The Company You Keep

I recently saw the movie “The Company You Keep” which revolves around the re-emergence and capture of aging Weather Underground members who had long ago changed identities, re-integrated into society, and made new lives for themselves. If you’re like me and aren’t familiar with the Weather Underground, here’s a bit of background.

The Weather Underground was an extremist communist group formed in 1969 from from dissidents in the SDS (Student Democratic Society). The group opposed racism, sexism, classism, traditional sexual values (promoting open relationships and bisexuality), and Vietnam. They felt the US government was guilty of all these crimes, and combined with daily horrifying images of the war in Vietnam on the news, friends and family members lost overseas, and a the draft threatening more of the same in the future, they were driven to action.They were of the opinion that all avenues of peaceful protest had been explored and exhausted. Violence was all that was left to them to bring about necessary change.

The group staged a number of violent riot protests, and a number of bombings throughout the 1970’s. It’s worth noting that the film itself painted the group more unfavorably than history supports. All their bombing targets were empty at the time of attack, were given warnings that the attack would occur, and always came with explicit reasons for the bombings. The bank robbery they mention in the film — which did result in the death of two police officers and a security guard — occurred after the group had been disbanded by former members.

This kind of driven idealism will no doubt resonate with many right now given the tumultuous socio-political climate we’re enduring. Personally, I sympathize with an idealist version of this group’s motives, but in reality I think they were misguided, and would have left the country in a far worse position had they succeeded in their goal to overthrow the government.

Aside from the riveting history revolving around the group, I found it interesting to contrast it against my own experience with youth rebellion. I grew up in the space between Desert Storm and 9/11, so my generation didn’t have any great, unifying cause to get behind. Instead, when I think of my own rebellion, I think of stories and attitudes expressed in the songs by bands like Blink-182, which revolve around abstract rebellious behavior and a general sense of feeling lost and seeking.

It may seem that one of these expression is preferable to the other, but I think they both hold their pros and cons. For instance, when your rebellion has a very tangible goal, like ending a war, you have a definitive measurement of success, whereas my form of rebellion can’t truly be satiated by an outside force. Instead, it is simply the expression of trying to find oneself through experience, which only ends when one settles into themselves. Alternatively, the down side of the former is that one can find themselves lost after their goal is achieved, since striving for the goal is what defined the person. This can lead to a rejection of the object, and a perpetual moving of the bar to perpetuate one’s sense of purpose. Of course, it’s possible to find a balance between these two states, and perhaps that is the most desirable.

Regardless of what form youth rebellion takes, I feel it all stems from three main places: the need to affect change in the world, which naturally necessitates a rejection of those who would do it for you or tell you how to do it; rejection of the social acceptance or complacency of injustice; and the drive to find oneself and live a meaningful life. Regardless of how this is expressed, I feel that without it, it becomes very difficult for a person to be set onto the path of self-actualization, which is something we should strive for in ourselves, and encourage in everyone else.

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