songs

Echoes of 1968 in the presidential race

The Donald says “there could be riots” if he is denied the Republican nomination at the July convention. Intentional or not, it’s an echo from the bizarre events of 1968.

In case you don’t remember…the election was about ending the Vietnam war, and fighting poverty and racism. Bobby Kennedy became the Democratic frontrunner for president when he beat Senator Gene McCarthy in the California primary, two months before the Democratic convention. Minutes after his victory speech, he was murdered.

All hell broke loose.

McCarthy, who had first challenged President Lyndon Johnson and precipitated Johnson’s early retirement, claimed the nomination. Kennedy’s ally George McGovern stepped in and claimed Kennedy’s mantle. And the party establishment panicked: They called in Hubert Humphrey, Johnson’s Vice President.

Humphrey hadn’t run in a primary and was nearly as unpopular as the war-burdened president, but the he was the establishment’s choice going into the convention.

The antiwar movement was determined to have a voice in the proceedings, and the Left descended on Chicago for the big event. There were liberal activists; the increasingly radical Students for a Democratic Society; civil rights demonstrators from the South; and the most colorful of the lot, the Yippies, who nominated a hog named Pigasus for president.

On the night that the convention nominated Humphrey, a huge mass of demonstrators attempted to march to the convention hall. Blocked by police, they sat down in Michigan Avenue. They mayor, Richard Daley, gave the order for the police to attack, and they did, brutally. On national TV, they began gassing and clubbing sitting protesters, who chanted “the whole world is watching!” It was.

Inside the convention hall, the McCarthy and McGovern supporters denounced the “police state” violence unfolding outside. But the nomination proceeded, surrounded by mayhem. Humphrey was so tarred by the events that Richard Nixon eked out a victory in November.

Could something like this happen again?

In this year’s presidential race, there’s one big difference: one of the candidates is threatening violence if he is not nominated. The threat of violence from a candidate is unprecedented in modern times.

Arguably, political violence in America has always benefited the most extreme right-wing candidates. Trump has shown an appetite for provoking confrontations at his rallies, and he knows how to use it to further his cause..

The havoc of 1968 was not limited to rioting. One candidate and another great leader, Martin Luther King, were assassinated by gunmen. The outcome of the election was certainly shaped by violence. The prospect of returning to that era is scary, indeed.

As much as some of us might enjoy the spectacle of the Republican Party eating itself alive, a turn toward intimidation and brute force threatens to unleash forces that may lead in unpredictable, dangerous directions.

In the year that followed the events of 1968, my contemporaries and I struggled to find the lines between peaceful dissent and violent resistance. You can read about it in my new book Some Way Outa Here.

26 Aug 1968, Chicago, Illinois, USA --- The sign over the archway leading to the International Amphitheater welcomes delegates to the Democratic Convention, but from the sea of police helmets in the foreground, it looks like only police are attending. (Sign says "Hello Democrats, Welcome to Chicago" and a bunch of police are seen from the back. --- Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS

Why did you write Some Way Outa Here?

I’m asked…why did you write your book?

Good question. It’s a less polite way of asking: What makes you think anyone is interested in what happened to you almost 50 years ago?

Once I got the idea for this book, I had to write it. Once I started, it was as if it was writing itself. My recollections of a twelve month period, long ago, somehow snapped together like a puzzle, and I could see them as a whole that was much more interesting than the individual parts.

I saw the connections between people and events; I saw how friends and relatives were all part of a web of interconnections, all influencing each other.

The time, the place, and the people had come into focus.

What made the story most worth telling was the time itself. So many amazing weird and outrageous things happened that year, and I wanted to explain them to people. For my friends who were there, I found that reviving memories by telling my story helped them remember their own stories. And I found that younger people were astonished and amused by the slightly unhinged world we grew up in.

So there are two answers to the question…

I wrote Some Way Outa Here as a way to understand what had happened and how it led us to where we are now.

And…

I think it’s a pretty good story, and a good story is always worth telling.

Mark Lauden's memoir