1968 was a watershed year in the history of the United States and its politics. It was a year in which the Civil Rights movement suffered a crushing blow with the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The Vietnam War was making headlines on a daily basis. The goings-on in our nation’s capitol pointed to a dysfunction of the American political system. The issue of women’s rights also began to grow during the same time period, setting the table for major accomplishments in the 1970s.
At the January 4 luncheon meeting of the Naples Press Club, an esteemed panel of academics, media professionals and a public official examined the last 50 years. Moderated by Naples Press Club board member and former CBS correspondent Bob Orr, the panel included Dr. Peter Bergerson, of Florida Gulf Coast University, veteran CBS Washington correspondent Phil Jones, Dr. Charlene Wendel of Hodges University, and the Honorable Bill Barnett, mayor of Naples. All of the panelists used their expertise and experiences to critique the events of Watergate, the 1968 Chicago Democratic Convention, The Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision, and the government’s disinformation regarding the Vietnam War.
Phil Jones pointed to three things that he believed changed America: greed, drugs, and the selfishness of the American people. Dr. Wendel, one-time president of Planned Parenthood in this area and an activist for social justice, pointed to the importance of Title IX in the transformation of the rights of women as well as the appointment of Sandra Day O’Connor as the first woman justice of the U.S. Supreme Court.
Mayor Barnett spoke of the many changes that have come to Naples in the last 50 years, as the city became a tourist mecca as well as a paradise that many retirees could not pass up. Dr. Bergerson, professor of political science at FGCU, noted that this half-century of upheaval has led to a nationalization of public policy and brought about a change in the role of media. He observed that during that time, due to the dissatisfaction of the electorate, five third-party candidates ran for president.
The Q and A that followed the experts’ presentation was lively with poignant questions for all participants. The take-away from this enthusiastic and thought- provoking program was a question: What will the next 50 years be like?