The Lasting Impact of 68

Today in class, the main discussion revolved around the visiting guest lecturers that talked with us. To me, the idea that stuck out the most was that the revolutions and riots surrounding the 68 period still influence the actions of others today. Although there are of course parallels between Black America and Ireland during this time, both of their ideals have contributed to the protests ongoing today. For example, today was the day that many people at Notre Dame chose to protest against the systematic inequality that African Americans experience not just in the United States but at the University of Notre Dame. Students at Notre Dame aim to bring their message about peacefully. Using the internet to their advantage, students shared their ideas through Zoom at the beginning of every class they attended for the day. This lasting impact, of course, goes beyond the Notre Dame community. There are peaceful Black Lives Matter protests throughout the world. 

The speakers from last week told us that they still thought of themselves as radicals. They still carry their ideas from the past with them today, influencing how they live their lives. I believe that since one can see the impact that the protests and revolutions of 68 had, it is also important to look to the origins of the 68 era. These origins were discussed with Matthew Reilly. In a broader sense, I think that the discussions we have had both today and throughout the class thus far show that no one event is truly singular. Every movement has its connections to the past and its contributions to the future. Black Lives Matter protests have connections to the Civil Rights Movement and will most influence future generations’ attempts to bring about equality. 

Allowing Discomfort to Reach Greater Insight

As class discussions have revealed new narratives in history that I had not previously known or heard of, I’ve realized just how much each of the stories that I expose myself to can help me paint a larger and more intricate picture of history. I’ve learned that an essential part of learning these different parts of history is to allow oneself to look into the perspectives of various people and sources rather than just the viewpoints of those that write our history textbooks or the perspectives that we are comfortable or used to.

As Matthew Reilly shared his research into the lives of slaves and indentured servants in Barbados, I realized that I knew very little about the concept of “White Slavery” and the perspectives of those who believe that Irish Indentured Servants were slaves. Learning about this perspective and the lives of both groups who shared the island at the same time allowed me to see that in order to have a better understanding of history, I must seek to learn about the various perspectives, places that people inhabited, and ways that each person interacted with society. It is essential to learn about various perspectives and experiences and not just those that are most commonly taught, have the widest reach in social networks or are the most “mainstream.” Similarly, hearing the personal experiences of Geoff Brown and Sam Lord allowed me to gain knowledge into Irish history in a way that I previously did not have access to.

It is easy to get caught up in the brief statements that we think define a specific movement or to shy away from a certain topic because it is not what we are most comfortable with, but the different conversations that we had this week provided an opportunity to explore topics and viewpoints that may often be ignored or avoided if they are not part of the narrative one is used to hearing or even one that someone does not want to hear. Matthew Reilly mentioned at one point how we can chose to embrace or ignore certain histories and after this week I have learned that rather than ignoring a certain history, we must push ourselves to ask questions and seek to learn more about that which might make us uncomfortable or might not align with what we already believe in order to gain a fuller understanding about history and why people interact with each other in the ways that they do.

“Double Standard”

This past week Montrezl Harrell, an NBA player, was under criticism for calling another NBA player, Luka Dončić, a “b****-ass white-boy” during their game. Harrell ultimately apologized two days later before their next game, but in those two days I saw a number of posts on social media saying things like “imagine if it was the other way around” and claiming that there is a double standard. I think this ties into what we saw in the readings this week with Irish Americans claiming they were enslaved and had it as bad as anybody but that “you don’t see them complaining”.

            The similarity between the two situations lies in the power to prevent another person from doing something. Dončić being called a white boy isn’t the same as Dončić using a derogatory remark towards Harrell because the term white boy has never restricted the rights of a person. The situation in Barbados was similar with the rights of the enslaved being much more limited than the indentured servants. The majority of indentured servants served 3-7 years whereas slaves served a lifetime. The servants had the opportunity to start their own life after their contract while slaves saw no such liberty. Servants also had protection from harsh treatment by the hands of their landowner. It’s impossible to classify the indentured servants and enslaved as equal because of these differences. Overall, I think this falls into the larger problem of people responding to cries of discrimination with something along the lines of “Hey we were also discriminated against, you don’t see us complaining” which does nothing but focus attention elsewhere.

Slavery and perspective

As I step into the fourth week of this class, I realized how oblivious I am to the situations around me and how uneducated I am about this country’s politics. I grew up in a home were politics were rarely discussed and basically avoided. During the first couple of class discussions concerning political history, I had to fall back on my prior knowledge, which was little to nothing. Although I come to class with very little knowledge on the subject, I am very interested in the discussion of slavery/servants and their impact on today’s movements.

After listening to Dr. Reilly’s lecture, I became interested in the topic of “Irish Slavery” and its impact on today’s society. In our discussion, Dr. Reilly explained that after the Black Lives Matter movement began, people of Irish descent spoke out about their ancestors and how they also suffered from slavery. After that comment, I was hit with a wall of confusion. Are Irish descents using their ancestor’s servitude as a tactic to say they are still oppressed? That question as stuck with me since Monday’s lecture, but the answer has a lot of grey area.

After reading a classmate’s blog post last week, the idea of “perspective” stayed with me and contributes to this grey area answer. In her blog post, she explains that as part Irish she had never heard of her ancestors being “slaves”, until Dr. Reilly’s reading. She stated that her grandparents hadn’t acknowledged or taught her about this timeline in her family’s history and that it was due to their perspective on the subject. This idea of perspective, I believe, holds true to many different movements and disagreements in the US. The Irish people today are using their “servant” ancestors to argue that they are still oppressed and this is impacted by their individual perspective and the tensions of today’s movements.

The Power of the Media in 1968 and Now

As class discussions and required readings continue in this class, I am continually drawn back to the significance of media portrayal in 1968. Much of the protest, violence, and conflict at the time was framed in such a way that had a substantial impact on the American population’s view towards these issues. For example, in reading the book Voices of the Chicago Eight, it became clear early on that the defendants wanted to use their platform of a trial that garnered huge media attention as a stage to voice their opinions on the issues of the time. This is one example but throughout 68, the coverage of media was pivotal in the attempt to create meaningful change. A speech or a protest didn’t mean much if that message did not have the ability to reach a wide amount of people. This made events that would have that ability to reach people so much more important because those involved knew that this was their opportunity to send a message out on a huge scale.

Nowadays, the issue of getting your message out to a big population is no longer the problem. Anybody can send a tweet or post something online that massive amounts of people will be able to see immediately. I believe the new challenge that our generation faces is sifting through that avalanche of information and interpret how all of that functions together. We all know that you can’t believe everything that you hear or see on the Internet, which makes it difficult when you’re trying to acquire knowledge of a topic. It can also make it difficult when you were trying to convey a message over the Internet because your story can be warped and spit back in so many different ways that the original message becomes obsolete. The trick nowadays is more about finding and distributing quality information, as opposed to 68, where simply trying to get your message out was the challenge. 

Though the challenges of both generations differ, the general idea stays the same – media portrayal to the population holds extreme value. It does not matter if you are doing the righteous act in the whole world, if you’re not getting media attention or if it’s not the right kind of attention then the message you were trying to send is not going to come across clearly. It’s interesting to observe how details may change over time, but fundamental ideas such as this continue to hold their value from decade to decade. 

To Hear the Silent Majority

In most history classes and history books I have read to this point, a time period is by default characterized by its most iconic symbols—influential people, remarkable events, and long-term effects on history at large. Historians, no matter on the “winning” or “losing” side of history, tend to record the most abnormal features of their period. This means that the “louder” some people are, the fewer of them are required to enter historical accounts. Country leaders are worth historians’ attention by themselves. Activist groups who otherwise are already prominent people may need a few members to be remembered. Civil Rights movements take thousands of political-minded citizens to enter history textbooks. Natural disasters and wars take millions of ordinary people to gain the same level of attention.

I was repeatedly reminded of this fact when I was reading Vinen—the overwhelming amount of historical knowledge and remarkable events seemed over the top to me. For example, the sheer number of student protestors and incidents of violence made me feel as if everybody was in the turmoil. However, even though there were a lot of uncertainties and radical activities in ’68, the people involved undeniably represented a very small portion of the human population. Reading Vinen was like walking into a dance party—whoever is louder and crazier grabs the most attention. Therefore, I became more interested in hearing the silent majority—what ‘68 was really like.

The discussions with Geoff Brown and Sam Lord were a good alternative to the processed material presented by Vinen. Seeing Sam skillfully screen-printing posters and hearing him talk about weekly conferences and poster sessions in ’68 allowed me to visualize their daily life. Hearing Geoff talk about how the radical movement was defeated but he still persists also let me feel how they feel. Even though they would probably fall in the “loud” group in ’68, they were mostly involved in one thing, and other movements happening globally were probably just as distant to them as they were to an ordinary citizen at that time. Therefore, people’s lives were probably not as hectic as what we would have felt just by reading history books like Vinen. Literature, as opposed to history, is often written from a single and small point of view. It also carries more emotion and everyday details that history often neglects. Therefore, I am looking forward to the literature we are going to read, which may shed light on the silent majority in ’68 to see how significant the turmoil actually was.

The Issue of Violence

            Of the many parallels that can be made between ‘68 and the present day, none might be as obvious, or rather, as concerning, as the escalation of violence. It is hard to ignore the fact that the ‘68ers had plenty to be upset with. Injustice was found throughout their world, just as it is today. Protests called for political action as emotions swelled and frustration grew. It seems only natural that violence followed. But as the line between politics and violence began to blur, the coherent message of ‘68ers started to fall apart. Those who vilified the unnecessary violence carried out by governments began to cause violence themselves; those who denounced the Nazis began to become anti-Semites themselves. While this hypocrisy wasn’t uniform, the combination of intense frustration and romanticizing of the “outlaw” figure in popular culture began to sway some to abandon their just principles. Due to this, I worry about what will happen in our current times.

            Last week a black man shot in the back seven times by police in Kenosha, Wisconsin. Coupled with the unrest already present in the wake of George Floyd, there is plenty to be angry about. Nothing seems to change. Indeed, we see today the same kind of rioting motivated by lack of political change that was present in ’68. But I am left worried about how this violence will evolve. We’ve seen the type of damage caused by rioting escalate, and frankly, knowing the progression of ’68, I am worried it will escalate further. The parallels are there, from growing frustrations to the reemergence of the outlaw. Yet another black man being killed by police makes people increasingly infuriated with a system that not only doesn’t listen to them, but actively oppresses them.  Likewise, today’s outlaw can conceal their identity with a mask with no suspicion, emboldening people to instigate violence for fun in an otherwise peaceful protest with no repercussions.

            While the growing violence is in and of itself extremely undesirable in my opinion, the even more dangerous issue is the potential harm to today’s political message. The growing anger of the ‘68ers came to a point where its direction was often unclear or too all-encompassing. Sometimes coming to the point where their message seemingly contradicted itself, such as with the treatment of Jews. The breakdown of a political stance weakens the cause greatly, and I worry that could happen today. The movement for true equality is too important to be tampered with by growing violence, but I’m afraid that is what might come to pass.

Self-Serving People

Throughout all the different events and eras of history, the one thing that remains consistent is human behavior. In this class, we have already recognized a lot of patterns between 1968 and 2020, but the one that stands out the most is the inherent tendency of humans to be selfish.

This can be demonstrated by the hypocrisy that we have talked about in the lives of ‘68ers, where they were fighting for a movement that seemed so unselfish, all the while using it to make their own autobiographies more interesting. Once they grew up and became the age they told themselves never to trust, many of them selfishly changed from fighting for their ideals to going into politics and becoming a very influential part of the system they had previously tried so hard to take down. While this does not describe all ‘68ers, it is a pattern that can be noticed in many of their behavior. Similarly, during all of the protests and social media campaigns of 2020, I have personally seen many people use the movement for personal gain, particularly looking for praise from others on social media. Many do not actually care about the people they seem to be fighting for; rather, they care about how people will look back on them and being on the “right side of history.” 

Another prime example of this tendency is the discussion we had about the “white slavery” argument and the pattern that it seems to be used so much more during times where black Americans have been demanding equality. We are all at the center of our own narrative, so a lot of people try to relate to the hundreds of years of African American oppression in the U.S. by convincing themselves that their ancestors went through something similar. Many people cannot handle not being able to understand the suffering of black Americans and having little to no attention on themselves, so their way of trying to relate to the movement or take back attention is to bring up the “white slavery” argument.

The actions of protesters in ‘68 as well as 2020 show that selfish motives do not always result in bad outcomes. They can motivate people to do the right thing and fight for real change, but the common theme amongst everyone is that they do the things that they think will benefit themselves (or their legacy) in the long run. I think that this human tendency is the main cause of history repeating itself over and over, and I wonder what it would take to ever change it.

The Trajectory of Tension

As more tension manifests itself through protests and violence following a series of instances of police brutality throughout America, many parallels can be drawn between the current turmoil and the tension of 1968. Both eras contain a multitude of movements surrounding perceived injustices.

Leading up to ’68 in America, the tension boiled around movements for civil rights, anti-capitalism, and campus free speech – just to name a few. Today much of the tension stems from intense political polarization and immense frustration as the US confronts the Covid-19 pandemic. While the causes of the tension aren’t exactly the same – as one would (hope to) expect more than 50 years later – the most apparent similarity is that major events coupled with the mounting tension to set off the conflict and extreme radicalism of both eras.

As Geoff Brown said, in Britain in ’68 he considered himself a radical socialist. He stated that it was the Vietnam War that truly radicalized him and launched him into activism. This seemed to be the case for many ’68ers in America. Today it was the death of George Floyd that coupled with the built-up tension in order set off conflict. Cities have been damaged, widespread looting has occurred and two people were killed during a protest in Kenosha on Tuesday night following another case of police brutality.

People change, movements change and times change. However, the trajectories of these two eras seem to be quite similar. While activism now primarily takes place on social media as opposed to ’68 when people were declaring their views via posters and the radio, the attitudes of current activists appear to be familiar. It’s too early to tell how our current situation will play out, but it might not be a terrible idea to turn to the aftermath of ’68 for an idea.


As humans, we don’t enjoy being boxed in, whether it’s into a category, a state of mind, or even a physical space. When thinking about 1968, I have tried to fit it into a compartment in my brain that can be analyzed and pored over, but every aspect of the year has been amorphous. I think it is fitting that this year is so multi-faceted; none of the groups involved in conflict at that time wished to be physically barricaded or compartmentalized. The posters that we saw in class today called for barricades to be taken down. Civil rights protests called for the ending of separation, the ending of a compartmentalized mindset in the United States. The French yearned to be free in their universities and in their work. Putting up walls and barricades only brought violence, fear, and greater radicalism.

Seeing photos of walls, barricades, posters, and murals is one way to heed the messages and imagine the tension of the Long ’68, but reaching out to touch the Peace Wall in Belfast or walking along the stone walls in Derry makes one feel that tension. Last year, I had the privilege to travel to Northern Ireland and learn about the Troubles from various perspectives. The upheaval and unrest that came in 1968 and beyond has left behind remnants that cannot be erased; there are still extremists and paramilitary groups ready and willing to incite violence at any moment, there is a sadness that hangs over each city in the rain-clouds. The walls, barriers, and gates were meant to protect each community from violence, but they kept the tension, the despair, and the grief inside of them. I hope that in moving forward through this class, I can come to think of 1968 and its conflicts as something that cannot be compartmentalized; it is a symphony of fears and categories and states of mind that mingle in raucous bursts of sound.