THE THIRTY YEARS' WARS Dispatches and Diversions of a Radical Journalist 1965-1994 Verso, 1995, 514 Pages Revi e wed by Eric Jacks on AGENDA Associate Editor The boundary between joumalism and activism is an often-jumped fence, throughout modem history and all along the political spectrum The most defensive and insecure hacks in the mainstream corporate news media often sniff about how "real journalists" don't have a point of view, that to have ideas is to lack "objectivity " Individuals and institutions sometimes jump on the bandwagon when convenient, for example by a willingness to talk to The AnnArbor News but not to AGENDA But the late Andrew Kopkind's fence-jumping was extraordinary. After a first-class education at Cornell and the London School of Economics, he went to work for The Washington Post, then for the Los Angeles bureau of Time. It was an eminently respectable "straight" journalistic career, but not the way for this man to fulfill his potential. For one thing, Kopkind wasn't "straight." In the book's autobiographical prologue, he recounts the tale of howa run-in with the LAPD uncovered his carefully-closeted homosexuality, and how Time sent him to a shrink who claimed an ability to "cure" gayness. Kopkind went along with the program for a while, then landed a job with The New Republic. At The New Republic in 1965, Kopkind blossomed into a reporter who defined a generation. His repons from the Deep South not only detailed the beatings and arrests that put Selma on the map, but also the part of the story that the hacks ignored - what the grassroots activists were thinking, how lives, both black and white, were affected. Through The New Republic Kopkind introduced the nation to the Black Power Movement and Students for a Democratie Society. Kopkind also wrote for an international audience as the U.S. correspondent for Britain's New Statesman, contributed to Ramparts - the flagship of '60s radical joumalism - and penned a famous series of essays in The New York Review ofBooks. Want to understand what the Black Panther Party was all about? Like to know the dynamics that drove first the Weatherpeople, then many others, to violent opposition to the Vietnam War? You will find these in essays collected in this anthology. These are sensational tales, but also stories about real people's real lives. The mainstream reporters got the sensation, but usually spoke down to their audience by presenting the actors in the '60s dramas as if they were cardboard images. Kopkind wrote for real, thinking people, about real, thinking people. Though he was older than most of those of whom he wrote and those who liked his writing best - people like me, a teenage Weatherman in 1969 - he was one of us. He didn't live in one of our collectives, and wasn't subject to any party's discipline, but when people were on the run after a New York bomb factory blew up in 1970, he didn't think twice before lending assistance. The 70s brought a disillusionment that caused most activists to withdraw from politics and pursue personal goals. Kopkind reponed that, too, with great style. His essay on how war activist Rennie Da vis feil into a teenage guru's cult, one of the book's highlights, went beyond the usual snickers and delved deeply into the psycho-sexual politics of the cult phenomenon Those times saw Kopkind, too, undergo personal transformations. He moved to a Vermom commune for a while, and came out publicly as the gay man that he was He continued his essays and reviews in publications like The Boston Phoenix and co-produced "Lavender Hour," the first gay and lesbian show on U.S. commercial radio. Included in "The Thirty Years' Wars" are several essays on the gay experience, from Stonewall to the military gay subculture to the AIDS plague. From 1982 until his death of cáncer in 1994, Kopkind was an editor with The Nation. From Nancy Reagan's perversions to yuppie fern bars to the selling of Bill Clinton, he took it all in. The best appears in "The Thirty Years' Wars." This isn't just a book about politics, narrowly defined If the cocaine culture, the disco scène, Stallone's Rambo flicks or what happened to Janis Joplin, John Lennon and Pee-Wee Herman qualify in your mind, you could cali it all political But really it's just the truth about a broad panorama of situations and events, seen through the lens of a brilliant man who was honest about who he was. If you want to understand three decades of the ups and downs of the American left, this book will help you do that. If you're a history buff but the Panthers and the Weatherpeople andjesse Jacksons Rainbow Coalition all bore you, read this book and you'll be entertained about those and myriad other subjects. Most of all, if you fancy yourself as a journalist - actual or potential - read "The Thirty Years' Wars " and learn how to get the story right.
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