A Fifty-Year Storm: Surviving and Surfing the Waves of American Chaos

Taylor Roseweeds
5 min readFeb 22, 2021


This essay originally appeared in the Dorothy Day Labor Forum newsletter (#6), edited by Nick & Linda Braune on October 1, 2020.

“History is hard to know, because of all the hired bullshit, but even without being sure of ‘history’ it seems entirely reasonable to think that every now and then the energy of a whole generation comes to a head in a long fine flash, for reasons that nobody really understands at the time — and which never explain, in retrospect, what actually happened…

You could strike sparks anywhere. There was a fantastic universal sense that whatever we were doing was right, that we were winning…

Our energy would simply prevail. There was no point in fighting… We had all the momentum; we were riding the crest of a high and beautiful wave.…

So now, less than five years later, you can go up on a steep hill in Las Vegas and look West, and with the right kind of eyes you can almost see the high-water mark — that place where the wave finally broke and rolled back.”

I didn’t live through the 1960’s — and my parents were still children when this Hunter S. Thompson quote was written — but it still hits me hard. As a student of history and social movements, I am intimately familiar with this “high-water mark” and the carnage and fallout from the breaking and rolling back of this wave. Wherever we choose to look in the early 1970’s of Fear & Loathing — to the systematic surveillance and political violence of COINTELPRO against leftist groups, to the coordinated and stealthy consolidation of political power by the Christian right, or to the gutting of post-war social programs and worker protections in favor of corporate welfare — we can scan the low-tide beach of Thompson’s quote, finding decades of wreckage and debris that lead us back to the current moment.

The wave rolled back further, eventually suggesting a deeper disruption: an impending tsunami. Maybe its approach was first felt during my 1990s childhood, bookended by the Rodney King riots at one end and the WTO protests at the other. All through the new millennium it slowly crested as Americans protested endless wars for oil, made painfully slow gains toward civil and human rights for gay and trans people, occupied Wall Street, pounded at the gates of power hoping to avert climate crisis, and declared with increasing volume that Black Lives Matter. But as the wave of a tsunami builds in height, it also slows in its approach to the shore.

With daily life disrupted by covid, many people now share an experience of time familiar to those of us who have previously endured a significant trauma. Within a moment, a day, a week, a year, time expands and contracts around our experience. The world outside feels simultaneously urgent and so remote that it is rendered meaningless. Social and other on-demand media amplify this effect. Who has not felt at some point during this time of pandemic and revolt that they are standing on the beach, watching this unfathomably high wave suspended above them, its motion barely perceptible, its thunderous approach a dull background roar our ears have adapted to tuning out?

It feels hopeless out there on the beach looking at the wave, perhaps filming it with our phones, but its spectacle still calls to us. When is it going to hit? What will it be like? Will we survive? We linger even as important work waits further from shore, in the village, where there are windows to board up, sandbags to stack, food to preserve, and children to look after.

Any village that will weather an event of this magnitude is, of course, an anarchist jurisdiction.

The work in the village is led by those who lost the most in previous storms and know how to prepare, those who don’t need to constantly look toward the beach to feel connected to the wave’s approach. They feel it without looking — with excitement and dread — like being in love. Here they practice a yin resistance — restfully working to knit relationships, skills, and material resources into armor for what is ours, for life on earth.

Others seek to be part of a more urgent action: a yang struggle. While Thompson talked about the peers of his memory having “had all the momentum” riding their big wave of history, those in the salt and spray now feel less assured of victory. The water tastes like teargas and in its churning chaos it is hard to see what’s ahead, hard to keep your bearings. It feels like a war because it is one. People still paddle out every night though, a human chain of surfers learning to feel their way through, riding the wave for those moments when it still seems their collective energy will prevail.

Balancing the work of care with the work of confrontation is a key task for our generation. We must learn to hold two truths at the same time and to accept the ways contradiction and paradox create a whole we can’t immediately grasp. This moment in our history is terrifying and beautiful, exhausting and energizing, isolating and deeply communal. It is simultaneously about destruction and creation, the death of the old and the birth of the new.

The following Gramsci quote has been circulating on left social media, memed into new relevance: “The old world is dying, and the new world struggles to be born: now is the time of monsters.” If we survive to look back at this moment in another 50 years, we will certainly see a time of monsters, but simultaneously one of monster slayers and midwives of the new, of radical imagination and unprecedented action.

Thinking of 2020 as “a bad year” may help our brains to cope with stress, but this is not about a single year — it is about the big tide of history which now demands our participation. Grab your surfboard or grab a sandbag. In the words of Point Break’s iconic Daoist surfer, Bodhi, “the little hand says it’s time to rock and roll.”



Taylor Roseweeds

focused on collective trauma & its relationship to chronic illness. also working on a book on social movements w/ archive of interviews from my podcast, Praxis.