: New: Book Report: Set the Night on Fire: L.A. in the Sixties

CW: police violence

It's a survey of 1960s Los Angeles radical politics. This is a long book; Los had so much radical politics back then. As you read the history, you find out why there was so much. Back then, an Angeleno who said "Maybe we could treat [ black | brown | Asian | Latino white | queer | teen-aged | female | et al ] people with dignity" was quickly classified a radical by the local press, police, and political machine. When you ask, how was this group radicalized; the answer is either "We wouldn't consider their goals radical today, but The Man of the 1960s felt differently." or "The Man of the 1960s felt they were radical, convinced some of Los' impressively-violent local law enforcement to [ harass | hospitalize | murder ] them, and the group fought back."

Los Angeles was worse off than most of the world back then, equality-wise, but Angelenos couldn't rely on help from the more-enlightened outside world. The outside world was better, but it wasn't much better. The FBI was still under control of J. Edgar Hoover, and quite ready to [ harass | hospitalize ] these groups, certainly wouldn't help them. During this time Ronald Reagan became governor of California, voted in because he condemned those Berkeley folks who said the USA wasn't winning the war in Vietnam. Going through this book, occasionally you read about some USA federal legal authority standing up against LAPD; but it's rare and surprising. You might hope the USSR would help some of these groups, and it sometimes did. But often the USSR would put conditions on aid: pretend the USSR was a positive example of a nation treating its people well. So a radical group that wanted USSR money to spread influence would sacrifice credibility—and thus lose influence.

This isn't a feel-good history; but it is interesting. You won't read about these marginalized groups coming to power; it's just that eventually a new mayor comes along who doesn't get votes through group-baiting. There's no grand triumph; just a letting-up of violent persecution; the establishment of some Ethnic Studies departments at universities.

But it is interesting.

As I was reading this book, one of the authors, Mike Davis (a.k.a. City of Quartz guy), was diagnosed with terminal cancer. That didn't help to dispel the bummer aura over this history.

Tags: book brutal truth