The photograph by Ted Streshinsky, “People’s Park Riots, National Guard and Protester” (1969), depicts the brutality of the power structure. A threatening mass of steel-helmeted soldiers with bayonets drawn advances on a defenseless young girl, with her hair in a headband and clutching a newspaper. Walt Whitman once defined the role of poetry in the modern world as the “vivification” of facts, a reflection which certainly applies to this image of force against innocence.
Among the photographs in the People’s Park section in the current exhibition is also a picture by Kathryn Ann Bigelow, “James Rector Killed.” Rector was an innocent bystander who was watching the turmoil from a nearby roof when he was killed by gunshots fired by Governor Ronald Reagan’s National Guard.
The current show, a reprise of the 2001 exhibition, which was also the occasion of a fine catalogue with 20 essays by distinguished writers. The Berkeley Art Center is to be commended for bringing it back as it is certainly relevant at this time, when even more horrific actions would call for strong and passionate opposition.
Consisting of numerous photographs, the show is an eloquent visual document of the turmoil and agitation in the Bay Area at a time, when, it can be said, history was changed. The exhibition is organized in sections, addressing Civil Rights, Black Power and the Black Panthers, Berkeley and the Free Speech movement, the Peace Movement, the Feminist Revolution, the Rise of Latino Power, Cesar Chavez and La Huelga, Queer Defiance, Native American Activism and the beginning of the Environmental Movement. Among other things, it demonstrates the close relationship between apparent opposite activities: political action and the hippie counterculture. But the latter, with its slogan “Make love, not war” was also political in its stance against conforming to a corrupt system. It was all related to the war in Vietnam.
The many photographs by some of the finest photo-journalists of the time, George Elfie Ballis, Jeffrey Blankfort, Nacia Jan Brown, Richard Misrach, Stephen Shames, Michelle Vignes as well as Streshinsky and Bigelow, are works which provoke the viewer to look and gain new insight into the actions of a turbulent time.
It is true that the political and cultural disruptions of those years caused a reactionary backlash, as the former Republican House Majority Leader Dick Armey said, “To me all the problems begin in the ’60s.” But Mr. Armey and his friend the Hammer, Tom Delay, are gone and it does appear as if the rightward swing of the pendulum has just about run its course.
Photograph: “People’s Park Riots, National Guard and Protester” (1969) by Ted Streshinsky, part of The Whole World’s Watching at the Berkeley Art Center.