Planet Waves by Eric Francis
IN 1965 IN THE STATE OF CONNECTICUT, BIRTH CONTROL WAS ILLEGAL. I don't mean you couldn't buy condoms in 7-Eleven. I mean that a married couple could, in theory, be arrested for using a condom in their own bedroom. At the same time, in Virginia and numerous other states, it was illegal for an African-American (defined as anyone with one or more black great-grandparents) and a white person to marry. There were, in places like restaurants and train stations, bathrooms marked "colored men" and "colored women" throughout many states.
The concept of career was different back then than. If you were a woman, you generally worked as a secretary, a school teacher, a sales clerk or a nurse. And any young man18 or older was subject to a government lottery in which he could win a free military career, i.e., be sent to kill and die halfway around the world in Vietnam. If he survived, there was about a 100% chance he would be sprayed with Agent Orange, a dioxin-tainted herbicide.
We think of the Sixties as being such a radical time without realizing that the only thing that distinguished the early years of that decade from many years earlier was that the ground was rumbling. A civil rights movement was slowly heating up. A literary movement known as the Beat Generation was spreading its influence. Bob Dylan was newly arrived in New York and the Beatles newly arrived in the United States. People were waking up and things were about to change. Imagine the tectonic force of social progress that was required to shatter the archaic worldview of 1950s America.
In last month's essay, Born in the Sixties, I explored the conjunction of Uranus and Pluto in Virgo, and the simultaneous, equally-rare conjunction of Saturn and Chiron in Pisces, which set the tone of this era (it is posted at Chronogram.com in case you missed it). In those days, the Supreme Court threw out the birth control ban, outlawed segregated marriage laws and strengthened the right to dissent against government. Music, art, literature and social causes surged forward. There was an uprising against the war and the draft.
And millions of children were born. If astrology suggests anything, it is that people somehow contain the energy of the time in which they came into the world. In this essay, I'd like to introduce you to two people who are doing that in extraordinary ways.
Fighting for Civil Rights
Steve Bergstein of New Paltz made his appearance in early 1967, growing up a reserved kid who admittedly had no ideals in a place where none were required. He was raised in Massapequa, one of those Long Island suburbs that people don't want to talk about.
But in 1986, shortly after he arrived at SUNY New Paltz, he saw Dr. Helen Caldicott, founder of Physicians for Social Responsibility, speak about what he describes as "nuclear proliferation, the stupidity of Reagan and the need for immediate action." He started reading The Nation and books by Noam Chomsky and Michael Parenti. Then, he saw a presentation by John Stockwell, a former CIA agent who was lecturing on America's secret wars in Vietnam, Angola and Central America.
"There was an undertow of political discontent that peaked through 1987 and 1988," Bergstein recalls, which was spurred by the Iran-Contra scandal. (This involved Reagan's top aides selling weapons to our then-enemy, Iran, as part of an arms-for-hostages trade, then diverting the profits to create an illegal army in Nicaragua called the Contras, which bombed schools, farming cooperatives and hospitals.)
Shortly after, Bergstein was elected editor of The Oracle, the campus newspaper, and as his editorial plan evolved, one couldn't have distinguished it from what a college paper might have been publishing in 1968 -- with long, in-depth articles on politics, reprints from Z and The Nation, and critical coverage of campus events. At this point, his ambition evolved becoming a political journalist, maybe writing for Newsday.
But around when he did an internship at the Legislative Gazette, he decided that he wanted to be a civil rights lawyer. After graduating, he headed for CUNY Law School, the place where students hung an American flag upside down in the lobby during the Persian Gulf War, raising the ire of city officials.
Around this time, I remember having many discussions with him about how Constitutional rights were being gutted regularly, particularly the Fourth Amendment, which protects the right against illegal search and seizure. But, he recalls, "complaining wasn't good enough."
After graduating, he went to work for revered Goshen-based civil rights attorney Michael H. Sussman, about whom he learned from local activist Peter Shipley. Sussman ran a small office, so Bergstein had to go to court long before most lawyers are allowed to eat lunch without permission. Early in his career, Bergstein argued a case in which a man who had been illegally searched and convicted of drug possession was serving 20 years in state prison. Bergstein won the appeal based on a Fourth Amendment argument, and the man was freed.
"Talk about getting a second chance in life," Bergstein said.
To date, he has argued 25 cases before the US Court of Appeals and another 20 in state court, and he's worked on 50 to 60 more that he has not argued. They range in subject matter from false arrest to racial harassment and employment discrimination, and include an ongoing First Amendment challenge to restrictions on political signage in New Paltz. He's certified to appear before the Supreme Court but has not done so yet.
He's now a partner in Thornton, Bergstein and Ullrich, a Chester-based firm specializing exclusively in civil rights law, one of the few in the country.
Mothering with Soul
Jerilyn Brownstein, also of New Paltz, was born in 1966 and raised in Marlboro, New Jersey, another one of those places that's not exactly the hot-bed of culture. "I've been a family therapist since I was born," she once remarked of her childhood.
Her attraction to therapy had firmly taken hold by high school, where she was "addicted to being a peer counselor. I went to a high school where everyone did a lot of drugs. This was better than drugs."
At 19, curious about group process work, she started to look for a therapist. "You were born at the wrong time," one told her. "You're looking for something that was happening in the 1960s."
"I wanted to be in a [therapy] group. I was looking for deep connectedness. I felt lost. It's hard in suburban New Jersey. I lived adrift for a while, looking for my tribe," she explains. In college, Brownstein studied religion and psychology. "I knew there was a connection between spirit and psyche, but something got lost in the translation." Psychology seemed to be lacking soul; religion, lacking rational understanding of life. After graduating, she worked at a homeless women's shelter in New York City, doing grassroots work on the front lines of civilization.
She began to find her community during her MSW studies at Rutgers University. "I stayed on my edge of learning, and of connecting deeply," she says of her time there. "I also played my edge in my own spiritual and emotional work. I stumbled into my own darkness. I pressed up against boundaries, social, personal, psychological and spiritual. I touched my own darkness, and that was very curious to me. But it is the foundation of my work today."
As is being a mother: Brownstein, now expecting her third child. .
Today, her work centers on what she calls the shadow side of being a mother, working with pregnant women and new moms around the transition into parenthood. Her therapy, she says, "uses the process of becoming a mother -- but the darkness of motherhood -- for deep spiritual and psychological growth."
"Motherhood initiates women into their creator energy, and their destroyer energy," she explains. "And unless they learn to work with their destroyer energy consciously, it can destroy, a marriage, a partnership, a child's life, a child's self-esteem. It doesn't have to look like murder."
Her two group process programs currently are Motherbirth, which explores the idea that when a child is born, a mother is born; and Mothering With Soul, which is aimed more toward the shadow issues and frightening feelings associated with being a mother.
Her work is daring. "I'm willing to talk about something the culture isn't," she says, "which is that there is a dark side to motherhood. And unless it's explored, expressed and interpreted, you get people who drown their five children," or who secretly harbor thoughts of doing so.
If we think of the Sixties as a time when people were not afraid of everything, and were willing to look at themselves and their world a little more honestly, it's clear that both Jerilyn Brownstein and Steve Bergstein have brought some of that spirit with them into the 21st century, a time when it's needed as much as ever, or maybe a little more. ++
Steve Bergstein is also the Planet Waves rock critic. To contact Steve or Jerilyn, write to firstname.lastname@example.org. In the next segment, to be posted in August, we will look at "what went wrong" inthe 1960s and what we can do about it today. I also intend to post a separate essay looking at the charts of people interviewed in this month's article. With research and thinking by Denice Taylor & the University of the Universe class. Thanks to my astrology teacher and friend Dave Arner who originally pointed me to some of these ideas.
Credit: T. A. Rector, B. Wolpa, M. Hanna..