There's a battle outside and it's raging

Mark Levison, The Levison Group

There’s lots of new-fangled ways to get music these days. “New-fangled” is probably not a term lawyers younger than me would use. They say things like “killer” audio systems with “drop dead” sound quality, and rely upon various other adjectives to connote positive attributes that sound like criminal charges to me. At any rate, today there are music sites that let us snatch music out of the air somehow and play it in our homes or on our so-called “devices.” My wife Cheryl, who is a little more technically advanced than me, recently bought some kind of mobile contraption that broadcasts music in conjunction with a designated “tablet.” (When I hear that word I still think of Moses not Bill Gates). For a monthly fee, she subscribed to a company, Spotify, that provided a vast variety of music to download. I’m not particularly comfortable with the term “download,” as it seems to have a certain aspect of magic to it, but then so do light bulbs, telephones and ouija boards. Anyway, she decided to make a playlist for me.

Knowing me well, the first song she selected was the 60s anthem “The Times They Are A-Changing.” It took me back to the difficult conflict of those days. In those times many of us questioned our entire legal/political system, highlighted by the protests and/or lawlessness (depending on one’s perspective) of the 1968 Democratic Convention. Those were the days of the Black Power movement, the Women’s movement, the Environmental movement and, of course, the Peace movement. Those were times of conflict and tension with the police. I have first-hand knowledge of that tension, for at that time I was a speechwriter for a left leaning U.S. Senator, a roommate with the local head of the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), and, by the way, I was a policeman. It was a period of domestic conflict and generational warfare. As I was listening to the protestations and warnings of Bob Dylan last night, I couldn’t help thinking that America seems to have circled back around into a cycle of internal conflict once again.

Police today, like in the 60s, are under extreme scrutiny. I remember being called a pig, and to many, the police were the enemy then. To some, it’s the same today. Blacks and women were moving their agendas forward in the 60’s and confronting our legal and social systems. At least since the events in Ferguson, and up to the most recent shootings in Louisiana and Minnesota, Black issues have come to the fore once again – although in a somewhat different fashion. Today, the Women’s movement is, in some ways, being represented by the first female candidate for the presidency nominated by a major party. In 1968, we were over a decade away from the first female justice of the Supreme Court. Today, recent focus on the Court has centered around the anti-Trump comments of Ruth Bader Ginsberg. Justice Ginsberg is one of three female justices currently serving on the Supreme Court.

That numerical difference on the Supreme Court is evidence that some of Dylan’s forecasted changes, and the efforts of the younger generation of that time, have yielded positive results. The fact that many young females are not necessarily pro-Clinton simply because she is a woman is a positive sign that we have progressed. Today there are so many elected female politicians serving in our local, state and federal governments that many young women don’t feel a sense of political or legal discrimination. Their parents’ generation — the ones that fought for some of the progress we have today – often doesn’t seem quite as content with the progress. In the 60s, the perceived enemy to the American way of life, and to our legal system, was supposed to be communism. Today, the enemy is not an empire with an antagonistic political philosophy like the USSR. Today’s threat, terrorism, is more amorphous.

Terrorism comes in different packages. There was the 9/11 attack perpetrated internally by foreigners. But there is also the seemingly ever increasing internal attacks such as the Tsarnaev brothers in Boston, the Tashfeen Malik/Syed Rizwan Farook couple in San Bernardino and Omar Mateen in Orlando. But it’s not simple. Micah Xavier Johnson and Gavin Long, the shooters of police in Dallas and Baton Rouge are terrorists in their own right. Today’s American shooters, alone or in twos, often have mixed agendas, and contributing mental health issues. The issues of increasing amounts of guns and open carry laws make catastrophic events more likely and policing more difficult.

In the 60s, Southeast Asia seemed to be the only dangerous region in the world. Today, the danger resides less in places like Vietnam and more inside America itself– inside its cities, inside its individuals and inside its attitudes about guns, policing, immigrants and race relations.

Through all these years, the constant that we have been able to rely upon has been the American legal system. It bends, it adjusts, it’s not always perfect. Nevertheless, it deals with lawlessness, it deals with dissent, and it deals with the evolution of the law and society. Although lawlessness and civil disobedience is often in the eyes of the beholder, in America the law is something we can generally rely on to eventually sort it all out. As we embark upon the season of political conventions, 1968, the Chicago Seven and Judge Hoffman come to mind to some of us who were there back then. What is old is new. Maybe the past is prologue. Maybe The Times They Are A-Changing — again.


© 2016 Under Analysis, LLC. Under Analysis is a nationally syndicated column of the Levison Group. Mark Levison is a member of the law firm of Lashly & Baer. Contact Under Analysis by e-mail at


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