That must have been a difficult decision, and I think the anthology should explore the soul-searching that is involved. Did you start out as a patriotic individual?
Very. My first taste of politics was as a high school kid during the 1964 election campaign between Johnson and Goldwater. I was a solid Goldwater supporter and member of the Young Republicans. Had a huge poster of Barry over my bed with the famous tagline: In your heart you know he's Right; stuffed pamphlets under peoples windshield wipers; always got picked by my Poli Sci teacher to oppose the `evil' class genius who was a Johnson supporter (the Poli Sci teacher was an unabashed Goldwater supporter); and received a steady stream of mail from the John Birch Society and some guy in Arkansas who had a cave stocked with food and weapons in preparation for the impending Commie invasion of America as well as many other `interesting' people. Even so, I was still learning and shaping for myself a personal definition of what it meant to be an American. As fascinating as all these wierd ideas and people were the affection I felt for them didn't run very deep. And my admiration of Goldwater was mainly of his personality. I was too young to understand his principles.
How did you feel about living in America as a child?
Didn't give it much thought as a kid. Aside from the occasional European neighbor or school trip to Ontario I didn't know any- thing but America. The history and citizenship stuff in school was for grades. The pledge of alligence was just something everybody had to say. From the white suburbs of Detroit, life was certainly comfortable. It wasn't difficult to believe that America was a wonderful country where everyone enjoyed liberty and could expect justice and a smile from the neighborhood cop.
How did you feel about living in America as you approached draft age?
Being of `draft age' didn't have a lot of meaning to me. I expected to go to university after graduating from high school. I registered with Selective Service in much the same spirit that I got a drivers licence - it was a formality. Unfortunately I got trapped in one of those father-son conflict things and, at the last moment, my father refused to co-sign my student loan in an attempt to force me into the draft and military. Years later he apologized for doing that - he genuinely regretted it. My dreams went up in smoke and now Vietnam was no longer a concept - it was a reality that would have to be dealt with. Being against the War suddenly involved a whole new set of consequences.
What made your perception of America change, if it did?
The Congressional Record. Aside from getting involved in Barry's campaign in '64 I also got a sub to the CR and took particular interest in Senators Wayne Morris (Oregon) and Ernest Gruenning (Alaska). At first, because they were Democrats with a significant gripe against Johnson. I think they were the only two members of Congress, perhaps just the Senate, who voted against the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution. They had many of the same virtues that I'd admired in Goldwater: honesty, a willingness to stick to their guns in the face of overwhelming opposition and a dogged adherence to the facts. There was none of that, "Just trust me" stuff that Johnson was always pulling. I started reading their speeches and supplementaries as an opponent with grudging respect and gradually, uncomfortably and hesitantly had my mind slowly opened. The truth they revealed carried a terrible imperative for a kid who was of draft age. But it also opened a new universe of ideas to me.
A job as courier for a big advertising company that required driving through Detroit's black ghetto every day. Having grown up in the lily-white suburbs I had heard in school that there were people living in abject poverty but had no real sense of what it meant until I saw it, smelled it and felt it. It was a major shock and inexplicable contradiction. Detroit was so thoroughly segregated that I never once had a black neighbor, teacher or schoolmate in all my years of growing up there. I never even met or spoke with a black person until I was in high school. Until then they were always at a distance. It seems incredible now.
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I was a Dormie and 'Independent' trying to wrest control of student affairs, politics and government away from the Greeks in l965. That was the time of the big draft call ups, and in the course of events I attended the first sit-ins and teach-ins at San Jose State that year and the next. But things were pretty orderly and quiet. Civil Rights was the big issue in my definition of the 'movement' at that time. l967 the campus split down the middle in a student government election over 'hip' and straight' and the campus was never the same again. I'ld say that year or the next was when I got 'involved'.
The early impact of the anti-war movement at State was mostly as a curiosity. Teachings, harassment of military recruiting officers, reported in the Press. Lots of talk in Dorm Bull sessions about whether we should bomb North Viet Nam.People in Mens dorms - they were segregated - dropping out of sight never to be heard from again each month as l965-l966 progressed.
The Greek system (InterFraternity Council - IFC) dominated campus politics from l960 - l966 in a one party politics under the banner of S.P.U.R. (which stood for something or other. Antimosity ran pretty high as early as l965 when the Greeks sabotaged the Independents Political Rally headed by student body candidate Roy Gene Lokey and Civil Rights activist from the Old South. Later as race and color lines were drawn and Harry Edwards had mobilized the Black Boycott of Mexico City, from a base at State minority demonstrations led to strong feelings. Once in a march accross campus the local community Paper - the Mercury News printed banner headlines on the front page:"Roving Blacks Terrorize Campus " Pattenly no such thing had happened and only Fraternity row was "terrrorized".
In l968, I campaigned for Robert Kennedy in California under the rubric "Students for Kennedy". He died. King was dead. Chicago was just plain nuts. and then Tommie Smith, San Jose State student athlete stood on the victory stand in the Mexico City Olympics. Clenched fist and all. We were 'committed.'
I worked the next two years in student government from the 'inside' of the South Bay Movement; first as Assistant to the student body president; then as Treasurer of the student body under James Edwards, brother of brain child Black Boycott organizer Harry Edwards. You should read up on Edwards and the Black Boycott, SNCC and the Black Panthers to get some feel for the 'movement' as San Jose State in those two years. Kent State put and end to dissent, gagging protest on the West Coast as Berkeley's People’s Park never did (circa l969)
After Kent State, a year where I was assaulted twice by students I thought were on my side, but weren't, I went 'underground' and remained in hiding ... nothing fancy, but it was pretty easy to drop out of sight when the police arrested you every time you set foot on campus (as was my own case)...
What kind of background did you come from?
I was an Eagle Scout_ and full member of a Scouting fraternity in the years l964-67.
A Scouting Fraternity... that hardly sounds like the stereotyped activist -- the stoned "hippie communist."
I did not, though it was around first start smoking 'grass' at State but up at super straight Cal-State Hayward. I became a frequent user in l969 under Miner, but quit with the advent of the Edwards campaign and never due to the parting of the waves, came in contact with grass again. ...I think . Though I'm sure it was still on campus in circles I was no longer privy to late into the 70's.
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I was just too young for most of the Civil Rights stuff, though my first picket line was at 16: my folks, who through lack of money, and laziness, were among the maybe 5% left of the whites in North Philly by the mid-sixties, went out one Saturday morning, and when I left, to go on my usual trip to book and record stores downtown, I saw them in the picket line that the neighborhood had set up around the new schools being built, for black kids, in a black neighborhood, with a lily-white construction crew. They called to me to join them, and I did (a virgin no more!).
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