When I was very young, probably around ten or twelve, I first saw Billy Jack, a couple of years after it had first come out.

Jean : You just can’t keep making your own laws. There’s got to be one set of laws fair for everyone, including you.

Billy Jack : That’s fine. When that set of laws is applied to everyone, then I’ll turn the other cheek too.

Jean : There’s got to be a better way to change those people.

Billy Jack : CHANGE those people? You worked with King, didn’t you?

Jean : Yes!

Billy Jack : Where is he?

Jean : Dead.

Billy Jack : And where’s Bob and Jack Kennedy?

Jean : Dead.

Billy Jack : Not “dead”, their brains blown out! Because YOUR people wouldn’t even put the same controls on their guns as they do on their dogs, their bicycles, their cats, and their automobiles.

What can this social history tell us about how to procede today? On the flip …

crossposted at Liberal Street Fight
Little did I know, as a very young person, that Tom Laughlin’s little independent film was part of a massive shift in politics within popular culture. The counter-culture and it’s politics were brought directly to the public, circumventing the mainstream outlets. Music, books and film. “Billy Jack”, “Sweet Sweetback’s Baad Asssss Song”, Jefferson Airplane, Marvin Gaye and so many others.

However, though this isn’t about Billy Jack, I’m going to talk about why that film, and Tom Laughlin announcing that Billy Jack Is Ready to Fight the Good Fight Again, gives me hope.

In the comment thread in the crossposting of Either/Or at dailykos this past weekend, wytcld commented:

The 60s was a watershed for both the cultural and political “counter.” Neither quite fulfilled its promise (yet … both broadcast seeds for the future), but of the two flanks, the political was arguably weaker than the cultural. That’s why the modern right is fighting a cultural war on a political battlefield – they’re relatively stronger in politics and we’re relatively stronger in culture.

We need better political armaments, and we’re developing them here. But we also might consider shifting more of the war to the battlefield where we were more successful and potent last time around: culture. Just as they’re talking about culture but fighting on a political battlefield, might we talk about politics but fight on a cultural battlefield?

We are at that point now. In the last year or so, numerous documentaries (“F911”, “Unprecented” et al), and overtly political songs (“Mosh”, “Imagine” covered by A Perfect Circle, the latest System of a Down), have been popping up. New ways of talking about politics, about liberal ideas and returning America to a more rational and humane political culture, have begun to slowly change the public debate. The question going forward is one posed by wytcld. Will enough political leaders have the courage to utilize and reinforce these new ways of looking at the world?

So far, the signs are not good. The Democratic Party ran away from Michael Moore’s “Farenheit 911” during last year’s campaign, after flirting with utilizing its points when the movie came out. Numerous films and books enumerated the various ways that the Bush Administration lied to the country about the war, about how they have much too cozy a relationship with the House of Saud. Songs cried for change. The politicians capitalized on NONE of it.

We’re back in ’71 in so many ways. The military is making the same kind of mistakes and telling the same kind of lies. A corrupt Republican Administration is mired in dirty dealings and pursuing an unjust war and condoning war crimes, and viciously attacking whistleblowers and patriots who try to expose their crimes.

What is the “opposition” party doing about it? With a few noble exceptions, not much. As Tom Laughlin put it in the New York Times:

Now the man who created and personified Billy Jack, Tom Laughlin – the writer, director, producer and actor – is determined to take on the establishment again, and his concerns are not so terribly different. Mr. Laughlin (and therefore Billy Jack) is angry about the war in Iraq and about the influence of big business in politics. And he still has a thing for the nuclear power industry.

“I’m going to say a lot of egregious things,” Mr. Laughlin, 73, announced at the start of an interview at his home here in the rolling horse country east of Los Angeles. His face is creased with deep lines, his hair a bleached gray, but he is still entirely recognizable as the handsome Billy Jack.

“We despise both political parties, really loathe them,” he said. (“We” might be Mr. Laughlin and his alter ego, or it might include his wife, Delores Taylor, who played Billy Jack’s pacifist partner, Jean; but one doesn’t interrupt the man lightly.)

“We the people have no representative of any kind,” he continued. “It’s now the multinationals. They’ve taken over. It’s no different than the 70’s, but it’s gotten worse. And if you use words like ‘impeachment’ or ‘fascist’ you’re a nut on a soapbox.”

That anger is the legacy of the failure of the Democratic Party to take up the fight at the side of liberal culture back when it had the chance. My hope is that this time, with a newly energized left, using tools like the internet, desktop publishing and music studios and film editing booths that fit on an easily carried laptop. Camera phones can document police abuses against protestors and send them out immediately, wirelessly. Armies of dedicated netizens practice distributed citizen journalism to expose official lies. These are tools that the left didn’t have three decades ago.

I’m glad to see that a passion for change and social justice doesn’t fade with time. I hope Tom Laughlin will raise the funds he needs to make Billy Jack’s Crusade, but I’m sure that people we haven’t heard from yet are going to change the way we look at things, that new works of film, art, music and writing will shake up the debate, reawaken our moribund political culture.

The Reagan Revolution tapped in on popular culture at the time to cement their power, a power that has only grown since. It is incumbent on those of us who are politically active to encourage and back up a newly progressive Democratic Party that can use that energy to enact change. We have a chance to do it right this time. Let’s not blow it.

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