Last Saturday I marched. I wanted to skip it, but my friend, Janet, can always be counted on to encourage my least little inclination towards good & important things. So we were there, among hundreds of thousands of compatriots and it felt mighty good. Janet asked me about the 60’s, was there a moment when it all changed? And yes, here’s what happened.
I was at the University of Iowa where the left wing was slow to take flight in the Ozzie & Harriet atmosphere of the 1950’s (that persisted half way through the 60’s.) Spring of 1966, we celebrated Gentle Thursday, flying in the face of authority by making hop-scotch forms with colored chalk on University sidewalks. Some of us were screwing up our courage to wear jeans to class. The birth control pill was a rumor.
The next fall, I joined demonstrations on campus for civil rights and against the war. Then toward Thanksgiving, the 1967, University of Iowa, Conference for Modern Letters convened with a number of illustrious lefties – Susan Santog, The SanFrancisco Mime Troup, etc. There was one traditional lecturer among the bunch – an august professor scheduled to lecture on the symbolic use of furniture by Charles Dickens. My friends and I were trying to decide whether to attend when word came that campus police at the University of Michigan had waded, clubs swinging, into a student protest against Dow Chemical. The Iowa Conference for Modern Letters abruptly relocated to Ann Arbor and I found myself in a huge demonstration packed so tight you couldn’t move. The young woman next to me wore a cast up her entire arm which had been shattered by a cop. She was pretty shell shocked and her dad, an army general, would not take her calls. Heartbreaking as this was, both of us were kind of exhilarated. The air was teaming with the possibility of justice, everybody felt it. Then suddenly I realized that the people I came with had disappeared in the crowd.
My new friend said I could stay with her in her dorm. But I was losing my grip, no friends, no way to contact them, how would I ever get back to Iowa City? “I don’t even have a toothbrush!” I blurted out. In truth, I needed more than a toothbrush. Though I’d been attending demonstrations for months, I was still washing my hair every night and sleeping on rollers. I didn’t have rollers.
“You can use my toothbrush,” my new friend said. Sweet Jesus, this was not a thing to say to a person (me) who had just grown up in the deep south in the 1950’s. I had been raised with so much fear, black people, poor people, people who would offer their toothbrush to a total stranger!?!
I gasped! But immediately I realized that my new friend was also gasping – at herself. Because she wasn’t raised to offer her toothbrush to a total stranger! We both laughed out loud, fell into each other’s arms. I didn’t get gingivitus, and the next morning I awoke with a new look I quite liked – bed head. Everything was changed.
There was a moment last Saturday when everything changed again. I had been kind of restrained (for me) talking about the election, not wanting to spew the full fire of my anger & fear over people (some are relatives) who were feeling they had finally gotten their shot. Aside from that, my own personal stuffing had been knocked out to me to a far greater extent than I realized. I think that’s why I didn’t want to march.
But then, when Janet and I were trying to board the train for downtown, it was packed. At first I didn’t get it. This was Saturday! Why was the train full!? We kept running back up the platform thinking that the next car would have room. At the last minute we dove into the very last car and were immediately enveloped in people – all colors, genders, ages, causes. The air in the train was teaming with the possibility of justice.
Air teaming with the possibility of justice smells different today than it did 50 years ago when I said yes to the tooth brush. That air was still 97% Ozzie & Harriet air, steeped in hundreds of years of accepting a status quo of racism, sexism, unjust wars, etc. The air today is 97% steeped in the status quo we created in the 60’s and all the years since, the status quo that holds racism, sexism, injustice of all kinds to be just plain wrong! That’s the air we start out with this time. And maybe we haven’t done enough to keep it clean, maybe we got a little lazy, I know I did. But the preponderance of justice in the air is still here. And we’re still here. Many hundreds of thousands of us!
PLUS THERE’S TECHNOLOGY!
On the train, we were cheek to jowel with two amazing young women who were on their cellphones with friends headed to the march from the valley. Only their station was so packed they were not going to make it. An impromptu rally had just broken out – speakers, chanters, singers. And all the impromptu folks were broadcasting their Valley Rally, live, over cellphones to all their friends and people cheek to jowel with their friends! And I, who had been reluctant to march was filled with gratitude – for the march and the cell phones!
As I hurry to post this, today has been another protest Saturday with the,
President’s overreaching ban on immigration bringing thousands of protesters to airports across the nation where legally admitted refugees were in danger of being turned back. A lot of these refugees had helped the US military in the fight against terrorism, so being turned back was a life and death matter. The ACLU had flown into action and by the end of the day they procured a stay, thanks in part to all those protesters who answered the call. Back in the day when I got stuck in jail, it took the ACLU four days to get me out. And that was just the Chicago police, not the President of the United States. Ahhh, Cellphones!
What a glorious time to be vibrantly alive!
Originally posted 2017-01-29 05:12:06.