(Listening to America: A traveler rediscovers his country, by Bill Moyers. Published 1971.)
I just finished reading Bill Moyer's travelogue, published the year after I was born. I know I was born on an air force base in north north north texas, since my dad had been drafted, but for some reason I still think of the time around my birth as being relatively calm. I guess the artificial divides of the "the sixties" and "the seventies" lead to me consider that we'd landed on the moon, and everyone was sitting around drinking cocktails, marvelling at what a crazy time we'd just had, and waiting for for the next part of the show to begin.( "Apparently, they'll be inventing PUNK rock! I hear it's AWFUL!", one party-goer will say to another.)
Of course history isn't ever that neat, and reading this book 35 years later, you get an idea of how messy it can actually be. Having concluded time as Deputy Director of the Peace Corp, "special assistant" to President Johnson, and publisher of NEWSDAY, Moyers spent a summer driving through America, asking people what was on their minds, and listening. It turns out they had a lot to say. America was worried about: the long hairs, unions, school integration (bussing), the war, immigration, the trade deficit, identity politics of several varieties, race, zoning, and how one person can actually make a difference. Moyers really lets the folks he interviews speak their minds, and the book is full of minute details about each issue, but it's fascinating anyway.
What resonates throughout all of the complaints is a pervasive sense that there's something worth saving about the country. It's rather amazing to see how much differently folks interpreted the idea of patriotism; there seems to be a genuine sense of dialog between opposing factions at many of the towns that Moyers stops at along the way.
Most of what people were worried about 35 years ago is still with us today. The country was in a war that many of the citizens opposed, and most folks had a hard time explaining to each other what it's purpose was. Anytime anyone speaks about the war, it's fairly uncanny, as we spiral ever deeper into Iraq and the Israel-Lebanon crisis gets more explosive daily.
Stepping back in time, to a day when MLK was a person whose loss was freshly felt, when the nation's youth were testing their voices and being heard, and when someone could ask a question, and know how to simply listen to the answer, is a powerful experience...I finished reading this book with a much fuller picture of what America was, and is.