Ernest Callenbach died a few weeks ago, and I felt a tinge of sadness. I first read his semi-utopian novel “Ecotopia” just after it appeared in 1975, when I was living in Somerville, Mass., and working as a cab driver and “editor” of an erratically appearing newspaper. The early- to mid- ’70s, as frivolous and lush as they might appear in hindsight — what with “free love,” cool drugs, cheap living and all — were in some ways not much different from now. We had a pragmatic president, an energy crisis and a wrongheaded, meanspirited, decidedly unjust quicksand of a war from which we needed to extricate ourselves.
I had moved from college in Worcester, Mass., back to New York for my junior year in 1969, in a state of depression probably not uncommon for 19-year-olds in those days. Hope seemed impossible; progress, unattainable. During that infamous spring of 1970, “we” — the United States, that is — bombed Cambodia, which somehow seemed even more outrageous than waging an ongoing and undeclared war on Vietnam. National Guard troops shot and killed four students at Kent State and — 10 days later — state and local police killed two students and injured a dozen others at Jackson State. Government atrocities were taken for granted. (Watergate, ultimately, came as no surprise, really.) Like nearly every other student in New York — or so it seemed — I spent my days protesting one thing or another. Change was in the air.
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