What has sex got to do with revolution, anyway?
“…the students are still out there, that’s what I have heard…They’re living and making love right on the barricades.”
“…Well, this is about freedom, isn’t it?…Doesn’t that include free love…?”
“Is it really about free love?…They said it was about freedom of speech and better education.”
“It’s about changing what we value…And that should include free love!”
So runs a conversation among students gathered in a Paris cafe in A Time to Cast Away Stones*. They recognize that the May Revolution is more than a political action to shake off an aging and fascist president. It is a social and cultural revolution as intense and important as the political fracas – in a society undergoing a complete change of values.
From one month in 1968 to the approach of one year from 2011– marks the remarkable difference between the May Revolution and the Occupy Movement. This accomplishment and the spread of new ideas across the nation didn’t just “happen.” Both “revolutions” were thwarted by police (and in France, the army!), political forces, a right wing media, and plenty of skeptics in the center. But French students on the barricades were battling something just plain sinister—their own wish to toss off moral and social constraints in a way that damaged their own health and safety. Conditions ranging from rampant sexually-transmitted disease, lack of medical care, filthy living conditions and sheer exhaustion eventually took their toll in 1968.
In 2011, 2012, the freedoms of young and old have turned the responsibility for healthful living—and the dangers of ignoring that responsibility—back to individuals and their communities. In New York, if not in every “occupied” city, the Movement’s response to basic human needs is directly related to the sustainability of the project. That is why, in the midst of what could be chaos, there is so much emphasis on order and mutual aid.
Spilling blood for the revolution – their way
Now, I admit I don’t have first-hand knowledge of Occupier sexual activities. What I do know is how it felt to be young and in Paris in 1968. Several authors, like James Jones (gained fame by writing the World War II romance, From Here to Eternity), expressed shock and disgust when writing about the new freedom and unrestrained license of the young Parisian revolutionaries. It’s true that some students swapped sexual partners as easily as nibbles of croissant. And I agree that the result was a whole lot of high times – and mixed feelings, hurt feelings, and the verified and oft-noted STDs.
To approach that situation differently, in A Time to Cast Away Stones I chose to emphasize the moral straitjacket that had constrained teens and college students—up until the May Revolution. One of the original complaints of student protesters was the rule against men and women students visiting in campus dormitory rooms. Their free speech on this very topic was denied by the college administration. Bourgeois girls (and some boys!) were expected to remain virgins until marriage. By the 1960s, French morality came not so much from the church as from expectations of both parents and peers. The fact that secret trysts meant that there were increasingly few young virgins around is besides the point. Secret was not free – and it was demeaning, like the French educational system.
Just as students paid the price of “revolution” on the barricades, they paid the price (okay, here comes the “spilled blood” part) by breaking free from their neat and clean and morally upright bourgeois lives.
This was not as easy or jolly as it sounds. In A Time to Cast Away Stones, the protagonist, Jeanette, feels confused and less sure about the social revolution than she is about the political revolution. But thinking she has found a satisfactory way of viewing the startling changes all around her, she rants to her Czech boyfriend:
“Teo, listen…All the trouble in the world seemed random before, but now I can see it’s connected. Paris is on fire, Vietnam drags on, Moscow threatens the Czechs, and students everywhere reject their governments. So now we all swear and dress like slobs and throw off religion and morals and…and I lost my virginity last night…” [She] stopped, breathless, tears in [her] eyes.
Teo was laughing softly and shaking his head. “Well, I’m glad we can love each other with all this trouble in the world,” he said. But…that’s a lot of connections…”
Occupiers have benefitted and suffered from the sexual revolution. Even in families that stress abstinence, no one in the Western world will ever think of this topic in quite the same way as we did when I was growing up. We have TV shows that teach more to a five-year-old than I knew until I was (yikes!) fourteen. And we’ve lived through the age of AIDS. Occupiers are free – but sadder and wiser than the 1968 revolutionaries.
The morality of community
Sex wasn’t the only drag on those students, and Occupiers have proven themselves wiser in other areas as well. May Revolutionaries were too pumped up to sleep much. And no one thought about a next meal, let alone food safety and sanitation. In the Occupy Movement, it’s been a given from the beginning that creating Working and Affinity Groups to plan the next protest action is vital—but so are the basic needs of the protesters.
In 1968, after battles, revolutionaries suffered from a lack of medical care for the sick and wounded. Threatened with arrest, many preferred to languish on the sofas of friends’ apartments or later, on classroom or hallway floors at the Sorbonne. This year in NYC, trained Affinity Group Medics (AGMs) provide medical attention to protesters. All affinity groups are encouraged to consider having at least two trained medics.
These and many other Working Groups provide sustainability—but also a model of community and a healthy and moral lifestyle: The People’s Kitchen (feed the protesters), Tea & Herbal Medicine (healthy and balanced diet), Restricted Diets (respect differences), Sanitation (keep clean, or try—and compost, recycle…), Occupy Yoga (keep up your strength), Meditation (acknowledge mind-body health), Occupy Library (education and mental stimulation), and Healthcare for the 99% (donated medical supplies and doctor services).
*You can pick up a copy of A Time to Cast Away Stones (Sand Hill Review Press), set during the 1968 Berkeley antiwar protests and French May Revolution, in June from Amazon in print or Kindle, or your favorite bookstore.