The half million marchers who converged upon downtown LA on March 25 share some curious parallels to the half million young people who converged upon Woodstock a quarter of a century ago. At both events just about everybody was caught by surprise – where did all these people come from? Both Woodstock and the march could be viewed as something of a coming-out celebration for a nation-within-a-nation. In 1969 it was the boomers. In 2006 it is the estimated 12 million illegal immigrants (most Hispanic).
There are certainly some big differences. Woodstock was primarily about sex, drugs and rock & roll, none of which were present at the march. Instead, the massive turnout in downtown LA was about the American Dream and millions of immigrants working mightily to achieve it.
But there are profound similarities as well.
With Country Joe and the Fish providing the political charge from the stage at Woodstock, the draft and the Vietnam War hang like a Sword of Damocles over every male boomer at the festival, indeed, over every young man in America. Uncle Sam was conscripting people against their will and sending them off to a foreign land. It unified and energized an entire generation. Likewise, in 2006, the more Draconian Republican proposals will make it a felony to be here illegally, with mass deportation of millions hanging like a Sword of Damocles unifying and energizing millions of immigrants.
Media has morphed in a thousand new directions since 1969, but it is interesting that at both Woodstock and the march it was radio that lead the charge in getting the word out to the masses. LA counterculture radio personality Jim Ladd referred to FM radio as the “tribal drum” of the boomers. A quarter of a century later it still is. Spanish language AM radio dominates LA Arbitron ratings and a number of the most powerful on-air personalities threw their full support behind the march. This helps explain not only the massive turnout, but also why most marchers were wearing white in a simple, extraordinary show of solidarity surrounding City Hall.
Perhaps the most important parallel between Woodstock and the march is that both events gave a nation-within-a-nation a highly visible face and personality. From the mid-fifties onward, demographers had long been telling America of the massive dimensions of the boomer segment. After Woodstock there was no question – the boomers had arrived. Likewise, demographers tell us that Greater Los Angeles is already the second largest Hispanic city in the world, Mexico City being the largest. The march enabled LA’s Hispanic community to show its numbers, and its sincerity. The March 25 march was filled with peace and respect; the dominant flag was the Stars and Stripes and half a million marchers reportedly left downtown LA cleaner than they found it.