When Jefferson Airplane opened its 1969 sunrise set at Woodstock, Grace Slick declared, "It's a new dawn!" And, in many ways, it was.
Through the early years of that decade, African American students had organized the Freedom Rides, lunch counter sit-ins, and massive marches throughout the segregated South. By the latter part of the 1960s, the American Indian Movement, the Black Panther Party, and Students for a Democratic Society led constant campaigns throughout the nation, forcing citizens to take a closer look at the policies of their government. Montgomery, Alabama; Chicago, Illinois; Washington, D.C.; Oakland, Berkeley, and Alcatraz, California: the list of locations read like a roadmap to the growing power of the people's movement.
On the international front in Mexico, France, Germany, Brazil, Japan, Czechoslovakia, and Great Britain, students had taken to the streets in protest. Revolution was no longer seen as a classroom theory but as the necessary evolution of the world.
But then something happened. Maybe it was the government slaughter at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (NAUM). Maybe it was the government killings at Kent State University in the United States. Maybe it was because the Vietnam War ended. Much of the movement disbanded, and the students left the streets for the offices. It seemed that Jefferson Airplane's lyrics had turned on the Woodstock generation: "One generation got old." The students had largely traded their radical ideals for stock portfolios, summer homes, and BMWs. Except for the brief rise of the anti-nuclear movement and a handful of other factionalized single-issue focus groups, the sun of enlightenment in the United States had set by the 1980s.
Under Ronald Reagan and subsequent conservative administrations, corporations slowly crept in and consumed U.S. culture. They bought memberships in the Sierra Club, World Wildlife Federation, and Conservation Society. They bought and wrote laws that reshaped the economy through such policies as the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the General Agreement on Trade and Tariffs (GATT). They further developed an elaborate system of "corporate welfare" in the form of massive tax breaks and heavy government subsidies.
The corporations bought youth through MTV and designer clothes and taught the philosophy of consumerism to an entire generation. They bought the newspapers (Gannet) and the television stations (Time-Warner, Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation, General Electric). As Noam Chomsky observed of the corporate control of information distribution in 1994: "They don't spend billions of dollars a year for the fun of it. They do it with a purpose."
And their hard work and spending did serve its purpose: the United States fell asleep for the better part of twenty-five years. The laws and social gains that activists had worked so hard for in the previous decades were slowly rolled back. Social welfare and public assistance programs were all but eradicated. The U.S. government continued its war against the foreign poor in such...