Jul 16, 2018
Madison, Wisconsin in the 1960s was one of the most radicalized university campuses in the country. It was a center for the kind of counter culture that has come to feel like a cliché today. There was plenty of sex, drugs, and rock & roll, sure. But there was also political activism, civil rights, environmentalism.
Because of the University of Wisconsin, thousands of young people move through Madison and take the values of the city with them when they leave.
Earlier this summer, The Madison Reunion brought over one thousand people with ties to Madison in the 60s back together for three days of meetings, discussions and panels, held at the University of Wisconsin's Memorial Union. The event was billed as “a party with a purpose” and had the feeling of both a nostalgic walk down memory lane and a reignition for a generation of activists who were referred to by journalist Jeff Greenfield as “the long ago young”.
Although I wasn’t in Madison in the 1960s, it is fair to say that I’m a byproduct of that time. My parents met there in the mid 60s and I grew up in Madison in the shadow of the revolution, part of a generation that was raised to feel that we had just missed something major.
So at the Madison Reunion, I moderated a panel of three other Madison natives, all of whom left Madison after high school, to talk about the impact of the city, the values and the Madison-state-of-mind on their lives, careers and overall point of view. Ben Wikler (Washington director of MoveOn.Org), Anat Shenker-Osorio (writer, researcher and communications specialist) and Dan Kaufman (musician and journalist) joined me in conversation.
While the panel began with a simple overview of what it meant to come up in the 80s and 90s in Madison, it quickly moved into more contemporary questions of working with the media today and what the legacy of the 60s might be in a modern context.
By the end of the conversation, I was slightly overwhelmed by how much work there is to do in order to stay ahead of (or just in touch with) the way political and cultural messaging is manipulated today. But I was also highly encouraged and inspired just hearing the three panelists talk. As long as Ben, Anat and Dan are out here fighting the good fight, making sure the right messages are being communicated, and telling the important stories, there is hope.