Martin Luther King, Tom Hayden, Jane Fonda, Bobby Seale, Cesar Chavez, Dennis Banks.
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A deep look at why cultural and political battles of the 1960s are far from over, and how the leaders gave us the world we live in today.

In the 1960s and early 1970s political and social battles were fought by people who were trying to reshape America. Sixty years later, we are still at war.

My guests on this week’s WhoWhatWhy podcast, David and Margaret Talbot, label that war the Second American Revolution. The issues revolved around armed conflict abroad (Vietnam), civil rights, feminism, gay rights, Native American rights, workers rights, and the role of celebrities in the political process. 

One of the Talbots’ conclusions is that the past is not just prologue — It’s not even the past. 

They argue — in this conversation and in their new book, By the Light of Burning Dreams — that the ’60s were a time when every cultural and political progressive action was met with an equal reaction. A time when the FBI engaged in the kind of widespread, invasive surveillance that makes even today’s Pegasus project seem like child’s play.  

The Talbots remind us that charismatic leadership, not just grassroots efforts, catalyzed the political and social activism of the ’60s. Leaders had to put their bodies on the line in the streets, not on social media. 

Discussing how these efforts morphed from the optimism of the early ’60s to the weary cynicism of today, the Talbots draw a sobering lesson: Democracy must be fought for anew every single day. 

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Full Text Transcript:

(As a service to our readers, we provide transcripts with our podcasts. We try to ensure that these transcripts do not include errors. However, due to a constraint of resources, we are not always able to proofread them as closely as we would like and hope that you will excuse any errors that slipped through.)

Jeff: Welcome to the WhoWhatWhy podcast. I’m your host, Jeff Schechtman. It has been observed during the past 30 years that we continue to litigate the 1960s. That beyond specific policies or politics of the moment, the cultural, social, and political battles of that era are still being fought. In areas like civil rights, feminism, gay rights, worker rights, abortion, and the role of celebrities in our political debate, the battle continues to play out. What all this should tell us is that it was more than just the upheaval of the ’60s.

Perhaps it was what my guests, David and Margaret Talbot, call a Second American Revolution; one that reshaped the political landscape, one where every action was met with an equal reaction, one that created both hope and resistance and both progress and populism, a world where events of 50 plus years ago, more than half a century, still reverberate with us every single day. It’s not just that the past is prologue, it’s that the past is not even the past. That’s the world that David and Margaret Talbot write about in their new book, By The Light of Burning Dreams.

David Talbot, who’s been on this podcast many times before is the author of Brothers: The Hidden History of the Kennedy Years, as well as the national bestsellers, Season of the Witch, and The Devil’s Chessboard. He’s the founder and former editor in chief of Salon, and was a senior editor at Mother Jones, and was the one-time features editor at the San Francisco Examiner.

Margaret Talbot is an American essayist and nonfiction writer. She’s a staff writer at The New Yorker and was formerly senior fellow with the New American Foundation. She’s the author of a book about their father, actor Lyle Talbot, entitled The Entertainer. It is my pleasure to welcome David and Margaret Talbot here to talk about By the Light of Burning Dreams: The Triumphs and Tragedies of the Second American Revolution. David, Margaret, thanks so much for joining us here on the WhoWhatWhy podcast.

David: Thank you, Jeff, great to be here.

Jeff: It’s great to have you both here. David, I want to start with you. When we think about revolutions, whether it’s the American Revolution, whether it’s particular movements that have happened at times in our history, we can often identify a critical point when that revolution really sparked. When we look at all that we talk about about the ’60s and early ’70s, isn’t there a moment we can codify that really was the spark that ignited all of this?

David: Well, first of all, Jeff, thank you for the introduction because that’s what this book is trying to do is reclaim this turbulent history and say that it was essential to America that what we accomplished, and I was part of these movements back in the ’60s and ’70s, was essential to moving America forward. Of course, there’s been so much history, abuse heaped upon this history by the counter-revolution, by Conservatives and Republicans and so forth, and even Liberals, that had diminishing or trivialization of that history, but it was very important.

The turning point that is exactly what Margaret and I focused on in each chapter of the book. Of course, we look at seven different movements and seven different iconic leaders of those movements and decisions that they made for good or ill that not only changed their own lives in major ways but the course of American history. For instance, the Black Panthers, Bobby Seale, who I interviewed at great length, was the co-founder of the Black Panther Party with Huey Newton in Oakland, back in the 1960s, and their decision to legally — because they’d read the law books, Huey Newton was in law school at the time, they knew what California law was — they went to the streets of Oakland, West Oakland, where Black people have nightclubs and dinners and restaurants and so on, were being harassed routinely by white cops. They said, ‘No more, this isn’t going to happen anymore, this kind of harassment.’ They confronted one policeman that night with guns, and they stood legally the distance away from the police officer that they had to by law and so on, but they observed him. The policeman, of course, was very upset by this. This is a major decision of the Black Panthers to go onto the streets with guns and to say, ‘this kind of harassment is gonna stop.’

Now that had some, obviously, some fatal and tragic consequences for the Black Panther Party and for the movement itself, but also, it catalyzed people and woke people up. That was Bobby Seale’s intention — to catalyze the community, and then go into electoral politics in a very peaceful way. The Black Panther Party were not able to make that pivot for some internal reasons, as well as external reasons. They came under incredible pressure from outside, from J. Edgar Hoover and the FBI and local police agencies. Those are the kinds of things that Margaret and I really wanted to look at carefully, decisions that these leaders made that were historic, and that I think still, as you were saying, have relevance for today and today’s activist.

Jeff: Margaret, how much was the anti-war movement pivotal to so much of this, because it did seem to be the thing that initially everyone coalesced around?

Magret: I think that’s right. If you were going to look at one moment from one historical event that brought so many of these groups together, it was the opposition to the war. That was true for, of course, Martin Luther King, for many of the civil rights leaders, for feminists, and gay leaders as well. We have two chapters on each of those movements. It was a movement because I think people were also able to not only oppose the use of American power in this context in Vietnam, but also to look at the ways that the money and focus spent on that war overseas undercut the ability to respond to poverty and other issues here at home. And people explicitly made those connections and really came together at a very, what we would call now, intersectional way. A lot of the demonstrations were not just student demonstrations as we’re used to seeing or hippie demonstrations, but demonstrations that really united all of these movements.

David: Jeff, if I could add one thing to that. Tom Hayden I think deserves a lot of credit, and we give him that credit in our first chapter of the book. Tom Hayden and Jane Fonda, who of course were romantically involved and also politically involved. By the time 73, 74 came along, the anti-war movement in this country, I remember it well myself, was burned out. Tom Hayden refused, though, to be sidelined. He and Jane Fonda led a movement to mobilize the Heartland, labor unions, religious groups all across the country. They cut off congressional funding finally to the war in Vietnam, and that’s what finally ended it. The counter-history we heard that the peace movement didn’t mean anything, had no impact, that’s complete BS. Tom Hayden and Jane Fonda continued to lead an anti-war movement that did, in fact, have major impact on the war and finally ended the war.

Jeff: Which really brings up a broader question that goes to the heart of so many of these areas that you talk about, and that is whether or not these movements were individually led, whether it was the people like Bobby Seale, like Tom Hayden, like Cesar Chavez, so many of the people that you talk about and focus on whether these people were essential to these movements or whether it was grassroots. David, first you.

David: Margaret and I make a case for leadership. I know that’s not particularly popular these days among the new generation of activists. People want a more horizontal rather than vertical structure in their movements and so on. They tend to downplay leadership, but we think it’s important. Martin Luther King, Cesar Chavez, Tom Hayden, Bobby Seale, Heather Booth, all the people that we write about in the book were necessary to those movements. Now yes, of course, then these grassroots, we don’t believe in the great white male. It’s a theory of history that you have one man who activates history.

On the other hand, we do believe that leadership is important, leadership that has to be accountable to those movements. It has to be democratic. It has to be in touch with those grassroots, as you say, but it takes leaders to galvanize those movements and to lead them so they don’t just burn out. Look at Occupy — I was in Wall Street when the Occupy movement, that first weekend, erupted at Zuccotti Park in Wall Street.

I remember the endless processes of those meetings that went on and on and on, and there were no leaders, purposefully so, but it was anarchy to me. It was a movement that did not sustain itself, unlike the Tea Party movement on the right wing, which of course got people elected to Congress and had a real impact on American politics. That’s the difference between the left and the right these days, it seems to me, that we don’t value, we on the left, leadership, and we should.

Jeff: Margaret.

Margaret: I would just add to that I agree with everything David said, and also that we try to think of leadership in some creative ways too. For example, in the chapter on the gay liberation movement, the person we focus on is a guy named Craig Rodwell who started the first gay bookstore in the country, probably in the world, in New York. His role was actually really in seeing that after the Stonewall uprising, that that was a really significant turning point.

His form of leadership was to say, “Let’s commemorate this event. Let’s not let this event, like some others in the past, slip away into history and into non-history and not really be recognized as the turning point and the moment of people really coming forward and declaring themselves and declaring gay pride that it was.” Sometimes, it’s about recognizing historical turning points and being able to articulate the significance of them. It can be leadership in more conventional ways, electoral politics, or it can be in these more inspired reframings of historical turning points.

Jeff: Was there a sense, Margaret, that because there were so many battles being fought at the same time — civil rights, the war, farmworkers, Native Americans, feminism — all the things that you talk about, all these different areas, that it made it more difficult or less difficult for the opposition to form against it?

Margaret: That’s an interesting question. I think, in some ways, it made it a little easier because you could tar one with the other. I think it was also for some people who really felt they had to be moving forward on all these different fronts or active in all these different movements, that could lead to some burnout. Also, I think the FBI surveillance and harassment of a lot of these movements, which was really across all of them, even women’s liberation, which was unfamiliar to me.

Of course, I knew about the harassment and surveillance, and worst, of the Black Panthers, people like Fred Hampton and so on. But I did not know that also feminism was a target of Hoover’s. I think the sense that the FBI and conservative forces in America had been overwhelmed on all sides with all of these movements springing up, probably led to greater efforts at repression, and a greater sense of threat, which was really damaging to a lot of these movements.

Jeff: Expand on that a little bit, David, in terms of who the enemy was — the government, Nixon, etc — because there was real focus on finding who the enemies were.

David: Well, exactly as Margaret was saying, all of these leaders that we focused on in the book were subjected to constant harassment, surveillance, arrest, and worse. Martin Luther King, as Margaret was saying, near the end of his life, was leading a remarkable movement.

Bobby Seale of the Black Panthers told me that Martin’s office called Bobby and said, ‘Would you join my poor people’s march on Washington?’ in 1968. So he was reaching out, this man of peace, to a broad coalition of people, farm workers, Native Americans, Black militants, and so on. His idea was not just a march in Washington, but to occupy the nation’s capital and demand that Congress divert resources from the Vietnam war to domestic issues that were very urgent. This was a radical kind of, I think, tactic. Bobby Kennedy, by the way, had talked to Martin about it. They were in touch about this, and of course, they were both assassinated that year.

I know, I was 16 years old at the time, how devastating a blow that can be. I understand why young people are suspicious of leadership today, but the lesson to learn from these assassinations and arrest and harassment of leaders is not that, ‘Oh my God, we can’t have leaders.’ It’s, ‘We have to do a better job of protecting our leaders. And much better this time around than we did back then.’ Because whereas leaders were eliminated, they targeted leaders because they — meaning the government, meaning J. Edgar Hoover, the FBI, and so forth — knew how important leaders are.

Jeff: Talk about, Margaret, the sense of urgency of the moment, because there really was a sense of urgency that surrounded all of this.

Margaret: Yes, I think that’s true, partly because of this kind of surveillance, partly because of the threat of the draft of the Vietnam war. But I think also there was a lot of hope in that urgency, a lot of sense of belief that you could reinvent a lot of institutions, a lot of aspects of everyday life. That was very exhilarating. Sometimes I see that a little bit less in movements today, that element of hope. It may be because of the existential threats of climate change, which are so disparaging, obviously.

I think for all of the violence of the ’60s, the assassination, the surveillance, the harassment that we’re talking about, I do think, and David lived through this in a way that I didn’t, so maybe he can address it, but I do feel like there was this sense of the power and agency and hope around re-inventing life to some extent. That’s why you’ve got this personal, political, and feminism, and you’ve got all of this spirit of music and counterculture, and as I say, reinventing institutions from the ground up, and alternative institutions. I don’t know, David, do you feel like it was a more hopeful time for all of the threats that we talk about?

David: Yes. I would say that as someone who lived through it, I was in college and an activist myself during the late ’60s and ’70s. I feel it was a time of hope despite all the darkness. We have a chapter, for instance, Jeff, on John Lennon, former Beatle, and Yoko Ono, his wife — John explicitly, after he left the Beatles, and he moved to New York City — we have a chapter on the year of living dangerously, as we put it, of John and Yoko in Greenwich Village when they were under an intense harassment and surveillance from the FBI and the Nixon administration because they had vowed to overthrow Nixon and the war in Vietnam. They knew the power, they being FBI and so on, of a former Beatle.

John was writing songs, at that time, that he knew were going to be anthems of the radical movement. They did become anthems, Give Peace a Chance, Imagine, and so on. I think the culture that we built was as important as the politics. I think the culture is what sustained us over the years. We could go to rock concerts. Margaret wrote a beautiful chapter on the Jane Collective, which you can talk about, in Chicago, and their medical services that provided women, who were outlaws but were essential services. It was the institutions we built, the culture we built, the music that we created that sustained The Radical Movement over years. I think that’s what you see glimmers of today, but I’d like to see more of that.

Jeff: There is this sense that no matter how bad things got, even in the wake of assassination and the violence that occasionally was sparked, that there was a sense of possibility.

Margaret: Yes. As David says, it’s wonderful to see glimmers of that. You hope to see more today, but I think that sense that also you could move forward on different fronts. Even though there was a lot of suspicion of electoral politics on the left, there were people who were willing to enter it. For example, Tom Hayden and even Bobby Seale, who wanted to run, and did run, for mayor of Oakland.

Then, at the same time obviously, demonstrations out in the streets. Also, working outside the system, and then creating really, truly alternative and sometimes outlaw organizations like David referred to the Jane Collective, which we have a chapter on, which was a group of women who provided safe, but illegal abortions prior to Roe v. Wade in the late ’60s and early ’70s to thousands of women in Chicago and were part of a larger institution called the Chicago Women’s Liberation Union that had a rock band and a graphics collective, and other medical services, and just were involved in this mutual aid and this building of a kind of alternative set of institutions and cultural entities that people could look to as examples for the future and also enjoy in the present moment.

David: You know, Jeff, I wrote a book called Season of the Witch a few years ago that was very popular, particularly here in the Bay Area. I talked about in that book about how we liberated one city, San Francisco, over time in the 1960s and ’70s with so-called San Francisco values becoming dominant. What I think Margaret and I were trying to do in this book is to explain how that movement became a national movement. We were trying to remake the country, basically.

I love what Robert Stone, the late novelist who is one of my favorite novelists, said about the time because he was part of these upheavals as well. He ran with Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters at one point. Robert Stone said in his memoir, in the end, he regrets looking back at his history, only one thing, we didn’t win. What we won was great cultural achievements, great social achievements, but we didn’t win politically.

When we were starting to write the book, Donald Trump was president instead of Bernie Sanders. Clearly, we hadn’t won. Joe Biden is obviously a big improvement over Donald Trump, but not quite the avatar of our movement that we would have liked to see at the top of the political pyramid in America. So we didn’t win politically, but we did win all these other cultural and social achievements. But politics is still essential, and that’s the next goal.

Jeff: And yet even those cultural achievements, while I think it’s fair to say that they did win, they’re still being litigated, still being fought about 60 years later.

Margaret: Yes, that’s certainly true, for example, of reproductive rights. We are going into next fall, a Supreme Court term where Roe v. Wade may very well be overturned. We have a conservative majority, obviously, on the Supreme Court now, and a landmark case coming before it. Of course individual states have been rolling back those rights steadily for the last decade or more.

So yes, these are battles that are still being fought, that are still very vital and relevant for people’s lives. But it’s a push and pull, but some of those transformations have lasted and will last. Working women’s role in the workplace and in professions, gay rights and identity, and reinterpretations of gender that have come in the wake of that, of our new understandings. So those and other related issues around women and sexuality, I think, will last even though there are these fights around reproductive rights and even birth control that we are still engaged in.

Jeff: It does seem, David, that the gay rights movement, the whole LGBTQ movement, was the most successful of all of these areas — workers’ rights, civil rights, women’s rights — that it is the one that seems to be the least litigated today, the one that seems to be the most accepted. Do you have a sense of why that is?

David: Well, Margaret wrote the chapter, of course, on Craig Rodwell and the uprising at Stonewall, and as she said, how that led to the creation of pride, which we just celebrated nationally, internationally. Yes, I wrote about it extensively in San Francisco as well because it was a big part of liberating the city, of course, gay liberation. And yet that was a bloody battle. That was not easy. Harvey Milk, of course, the gay supervisor in San Francisco was assassinated. There are people who have been beaten and arrested on the streets. There’s bloodshed, there was mob violence against gay people here, even in San Francisco. Nothing comes easily, Jeff. I think that’s the point of the book is that democracy is a daily struggle.

I have gone back to study the cradle of democracy in ancient Athens, I.F. Stone wrote a wonderful book, Trial of Socrates, years ago about this. It makes clear that democracy is always at war with more authoritarian forces, with the forces of greed, and power, and money. There’s nothing different in ancient Greece than from today. Of course, Margaret and I called what we went through in the ’60s and ’70s, the Second American Revolution because the first American Revolution stopped short of liberating Black Americans, Native Americans, women, working people, gays, and obviously, lesbians. We needed the second revolution desperately in the 1960s and ‘70s to expand the dreams and the rhetoric of the original American Revolution.

Jeff: What was the sense, David, start with you, and Margaret I’d like you to comment too, the sense of self-awareness of so many of these people that you profile and have interviewed, the sense of the degree to which they were aware that this was a revolutionary moment? David?

David: Well, let’s talk about the American Indian Movement and Dennis Banks, the original Americans. Dennis Banks, who I interviewed at his 80th birthday party shortly before he died, sadly, in 2017, was very clear about using the rhetoric — as many of these leaders were militant leaders of the American Revolution, the original revolution — to fight for their freedoms and their rights in the 1960s and ’70s. What they were willing to do was to stand up with guns, again at Wounded Knee in South Dakota on reservation Pine Ridge, against the militarized forces of the Nixon administration.

They were surrounded immediately as soon as they occupied that hallowed ground where, almost 100 years before there had been a terrible massacre of Indian people. There they stood, they heard the ghost that night of the dead from these many years ago. They withstood this enormous firepower — 500,000 rounds of ammunition were fired by federal marshals and FBI and vigilantes at these men, women, and children, some 200 Native Americans who were occupying Wounded Knee in 1973.

And I tell the story, amazingly, because I think Dennis Banks was being set up to be killed as Sitting Bull had been, as Crazy Horse one of the great Native American leaders many years before. On the final night of the siege, this Navajo named Lenny Foster, who I interviewed, lead Dennis Banks through this encirclement, this militarized encirclement, and to freedom. So he lived to fight another day. They were quite clear that they were standing up to the full power of the US government, these people, and they were willing to put their bodies on the line to sacrifice everything. Dennis knew he could be arrested, he could be killed at any moment.

Russell Means, the co-founder of the American Indian Movement felt the same way and was in one brutal fight after another. But these were heroes, and they were flawed heroes. But Margaret and I didn’t write hagiography. We look at their flaws, the mistakes they made, but we also know that they were heroes. And it took a rare kind of courage, a crazy courage is what Martin Luther King called it, to do what they did, to stand up against these forces of repression and demand freedom.

Jeff: Margaret, expand on the whole self-awareness issue.

Margaret: Yes. First of all, I was surprised to find how many of these leaders actually did draw explicitly on some of the language of the founding fathers and the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution then, and talk about the ways that these promises of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness were explicitly not extended to many groups in American society. But they believed in those promises, and they wanted to extend them, and they drew some power and inspiration and authority from that language. So there was that level of self-awareness, historical self-awareness.

But I think also it’s an interesting question because I think in some ways the more people were aware of their place in history and of these turning points that they were helping to steer, the more effective they were. I think you see that in more recent movements too. Among the people who understood, for example, that the killing of George Floyd was going to be a kind of inflection point and bring people out in the streets. The Black Lives Matter leaders and activists who understood the significance of that moment.

That change in the way people looked at policing and the threats faced by Black people in the streets of our cities. I think that ability is a real, we talked about this earlier a little bit, is a form of leadership that I was really struck by and impressed with in researching this book with David. Some people did have that ability and did have that ability to speak to and for history. That’s a powerful thing.

Jeff: There’s a sense, David, that a lot of these events fed on themselves. There was something in the air at the moment that created so much energy around all these things. Was there a moment when you could tell that the air started to go out of all of these movements?

David: There was a poisonous kind of miasma that started to descend on these movements. I think some of it was burnout, we talked about that. Some of the people were just, I think, tired of going into the streets, being arrested, being beaten. When Nixon Vietnamized, as he put it, the war in Vietnam, putting more of the war on the shoulders of the South Vietnamese Army and bringing American GIs home. Of course, there was less than incentive for many Americans to get involved in the anti-war movement.

But I think there was, because the repression also was so severe and so many arrests, so many beatings, and so many killings, that people began to I think get wary of that as well, and just want to get on with their lives. At some point, I think all movements have a shelf life. That’s why we call the book By the Light of Burning Dreams. They do burn themselves out at some point, and that’s maybe necessary. I think, in this case, we’re looking at a period of about 15 years, where people did amazing things, things that were bigger than they themselves thought were capable of. Leaders grew up from obscurity.

Dennis Banks and Russell Means, both ex-convicts, both with criminal histories. Huey Newton was a violent guy on the streets of Oakland, who then realized that the power of political liberation and Black liberation was something he had to commit his life to. But these were not perfect people. They didn’t come, [inaudible] “from revolutionary heaven.”

They were human beings with little flaws, with character problems, with addiction issues, some of them. They got addicted to the fame, to the glory. Some of them became violent characters. In Huey Newton’s case, became essentially a gangster on the streets of Oakland. We do need accountability for these leaders. We do need to be able to hold them in check in some way, and they have a system of checks and balances. And yet without these leaders, these heroes that we write about, this history would not have been made. That’s clear.

Jeff: Why is it, Margaret, that today we seem to have so much trouble separating that, that we look at people to be perfect. In the perfect stands in the way of the good. It’s so difficult today, and certainly less so then.

Margaret: Yes, there certainly was some of that then. I wrote the chapter on women’s liberation, there was a lot of emphasis on who was the best and the purest feminist. And you didn’t want to be too much of a leader, you didn’t want to be a star, you didn’t want to attract too much attention. It was supposed to be very egalitarian, non-hierarchical, and everything. That was true of progressive movements then, but arguably, maybe even truer now. I think some of what David was saying about the fact that so many leaders were harassed or even assassinated, did create a lot of understandable fear and paranoia about leadership that lasts probably to some extent today. But I think this is a perennial problem of progressive movements. We want to be egalitarian and non-hierarchical and democratic, and that’s all wonderful, but you do need some people to step forward. You need charismatic people, too, who are willing to be stars, as long as, David says, they can also be held accountable.

David: Infiltration was another big problem, Jeff. I just quickly want to add to Margaret. The police infiltration of these movements was widespread and part of, again, FBI strategy with the COINTELPRO program launched by J. Edgar Hoover. These movements often didn’t know who was the police informer or who was someone they could trust. In the case of Dennis Banks, again, from the American Indian Movement, it turned out that his bodyguard who was with him virtually every hour of the day, and his ex-wife were both police agents, became police agents. Literally, the paranoia was so high within these movements, and sometimes unfortunately, it led to people turning on each other. People became focuses of suspicion who should not have been. This was the kind of paranoia that was sowed as strategy, as a tactic, by the government within these movements.

Jeff: Margaret, talk about thinking about today and where we are in all these areas today, as you were working on this book, as you were reliving these experiences.

Margaret: When we were working on this book, last summer, the Black Lives Matter movement was bringing people out in the streets, again. I think we were both very hardened and inspired by that because I think one of the points of this book is that people do sometimes have to get out there and put their bodies on the line in various ways to make change. The fact that that was a movement that, even in a pandemic, brought so many people out was, I think, very inspiring to both of us.

I think for women who are feminists who want to organize around reproductive rights, I think we may need to think of ways that people can provide abortion services and help people get to states where abortion is legal, doing that kind of direct action that we write about with the Jane Collective, and other organizations in the ’60s, because we may actually be facing a post-Roe world in the next year or so. Those kinds of mutual aid and direct action, which you do see examples of today, may have to be a more important part of people’s lives and political strategies.

Jeff: You think this younger generation today can do that?

Margaret: I do. David and I both have young adult children who are very political, and they and their friends give me a lot of hope. I think they are creative and savvy. I think we all worry about is social media/life online draining people’s ability to act in real life. But I’m still hopeful on that front, personally. David, I think you are too, aren’t you?

David: Yes, and that’s partly because the younger activists I do know of, worked with many of them here in San Francisco where I’m politically active, and also my own two sons, and I know Margaret feels the same way about her kids. One son, Joe Talbot, is a director. He made The Last Black Man in San Francisco, a great film. Jimmie Fails, the star of that film who is like another son to my wife and me, spent several years living as a young man in our house.

I believe in Joe and Jimmie’s commitment to creating the kind of art that makes people think, that provokes people. The Last Black Man, I think, had serious things to say about gentrification, and so on, and yet it was a work of art. I liked the fact that, actually, my kid is doing something that’s not explicitly political, but is, in some ways, deeper and can move more people to the power of music and movies and so on.

My other son is more of an activist, Matt. He’s great in his own right and actually pushes his parents and his older brother all the time on different political issues. So I believe in the future. I just heard Jimmy Carter say this on PBS. He and Rosalynn, his wife, were being interviewed on the occasion of their 75th anniversary, amazing, and Jimmy Carter was saying there’s a ripe old age, he believes in America too, and in the power of Americans to do the right thing, ultimately.

I guess in my ripe old age, I’m going to be 70 this year, I believe in that as well. That when push comes to shove, all Americans ultimately do do the right thing. There’s going to be dark years, we saw recently, very dark years under Trump. But ultimately, Americans do the right thing, and as I say, democracy is a day-to-day struggle. They never give up the forces of reaction, of greed, of authoritarianism. They’ll always try and take command, and we have to keep struggling every day. I know we get tired and we burn out, but if we build a movement like they did in the ’60s, it does sustain people for a longer time.

Jeff: David Talbot, Margaret Talbot. The book is By the Light of Burning Dreams: The Triumphs and Tragedies of the Second American Revolution. David, Margaret, I thank you both so much for spending time with us.

Margaret: Thank you.

David: Thank you, Jeff. It was great.

Jeff: Thank you both. And thank you for listening and joining us here on the WhoWhatWhy podcast. I hope you join us next week for another radio WhoWhatWhy podcast. I’m Jeff Schechtman. If you liked this podcast, please feel free to share and help others find it by rating and reviewing it on iTunes. You can also support this podcast and all the work we do by going to

The cartoon above was created by DonkeyHotey for WhoWhatWhy from these images: MLK (AP / Wikimedia), Tom Hayden and Jane Fonda (© Keystone Press Agency/ZUMA Wire), Bobby Seale (1972 University of Michigan yearbook / Wikimedia), Cesar Chavez (Movimiento / Wikimedia – CC BY-SA 3.0), and Dennis Banks (© Kevin McKiernan/ZUMA Wire).


  • Jeff Schechtman

    Jeff Schechtman’s career spans movies, radio stations and podcasts. After spending twenty-five years in the motion picture industry as a producer and executive, he immersed himself in journalism, radio, and more recently the world of podcasts. To date he has conducted over ten-thousand interviews with authors, journalists, and thought leaders. Since March of 2015, he has conducted over 315 podcasts for

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