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An Occasional Post

Turn Off, Tune out, Drop In

In the late sixties, the counterculture adopted Timothy Leary’s phrase, “turn on, tune in, drop out” as its mantra. According to Wikipedia (and quoted from Leary’s autobiography), this is what Leary meant:

‘Turn on’ meant go within to activate your neural and genetic equipment. Become sensitive to the many and various levels of consciousness and the specific triggers that engage them. Drugs were one way to accomplish this end. 'Tune in' meant interact harmoniously with the world around you - externalize, materialize, express your new internal perspectives. 'Drop out' suggested an elective, selective, graceful process of detachment from involuntary or unconscious commitments. 'Drop out' meant self-reliance, a discovery of one's singularity, a commitment to mobility, choice, and change.

I propose revising Leary’s phrase (I’m a writer, after all) for the present time. Turn off, tune out, and drop in. Why? Because it’s what I thought about while writing about Rosa Parks last week. The ‘on the streets’ activism of the sixties, whatever you may think of it now, changed the world.

It took many forms: anti-nuclear organizations (SANE and Women’s Strike for Peace, for example); the civil rights movement (CORE, SNCC, Freedom Summer, and marches and picket lines everywhere); anti-war groups (SDS, the Chicago Seven, the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, more demonstrations), and new actions around environmentalism (Rachel Carson), population control (ZPG), and the women’s movement (Gloria Steinem, Angela Davis) come quickly to mind.

Each movement had its forceful leaders; charismatic individuals who inspired and took serious risks. Many were jailed; too many lost their lives.

And now? Numbers of us who took to the streets then are suffering from bad knees, painful hips and sore backs. We haven’t given up, but decades have passed.

So the question I ask is this: where are the movements we need now even more desperately? Why are young people not storming the United States Congress to end the war (cost: >one trillion dollars), take immediate action on environmental issues, do something about population growth (the UN estimates 9 billion people by 2050, which is an increase of 50%. Can you imagine this?) or organize around other crucial problems?

My best guess is that we have all been co-opted by the corpocracy which wants us to do exactly what we’re doing while they pillage and plunder.

So: because this is a blog that focuses on children’s books, what can we as writers do to change the world? It’s a small question, right? And I’m not talking about giving children an agenda or using books as a teaching tool. I’m trying to get at something else. More on this soon, but I’d love to hear from you in the meantime.

(And look: here I am writing a blog post about all this. The irony does not escape me. But I do try seriously to limit my time online for anything but email and research --and a few minutes for facebook and Vermont College of Fine Arts-- and I will keep trying. It matters.)

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