75 years ago on October 9, 1940, John Lennon - musical genius and iconic spokesperson for a generation was born. His musical legacy speaks for itself. But John understood the power of music to bring about positive change, perhaps more than anyone before him. More importantly,
John understood that his music could mobilize people to activism on behalf of positive causes.
John Lennon truly believed in the power of the people.
John earned the love and admiration of his generation. He did so by creating a huge body of work that inspired and enlightened. John did not use his celebrity for his own enrichment or self aggrandizement though. He used it to promote the concept of peace. He used it to promote social justice. He used it to expose "the establishment"...in his words "just a name for evil"...a monster.
In 1969 John said the monster was out of control. I would say John using his position of fame as sort of a bully pulpit to promote causes greater than himself endeared him ever more to those of us who lived through these times.
John became a vocal proponent of peace and anti-war activist...alas also a high-profile example of the lengths to which the "monster", the establishment, those in power would go to persecute those who dare to challenge their right to control society.
For those who were not born until after this era; long before today's whistleblowers were being castigated for exposing war crimes or the NSA's abuse of it's surveillance powers.
Before Snowden, Manning, or Julian Assange were born, President Richard Nixon & FBI director J. Edgar Hoover demonstrated the lengths people in power would go to in order to keep that power.
Long after John's assassination, it was discovered that the FBI had collected 281 pages of files on him, including song lyrics, a letter from J. Edgar Hoover directing the agency to spy on the musician, and orders calling on various government agents to stage a phony drug bust on Lennon.
We rightfully criticize domestic surveillance today as an invasion of privacy.
However, the US government's actions regarding John Lennon demonstrate just how easily surveillance becomes an instrument for the people in power to try to hold on to power.
The 2006 documentary "The U.S. vs. John Lennon" is the story of a man being harassed by government but even more so the story of a democracy undermined.
The grievances we have about government today:
undue surveillance, militarism, corruption, harassment, SWAT team raids, political persecution, racism, brutality, spying, political crimes, graft and coercion of policy by the corporate and the extremely wealthy., etc. were present as well in Lennon’s day.
They framed a basis for John championing social justice, peace and a populist revolution.
"POWER TO THE PEOPLE." "GIVE PEACE A CHANCE".
I should mention that I am staunchly not against government, I believe democracy is good.
However as John once said “The trouble with government as it is, is that it doesn’t represent the people. It controls them.”
In December of 1971 at a concert in Ann Arbor, Mich., John took to the stage and sang“John Sinclair,” a song he had written about a man sentenced to 10 years in prison for possessing two marijuana cigarettes. Within days of Lennon’s call for action, the Michigan Supreme Court ordered Sinclair released. What John did not likely know was that that crowd in Michigan included many FBI agents assigned to "neutralize" him. They took notes on who attended the show and oddly their opinions on the artistic merits of his songs. The US government was spying on John Lennon.
Lennon released the song 'Power to the People" and the album "Sometime In New York City" later that year which contained overtly political ideas in every track and depicted Richard Nixon and Mao Tse-tung dancing nude on the cover, it fanned the flames of paranoia in the powers in charge.
In 1972 Lennon planned to embark on a U.S. concert tour that would combine rock music with antiwar organizing and voter registration. Nixon, fearing Lennon’s influence on about 11 million new voters (1972 was the first year that 18-year-olds could vote), had the ex-Beatle served with deportation orders “in an effort to silence him as a voice of the peace movement.”
John of course was not the only one persecuted or harassed for his beliefs by those entrusted with government powers. Pete Seeger, Pablo Picasso, Charlie Chaplin, Lenny Bruce, and Allen Ginsberg all experienced the wrath of the established hierarchy. Among those most closely watched by the FBI was Martin Luther King Jr. who had wiretaps and electronic bugs planted in his home and office.
King was kept under constant surveillance by the FBI with the aim of “neutralizing” him. He even received letters written by FBI agents suggesting that he either commit suicide or the details of his private life would be revealed to the public. The FBI kept up its pursuit of King until he was felled by a hollow-point bullet to the head in 1968.
Though there's no evidence John was blackmailed like King, he was the subject of a four-year campaign of surveillance and harassment . The FBI file on John shows that memos and reports about the FBI’s surveillance had been flying back and forth between Hoover, the Nixon White House, various senators, the FBI and the U.S. Immigration Office. Nixon wanted him "neutralized". He wanted him deported.
Nixon’s pursuit of Lennon was relentless and based on the misguided belief that Lennon and his comrades were planning to disrupt the 1972 Republican National Convention. This paranoia was misplaced. While John indeed met with left wing activists who were on Nixon's "enemies" list, he said when they spoke of riots he'd have nothing to do with such a thing. He said in a 1980 interview in Rolling Stone, “We said, We ain’t buying this. We’re not going to draw children into a situation to create violence so you can overthrow what? And replace it with what? . . . It was all based on this illusion, that you can create violence and overthrow what is, and get communism or get some right-wing lunatic or a left-wing lunatic. They’re all lunatics.”
"WHILE THERE'S LIFE THERE'S HOPE"
As you probably know the government persisted in its efforts to have him deported. But John was equally determined to resist, he fought back. Every time he was ordered out of the country, his lawyers delayed the process by filing an appeal. Finally, in 1976, Lennon won the battle.
He said afterwards, “I have a love for this country.... This is where the action is. I think we’ll just go home, open a tea bag, and look at each other.”
Lennon’s repose didn’t last long, however. By 1980, he had a new album and plans to become politically active again. He was ready to cause trouble for the empire and the pharaohs once again.
His final interview was on Dec. 8, 1980 and John said "The whole map’s changed and we’re going into an unknown future, but we’re still all here, and while there’s life there’s hope.”
That very evening, when John returned to his apartment building, Mark David Chapman was waiting for him.
John was neutralized.
You may kill a messenger, but not the message.
In his words, and his music he lives on
John spoke truth to power.
Yoko Ono said of John -
“A man of humble origin, John brought light and hope to the whole world with his words and music. He tried to be a good power for the world, and he was. He gave encouragement, inspiration and dreams to people regardless of their race, creed and gender.”
In conclusion, peace remains out of reach.
Activists continue to be neutralized.
Whistleblowers continue to be prosecuted.
Militarism is on the rise.
The rich have become unfathomably richer at the expense of everyone else.
Children still go to bed hungry.
Not much has changed since we lost John's voice.
I and I'm sure many of you joined with John in imagining.
Imagining peace. Fairness.
Of course it's getting more and more difficult to reconcile that imaging with the reality we experience. With the news of a Doctors Without Borders Hospital being bombed.
John's not here to comment. But I imagine he might say something similar to this.
“Peace is not something you wish for; It’s something you make,
Something you do, Something you are,
And something you give away.”
“If you want peace, you won’t get it with violence.”
Happy Birthday John Lennon.
Glad to have traveled with you!
You are missed.