Reflections of a late-blooming political activist
Coming of age in the late 1960s exposed me to a lot of political activism. I didn’t participate, but it affected me profoundly. Locked in my freshman dormitory under curfew at the University of California at Santa Barbara, I was frightened to hear the helicopters buzz as the anti-Vietnam rioters burned down the local Bank of America. It was even more frightening that a student was killed by the ricocheting bullet of a National Guardsman.
I never went through the typical teen-age rebellion period since I loved and respected my parents, who’d taught me to behave myself. However, I’ve always had an activist personality that has manifested itself over the years through community activities, professional organizations and various entrepreneurial ventures.
Maybe I shouldn’t have been surprised, then, by my strong feelings about going on the peace march April 20 in San Francisco. Perhaps I’m finally doing my rebellion. For me, the important issue to protest was not as much our so-called foreign policy, but the way that protest itself has been made to seem unpatriotic.
I wanted to say that Bush and Ashcroft are just plain wrong to claim that we are either “with them or against them,” and that anyone who questions the president is aiding terrorism. More unpatriotic words could hardly be spoken, and when they are spoken by those who should protect and champion free speech as America’s most fundamental right, that’s downright scary.
Gen. Colin Powell once said, “Free speech is intended to protect the controversial and even outrageous word, not just comforting platitudes too mundane to need protection.”
So there I was, getting up at six in the morning to take one of four buses leaving from the Rood Center for San Francisco. Counting the car-poolers, nearly 400 people from Nevada County participated in the march.
I was lucky to be on the same bus as local organizers Deborah Cohen and Loraine Webb, who made the trip particularly enjoyable. Throw in good snacks from local businesses plus live music from local artists, and we had most of the comforts of home.
Upon debarking at Delores Park in San Francisco, it was Sixties deja vu – drumming, dancing, speeches, large papier-mache puppets, flags and more.
What I noticed most was the diversity. The ethnic diversity felt strangely normal, because I’m a transplant from Los Angeles. But now, coming from “white-bread” Nevada County, it was different to be surrounded by a crowd that was probably less than half Caucasian.
I also noticed the diversity of issues and opinions expressed through the signs people carried. They included: “One Earth, One World”; “Liberation for Palestine”; “U.S. out of the Philippines”; “U.S. out of the Middle East”; “All Life is Sacred – Peace on Earth”; “Defend Civil Liberties”; “Make Love, Not Terror”; “Dissent is Not Un-American”; “Support the U.N. World Court System”; and “Killing Innocent People is the Problem, Not the Solution.”
Finally the march started, but it took forever before our group started walking. The next day’s San Francisco Chronicle reported a police officer as saying, “It’s been years since we’ve seen people start massing at the Civic Center when those at the back haven’t even started marching yet. It was a lot of people.” And it was, somewhere between 20,000 and 30,000.
We never did get to hear the speeches at the Civic Center. By the time we got there, we had only 30 minutes until we had to leave. Most of us spent that time hanging out by the drumming group (Nevada County folks, I think) next to the giant sign “Nevada County Citizens for Peace.” The jamming was terrific and the dancers were groovy, but they drowned out the speeches in another part of the plaza. By the time we figured it out, it was time to go.
No matter. I made my point by showing up and being part of the body count. I was also conscious – and proud – of being an obvious representative of mainstream America.
My father is a World War II veteran. I’m proud of his service to my country, and of the service of all who fought to protect America from clear and present dangers such as Kaiser Wilhelm, Adolf Hitler, Hirohito and others. But I’m not proud of the economic imperialism that we presently wage around the globe under the guise of “national security.” And I’m appalled that Bush would even consider initiating an offensive attack against Iraq.
So, that’s why I marched, and many others marched for their own personal reasons. Maybe it’s the beginning of something nationally, or maybe not. But, it’s definitely the beginning of something in Nevada County.
At a follow-up meeting two days after the march, 40 people showed up to discuss what to do next.
The result is the start-up of a Nevada County Peace and Justice Center, comprised of an educational book-and-video lending library and office. The goals include research, study groups, a speakers bureau and outreach to schools.
The next meeting is May 30 in the evening; the exact time and location can be obtained by calling 470-9797.
As for this 50-year-old rebel, I’m continuing my activism through other local and national projects, and giving thanks that I live in America.
Susan Rogers is a media literacy educator and communications consultant in Grass Valley. She can be reached at
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