Activism in America

The first boiling point in American activism was reached in 1776 when we rebelled against the Brits. Now they are our allies; thank God for that.
But I’d like to skip a couple hundred years, and focus for a few minutes on activism in America as I first discovered it in the summer of 1970. I was a Catholic kid who had, as a freshman at LSU, served as a dorm rep in the SGA. When the school year ended, I took a job with a Nashville publisher selling dictionaries door-to-door.  So I headed for my assigned territory in southern Ohio, far from the genteel south where I’d been born and raised. I knew I could make a few bucks for next year’s school expenses, and learn something about selling while contributing to the cause of literacy.
The Vietnam war was heating up, and we’d seen a few rumblings around the ole state U campus about resisting the war, and I think that maybe by this time I had marched in a demonstration or two, but that might have been sophomore year. I can’t remember. But this goyish southern boy headed for the great yankee state of Ohio to sell some dictionaries and broaden the horizons of myself and the school kids of the families that might spring for the dictionaries. The Kent State incident had just happened in May of that year, so I was wondering whatsupwithat and had had some intense curiosity about the buckeye state, although the area on the Ohio River where I was headed was a far cry from Cleveland and Dayton and all that postmodern northern productivity way up in the industrial corridor by Lake Erie.
My sales manager took us crew of young buck whippersnappin’ salesamen to see the movie Patton at a theatre in Athens, where the U of Ohio is.  All I remember about the flick was the first scene, in which Gen. George Patton was standing in a salute posture with a large American flag in the background. Looking back on it, I do appreciate his military genius that contributed to us Americans and the Brits and Russians along with a few French, Canadians and other allies driving the fucking Nazis back in the ground where they belong.
Now that was a great war, but I was clueless at the time about such matters, even though I had been selected by my graduating class as most likely to succeed, and so therefore considered myself somewhat smart.
But the movie that I remember from that summer of 1970 is The Strawberry Statement. It’s about the student occupation of an administration building at Columbia University. Student activists were protesting, as I remember it, a university takeover of a local NYC playground by the university.
I didn’t make a whole lot of money selling dictionaries that summer, but I do remember the strawberry statement. Another vestige of memory from summer of ’70 that rings around in my head is  Graham Nash’s voice on the CSNY album which I bought somewhere up there in Athens or maybe in Cincinnati. He was singing, “…four dead in Ohio, gotta get down to it–soldiers are cutting us down; should’ve been gone long ago…”

I reflected on this whole set of memories a day or two ago. I was reading Mondoweiss,  which linked me to an article by Mark Rudd, in which he talks about those events back at Columbia;  Mark had written in his blog:”This particular (American) empire is neither the first nor the last to attempt to seduce us to join up. But we’d better not: it’s our job to be critical outsiders, both for our own survival and for that of the planet.” It made a lot of sense to me.
And so Mark’s recollections had set this good ole goy to thinking about activism in America, and I do tend to think a lot, for what it’s worth. So I thought I’d share this with you.
That’s all I have for now.  More later. Let’s hope we can find a way to keep everybody in America healthy and fed during the perilous times ahead. Shalom.


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