The War at Home & Me
Posted May 24, 2010on:
I was not a good protester.
I did attend a war protest rally at Michigan State University in the early 1970s. At the end, the primary organizer said, “People, we do not have a permit to march to the State Capitol, but if you want to walk to the State Capitol, we won’t stop you.”
We were warned to stay on the sidewalk, but actually took over Grand River Road in a march protesting the bombing of Cambodia.
I remember a sign in my dorm later that said something like, “People, if anyone asks you to identify photos, don’t. The Lansing 500.” We said “people” a lot then with great urgency.
Oh, and Michigan State, which is an excellent college but still under the shadow of the University of Michigan, did not even get credit for our rally. In a round-up of campus demonstrations, the New York Times, wrote, “And in East Lansing, University of Michigan students took over a street near the campus.” We Spartans didn’t get a lick of respect.
My other claim to protesting fame was when I hitchhiked (yes I really did with a guy friend) to Washington, D.C., for an anti-war protest in 1972. It was pretty lame as I, ahem, didn’t actually go to the demonstration. Instead, I hung out with an old friend and then flew back. Did I mention, I’m not strong on consistency? Oh, I wrote about that in Saturday’s blog piece.
All this came rushing back to me as we watched the Wisconsin Public Television documentary, “The War at Home,” last week. This program documented the anti-war movement at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. In “Vietnam and Opposition at Home,” the Wisconsin Historical Society wrote:
During the 1960s, the University of Wisconsin-Madison gained a reputation as one of the nation’s most radical campuses. Students and professors began to organize teach-ins on the war in 1965. The teach-ins were large forums for discussion between students and faculty about the war. Students marched to protest the Vietnam War, burned draft cards, and confronted army recruiters. In October of 1967, UW students protested against the makers of the weapon napalm, Dow Chemical Company, who were recruiting at the Madison campus. The resulting police action and violent confrontation helped to radicalize many formerly apolitical students. The October riot was part of an anti-Dow protest that had begun months before the company’s representatives arrived on campus and would have long-lasting effects.[i]
I come from a family with impeccable liberal credentials. My dad was the first person I knew who saw the folly in the Vietnam War. And nothing made him happier than when one of his insightful letters to the editor was published in the St. Louis Post Dispatch. It was a big deal.
Under no circumstances did he want my brother to serve in the military. He was willing to drive him to Canada if need be. As it turned out, my brother had a high enough draft number that it was unnecessary.
My father loved this country. He volunteered for the Army during World War II even though he had medical conditions that could have kept him out. That war made sense to him. Vietnam did not and if he were alive today, he certainly would have opposed the Iraq war. He believed in citizens speaking out against wrongs.
My dad did not want either of his kids going to the UW, fearing we would become entangled in violent protests. My brother went to Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, in fall 1968 and two years later I went to Michigan State University.
The worst tragedy on the UW campus was the absolutely misguided bombing of Sterling Hall on August 24, 1970, which resulted in the tragic death of a physics researcher.
The bombing had an unexpected result, according to the Historical Society. “While many feared that the bombing would escalate tensions and encourage more violent protest, the bombing actually helped to discredit the peace movement on campus.”[ii]
I left Michigan State University for a while because I was getting too close to graduation without any idea of what the heck I was going to do. After working for a while, I realized I needed to get that degree. By that time, my dad no longer minded one of his kids attending the UW-Madison. And incidentally, he always recognized Madison has being a top-notch university, which it was and is.
In fall 1973, I started at the UW, majoring in journalism. The campus was very quiet, but big events happened during that time – the Watergate hearings and the California kidnapping of Patty Hearst, the granddaughter of the publishing magnate.
In one of my classes, we were practicing the layout of a newspaper page when the AP wire started clanging with the news that Hearst announced she would stay with her kidnappers, the urban guerrilla group called the Symbionese Liberation Army. We were told we had to redesign our pages – just like in real newspapers. It was really exciting stuff.
It was a crazy time, not unlike today. People were yelling at each other instead of listening and there were demonstrations, albeit today much different from the ones I was in years ago.
Incidentally, my husband during the Vietnam Era was drafted and when he went for his physical was rejected because his weight was too low. He did not do that intentionally that time but kept his weight low after that when he returned for a physical.
In 2004, I went back to my political roots working in political campaigns, as I did in 2008. I felt young again, like I was doing my part.
But what really made me feel youthful was in 2004 when I discovered I could buy Earth shoes, like the ones I wore in the 1970s. And my son Michael got such a kick out of them that I bought some for him as well from a second-hand store.
We posed for pictures of our matching feet.
Ah, youth. You gotta love it.