"The Greening of America"
By Charles A. Reich
This is the Revolution:
This land is your land,
this land is my land,
to the New York Island
- WOODY GUTHRIE
Come on people now
Smile on your brother
Everybody get together
Try to love one another right now
- CHET POWERS,
FOR THE YOUNGBLOODS
There is not any haunt of prophecy,
Nor any old chimera of the grave,
Neither the golden underground, nor isle
Melodious, where spirits gat them home,
Nor visionary south, nor cloudy palm
Remote on heaven's hill, that has endured
As April's green endures; or will endure
- WALLACE STEVENS
America is dealing death, not only to people in other lands, but to its
own people. So say the most thoughtful and passionate of our youth, from
California to Connecticut. This realization is not limited to the new generation.
Talk to a retired school teacher in Mendocino, a judge in Washington, D.C.,
a housewife in Belmont, Massachusetts, a dude rancher in the Washington
Cascades. We think of ourselves as an incredibly rich country, but we are
beginning to realize that we are also a desperately poor country -- poor in
most of the things that throughout the history of mankind have been
cherished as riches.
There is a revolution coming. It will not be like revolutions of the past.
It will originate with the individual and with culture, and it will change
the political structure only as its final act. It will not require violence
to succeed, and it cannot be successfully resisted by violence. It is now
spreading with amazing rapidity, and already our laws, institutions and
social structure are changing in consequence. It promises a higher reason, a
more human community, and a new and liberated individual. Its ultimate
creation will be a new and enduring wholeness and beauty -- a renewed
relationship of man to himself, to other men, to society, to nature, and to
This is the revolution of the new generation. Their protest and rebellion,
their culture, clothes, music, drugs, ways of thought, and liberated life-
style are not a passing fad or a form of dissent and refusal, nor are they
in any sense irrational. The whole emerging pattern, from ideals to campus
demonstrations to beads and bell bottoms to the Woodstock Festival, makes
sense and is part of a consistent philosophy. It is both necessary and
inevitable, and in time it will include not only youth, but all people in
The logic and necessity of the new generation -- and what they are so
furiously opposed to -- must be seen against a background of what has gone
wrong in America. It must be understood in light of the betrayal and loss of
the American dream, the rise of the Corporate State of the 1960's, and the
way in which that State dominates, exploits, and ultimately destroys both
nature and man. Its rationality must be measured against the insanity of
existing "reason" -- reason that makes impoverishment, dehumanization, and
even war appear to be logical and necessary. Its logic must be read from the
fact that Americans have lost control of the machinery of their society, and
only new values and a new culture can restore control. Its emotions and
spirit can be comprehended only by seeing contemporary America through the
eyes of the new generation.
The meaning and the future of the revolution emerge from a perspective on
America. The revolution is a movement to bring man's thinking, his society,
and his life to terms with the revolution of technology and science that has
already taken place. Technology demands of man a new mind -- a higher,
transcendent reason -- if it is to be controlled and guided rather than to
become an unthinking monster. It demands a new individual responsibility for
values, or it will dictate all values. And it promises a life that is more
liberated and more beautiful than any man has known, if man has the courage
and the imagination to seize that life.
The transformation that is coming invites us to reexamine our own lives.
It confronts us with a personal and individual choice: are we satisfied with
how we have lived; how would we live differently? It offers us a recovery of
self. It faces us with the fact that this choice cannot be evaded, for as
the freedom is already there, so must the responsibility be there.
At the heart of everything is what we shall call a change of consciousness.
This means a "new head" -- a new way of living -- a new man. This is what the
new generation has been searching for, and what it has started achieving.
Industrialism produced a new man, too -- one adapted to the demands of the
machine. In contrast, today's emerging consciousness seeks a new knowledge
of what it means to be human, in order that the machine, having been built, may
now be turned to human ends; in order that man once more can become a
creative force, renewing and creating his own life and thus giving life back to his
We have all known the loneliness, the emptiness, the isolation of contemporary
America. Our forebears came thousands of miles for the promise of a better life.
Now there is a new promise. Shall we not seize it? Shall we not be pioneers once
more? The breakdown of the Corporate State and the growth of radicalism would
still lead nowhere, would still justify only despair, if there were not a new vision. It
is the power of the vision that can turn hope into reality.
The extraordinary thing about this new consciousness is that it has emerged out
of the wasteland of the Corporate State, like flowers pushing up through the
concrete pavement. Whatever it touches it beautifies and renews: a freeway
entrance is festooned with happy hitchhikers, the sidewalk is decorated with street
people, the humorless steps of an official building are given warmth by a group of
musicians. And every barrier falls before it. We have been dulled and blinded to the
injustice and ugliness of slums, but it sees them as just that -- injustice and
ugliness -- as if persuaded that giant organizations are necessary, but it sees that
they are absurd, as if the absurdity had always been obvious and apparent. We
have all been induced to give up our dreams of adventure and romance in favor of
the escalator of success, but it says that the escalator is a sham and the dream is
real. And these things, buried, hidden, and disowned in so many of us, are shouted
out loud, believed in, affirmed by a growing multitude of young people who seem
too healthy, intelligent, and alive to be wholly insane, who appear, in their collective
strength, capable of making it happen. For one almost convinced that it was
necessary to accept ugliness and evil, that it was necessary to be a miser of
dreams, it is an invitation to cry or laugh. For one who thought the world was
irretrievably encased in metal and plastic and sterile stone, it seems a veritable
greening of America.
- Excerpted from The Greening of America by Charles A. Reich (New York:
Random House, 1970).
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