1968: A Year Like Any Other?

This week, the class had to attend panels at the Global ’68 Symposium at Loyola. I attended three of the panels and the movie showing for the week (Medium Cool). The three panels I attended were: “Resistance and Riots, Murders and Martyrs,” “Catholics at a Crossroads,” and “Struggles for Justice: Race, Class, Gender, and Immigration in 1968.” As each event focused on Chicago, US, and international politics and events from 1968 to today, I began noticing the patriarchal structure and hypocrisy of the Church (and world governments in general) which many members still deal and struggle with today to a farther extent than I have before.


When one of the panelists, Kathleen Belew, discussed white power, I made connections to our older class discussions about Catholic voters. Not everybody in white power movements agrees on the same issues, just like Catholic voters do not all agree on the same issues. Both of these matters are easily assumed to be the opposite. It is important to remember the dynamics of a person’s point of view within a broad movement. The importance of noticing differing sides of a movement was brought up throughout the Symposium. 1968 was a year of conflict and every conflict has more than one side.

In the same panel as Belew, Firmin DeBrabander discussed the gun right’s movements. Along with discussing the hypocrisy of the NRA and their largest supporters, DeBrabander dissuaded the argument that the public needs guns to defend themselves from a tyrannical government. When the US military is so well-funded, it would be impossible for a single gun owner to withstand the force which would come from a tyrannical government in the US. As seen through the week’s movie event of Medium Cool, the 1968 Chicago protests exemplified the outcomes which would occur if a police-state went against the general public. 1968 around the world, not just the United States and Chicago, showed the troubles for individuals or small groups to stand up to a powerful government.

Democracies should allow the public to demonstrate their views through protests, but Communism and other governments which theoretically praise protest and revolution are also not acting on their word. In panelist Alan Shane Dillingham’s presentation, kickback from Mexico’s 1968 student movements was discussed. When the protestors in Mexico were criticized by the government, it is important to note the history of the political party in power—the PRI. The PRI gained power through their own revolutions and are literally called the Institutional Revolutionary Party. In a government which would presumably accept and encourage protest, the opposite happens if it means maintaining their own power. Also, in the Communist government of Poland, students began questioning Marxist discourse and how the government actually acts (Malgorzata Fidelis). However, as Communism encourages revolution, people under a Communist regime were frequently punished if they acted in protest.

As many governments acted contrary to discoursal expectations, the Catholic church did and continues to, act against expectations. Previously discussed in class and in another blog post, traditionally Catholics were considered second-class citizens and heavily discriminated against. However, even when Catholics have felt discrimination themselves, the Church is quick to discriminate other groups—like women, the LGBTQ community and the 1968 Humanae Vitae. The discussions of the “Catholics at a Crossroads” panel demonstrated the divides which still exist today in regard to discriminatory actions of the Church. As one of the audience members asked the panelists why they have decided to stay in the Church, the answers varied across the board. For many, the struggle is continuous—especially faced with the patriarchal structure of the Church.


As the first event of the week was the showing of Medium Cool, the stark sexism in the political movements of 1968 was evident. Although the film focused on Chicago, this sexist structure is apparent throughout the US and the world. The patriarchal nature of political movements mirrors that of the Catholic Church and the Catholic Left. The woman characters were quickly pushed aside, literally and figuratively, by the main character of Medium Cool. The women’s justifications and suggestions were ignored without any pause. Women in movements of the mid-twentieth century were pushed away and discredited frequently. As scholar Marian Mollin compares the hardships of women activists with the struggles of Catholic women, “the masculinized nature of the Catholic Left—the ways in which radical protests were gendered male… The Catholic Left was, at its core, a prime example of how the politics of identity, in this case masculine identity, indelibly shaped the culture of American radical dissent” (Mollin, 51). Women in movements were not allowed to speak their mind because of the machismo which fuels and festers in political unrest.

However, like any movement, there is more than one side. With the Vatican II fresh in the minds of Catholics in 1968, some women began to find their rightful duty by participating in political movements compared to the traditional ideal of a silent woman. Prior to the 1960s and Vatican II, women, especially nuns, were expected to express their views with silence. In the words of scholar Kathleen Brosnan, “[the nuns] presence was essential to the Church, but so was their quietude within its patriarchal structures” (Brosnan, 10). By staying silent, the women were considered to be acting politically—“the conscious avoidance of controversy… allowed them to pursue their larger goals in a public forum” (Brosnan, 10). However, I find this similar to the discussions of Communist and revolutionary governments oppressing the expressions of parties who are threatening their current state of power. When there are nuns who later consider directly acting in political protest the true duty they have been called to do, like Sister Mary Peters described in an interview with Studs Terkel, the credibility of women in political movements or the Church should be reevaluated. This was not a genuine assumption about the ability of women to act politically and in protests, but a victim of genetic determinism pushed in international power struggles. Although 1968 provided a tumultuous year of events around the world, it was still victim to the same power struggles which continue to exist.


Referenced Work:

Brosnan, Kathleen A. “Public Presence, Public Silence: Nuns, Bishops, and the Gendered Space of Early Chicago.” The Catholic Historical Review 90, no. 3 (2004): 473-496.

Mollin, Marian. “Communities of Resistance: Women and the Catholic Left of the Late 1960s.” The Oral History Review 31, no. 2 (2004): 29-51.

Photos by me, unless otherwise noted.

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