|Journeying the Sixties: A Counterculture Tarot|
“We are all here because we are frightened. There are some people I’d rather not live with, but I’d rather live with them than die with them.”
--A grandmother participating in the Women’s Strike for Peace, the largest women’s peace action in American history, November 1, 1961
Sexless, skeletal death has passed over. A womanly angel named Temperance now holds the ground. Scorched soil reasserts its flora and the angel’s presence restores a delicate, momentary balance. The Rider-Waite Tarot card shows Temperance standing, one foot in water and one foot on land. And these women of the Counterculture card, facing soldiers armed for battle, express the fluid force of peaceful resolution while firmly and immovably planted on the hard earth. Germinating in the scythe’s wake is the renewal of commitment, the restoration of equilibrium.
The beguilingly simple principle of non-violent direct action was well described by Liberation magazine editor Barbara Demming while jailed during a 1964 peace march from Washington D.C. to Guantanamo Bay. She noted that by appealing to the better self of the opponent, practitioners of non-violence hoped “to force the other person to acknowledge a human relationship and act accordingly.” The goal, she said, was to make oppressors consider “whether they are willing not so much to take any more punishment, which is the question of violent struggle, but whether they want to deal out any more punishment.” Indeed, the sight of racists pouring mustard and ketchup on polite, neatly attired black students sitting at lunch counters (not to mention pulling them off their stools) created feelings of embarrassment and outrage, even among segregationists. And when the House Un-American Activities Committee tried to investigate Women Strike for Peace, mothers turned the hearings into a circus. “They brought cribs, suckled infants, and created an instant child-care center,” wrote WSP activist Ruth Rosen. “They hoped to persuade the public that their defense of children was morally superior to the arms race.”
The moderation of conflict is the Temperance angel’s strongest suit as she stands between the apocalyptic finality of Death and the raving excesses of The Devil. Yet non-violence emerged as more than just a Counterculture tactic of political struggle. It became a premise of commitment that underpinned personal beliefs and daily behavior. John Lennon remarked more than once that embracing “peace” had cured him of perpetrating violence against his first wife. The essentially “feminine” qualities of passive resistance, ridiculed by manly warriors outside the Counterculture, seemed evident in a hippy male’s long hair and textured, colorful clothing, or the universally transmitted victory “V” hand sign of peace. Peace was not imposed, but emerged from within: the work of Temperance and her alignment with humanistic harmonies. Freedom from coercion and relief from stress seemed admirable enough human achievements, as were altruism and the recognition that all humans were essentially brothers and sisters. Abbie Hoffman had studied psychology with Abraham Maslow at Brandeis University and understood Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. “Existential, altruistic, and upbeat,” said Hoffman. “His teaching became my personal code.” We would rather dance than fight. We would make love, not war.