It's an eerie experience, as I watch media reports on the Occupy movement shaking America, to be reading Jeanne Córdova's memoir about how the Sixties movements shook America - written by one of the LGBT pioneers who did some major shaking.
Didn't many of us hope that certain civil-rights battles were finally won for good after the Sixties and Seventies? The rights of Americans to have their say about government policy? Rights of LGBT people in our public schools? The rights of people with AIDS? The right to work? Even the very right of protesters to assemble publicly and protest, as guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution?
If so, why are we fighting these battles again today?
Córdova's new book takes us there - to the dawning lesbian movement with all its powerful expressions of sexuality and its ideological postures. From there, it takes us to the larger battlefield - to the whole array of movements - gay, women, black, Chicano, anti-war, free speech, reproductive choice, socialist revolution - that convulsed the country well into the 1970s. As one who lived through those times (I was in my late 20s and early 30s during the Sixties), and who was involved in the women's and anti-censorship movements, there is much here that I recognize... and much that is new to me as well.
It's a truism that we can't understand the present without knowing the past. This is ever so true when "the past" involves the uproars and the upheavals of huge social changes whose roots, and leaders, and contributions, may be poorly remembered or even unknown by young people of a new generation.
The author admits to some fictionalizing in order to make the book work the way she wanted. In her Note, she states, "This work is written as a novelized memoir because I wanted it to be accessible to everyone, not just academics or historians. I also wanted to present history as a living thing, not just a documentary type sequence of impersonal truths." Córdova's literary decision to take this route is a success, as she re-creates the personal reality of those times, while getting around the impossibility of recalling long conversations and dense details of things that happened 50 years ago.
Indeed, the book takes us there vividly - to a time of protest and change whose effects on the U.S. were deep and transformative - so much so, that ultraconservatives have been frantically trying to undo the past ever since, as a part of their efforts to wreak their will on the country today. When the religious right organized in the late 1970s, they declared war on three big movements: reproductive freedom, feminism and LGBT rights.
Will today's Right succeed in stamping out today's LGBT movement whose beginnings are so riotously celebrated in Córdova's memoir? The fate of our movement depends on the new outlaws of today - on how seriously the American voting public takes our issues, and the larger array of desperate new issues around economics and basic freedoms that sweep the country today.
For LGBT people who care about activism, especially those young enough to have no memory of those iconic times, Córdova's "memoir of love and revolution" should be a must-read.
When We Were Outlaws, published by Spinster's Ink, is available from Bella Books in both print and e-book editions. Bella's eBooks are in formats compatible with Kindle, Nook, Sony, iPad, Blackberry and others.