Phil Ochs–There but for fortune

When I left the United States in 1970, I knew I had to. I had spent years working to end the war in Vietnam. I had knocked on doors for Eugene McCarthy. I had seen Lyndon Johnson defeated by my generation only to be replaced by Hubert Humphrey. The soundtrack for these years had been Phil Ochs.

My first year in Toronto was euphoric. Free at last, I lived with a deserter from the U.S. army who I had helped come to Canada–my personal anti-war effort. But my romantic high was interrupted by a Canadian friend, Larry, who told my then husband and I, “being an American is a scar you’ll have for life.” After watching the Phil Ochs story, “There but for Fortune” , I finally  know what Larry meant.

To be an American radical in the 1960s was inherently manic-depressive. And I will always carry that psychic scar of incredible highs and lows. I’m just grateful that I watched the movie in a day when I can ask my American FB friends to read this and comment. How did you mend those wounds? We can move into the present–I try–but I see dictators falling in northern Africa and the middle east only to be replaced by new puppets. I see the forces of oppression and social injustice triumphing in Canada and the U.S. Is this negative thinking or an accurate spin on today based on past lessons?

Please share your hopes and fears with me. It’s lonely being an exile in Canada, surrounded by good friends who have never experienced the insanity of being an American.


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  1. I guess I look at those times that I fought against the Vietnam war and for civil rights with pride. What we did eventually led to the end of the Vietnam War and in retrospect we were proven right; as Vietnam, though still communist is a thriving country with a better economy then we have in the states. However; I feel; now in my later years that there is little hope for the future. The powerful have become too powerful and military technology makes the thought of a revolution almost horrifying. All I have left to give are my daily actions and my vote. I keep a very low carbon footprint; I stick firmly to the convictions I developed in my college years. But I spend most of my time working on my mental ‘self’ and try to find inner peace daily. I find myself becoming less involved with the matters of the political world; as it just negates my struggle towards inner peace. This brings me close to being a recluse; however I do have an established circle of good friends and my days are filled with the wonder of creating in my studio and traveling on foot through the land around me. My fear??? That my children’s children will be living in a world of death decease and turmoil. My hopes??? Very simple; that I live out my years, here in the home I built 33 years ago and that I never see the inside of a nursing home.

    • I am trying to turn toward inner peace, and living one day at a time. This movie, however, reminded me of how powerful the past is in my life. My life is a struggle between the lessons of the past and being in the moment. That’s what I get for majoring in history.

  2. Ingrid, at one point, I had gone so far as to send for information about admission to the provincial bars in Quebec and Ontario. I stayed in the US mostly b/c my dad was sick (he developed Parkison’s in 1970 and passed away 11 sad and long years after that), and (I am an only, as u may recall) that was my first obligation. We traveled to Canada often in the 70s (and still do) and one of my unanswered questions has always been “What if”?
    Having said that, I have zero regrets about how my professional life has turned out. I spent 13 years as a public interest lawyers, as a public defender, as the director of NJ’s division of mental health advocacy (representing persons subject to commitment and in hospitals mostly) and as special counsel to the NJ Public Advocate (broad-based public interest law). I have been teaching since 1984, and my focus is on these areas (mental disability lw and criminal procedure), and in the past 11 years, my focus has shiften dramatically to international human rights law. I travel to every continent doing this work and feel very much a citizen of the world. My current project — if this happens, it will be the most significant accomplishment of my professional life –is to create a Disability Rights Tribunal for Asia and the Pacific. We are making great progress.

    I hope this doesn’t sound insufferably grandiose, but I believe in making lemon mousse out of lemons. I am so saddened by the political developments in the US in the past year, but I am praying that it will self-correct before 2012.

    Meanwhile, today I am writing an article for a symposium at Fordham Law School in April on Bob Dylan (!): My title: Tangled Up in Law: The Jurisprudence of Bob Dylan. Am just finishing up the section on Hattie Carroll and Hurricane…

  3. The movie made me question the line between political passion and insanity. You don’t sound at all insane. (Ditto for Chip). Itcou’s my own sanity I’m questioning. Why do I still follow the events in Egypt, the U.S., Haiti, the DR, as if I had any power to influence them? Here in Canada I could do more, but my eyes are usually elsewhere. Ariel Dorfman wrote his biography on a life split between Chile and the States. It’s like never having two feet in one spot. Ahhhh….yoga must be the answer. But after last night’s movie that sounds so f***ing Liberal.

  4. Michael is pretty hard-core and I applaud him on his endeavours…Art has been the driving force in my life; so maybe between art and my move away from the confines of urban society; I have lost any ambition to work on problems at the national level. I believe very strongly that all of this matters very little as long as we are a society based on progressive consumption. If we did the things neccessary to live within the bounds of nature; most of the other problems would go away. Maybe over simplified; but very true.

  5. Wow, Ingrid! I can’t stop thinking about all that Michael is doing and I start to question my life style and whether I am leaving something that helps signifigantly…Then I look at the big picture and realize that in the scope of the universe(& beyond); whatever I do has little meaning to anything but myself…so it does seem to go back to the self and to be comfortable with the self; whatever that may take…So ‘Attitude’ really IS everything…people that question everything seem to be pretty intelligent from my experience; but I do think it can be a ball & chain on the journey towards inner peace. It’s a constant battle for me; but I win more then I lose, so I guess that’s a good thing.

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