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That Night the Lights Went Out


That Night the Lights Went Out

Michael Winship

Forty years ago this summer, the lights went out.

It was July 13, 1977, a hot, muggy night here in Manhattan. Lightning strikes set off a cascade of mechanical failures at Con Edison that plunged virtually the entire city into darkness.


But the transit system is falling apart again. The state of its infrastructure is dire.

But hey, lets spend billions of dollars bombing people of color overseas who are of no threat to us. Makes sense, right?


I remember New York in the summer of 77 and it was as this author describes it, but I also remember a similar blackout affecting the city twelve years earlier. At that time the consensus was that New Yorkers came together in November 1965 and helped one another, in contrast to the looting and crime spree of 77.And that was true even in the poorer sections of the Bronx where I lived at the time. What had changed in those 12 years? For one thing, the devastation of the Viet Nam war was only in its first stages in 65 and the wave of heroin from South East Asia that accompanied the war had not yet taken hold. The federal government led by LBJ, and city government under Mayor Lindsay, was perceived as being on the side of the people… By 1977 racism had ramped up after nine years of Republican dominance in DC, and the present patterns of widespread narcotics use, violent crime, and mass incarceration were established. The result was the chaos that ensued in 77 when, in fact, I packed my family in our old Mercury that night and headed out of the city.


JoeRyan, you obviously have a good memory, as well as the ability to see the bigger picture. As I read this article, I began to think about what was different about 1977 than 1965. As you said, there was Viet Nam, Nixon’s “Law and Order” campaigns, Watergate, the murders of MLK and RFK, the brutal suppression of the Attica uprising, as well as the one at Wounded Knee, the violence and brutality outside the 1968 Democratic convention in Chicago, the backlash from school integration,
and so much more.

The cynicism and the polarization which took root in those 12 intervening years changed the nation for the next 40 years, and are stronger than ever.


What is going to happen over time is America’s big league, older brick and mortar powerhouses like New York and San Francisco, which have been overwhelmingly the breeding ground for the arts of all kinds, are going to close up shop somewhat. Art is of course important. So are places where people in the arts can actually LIVE. For so long Manhattan was the place many had to come to have careers in various performing and visual arts. Now that bohemia’s basically a memory, and life does go on in the mainstream arts in New York, where will the young go to have their careers? Peoria? None of this computes from a cultural standpoint. Funny thing to me is here in California not just a few in tech do see THEMSELVES as the new “creative class” if you will. Notice I don’t say art. But the pretension of a Bill Gates setting himself up a a czar on education also leads to the entire Silicon Valley crowd everywhere feeling that it’s their destiny to be everything. Like the US festival in 82. Tech people don’t need cheap living. They will bring what WAS directly to you, including streaming from all those lofts they bought in the Village…