“Hey! The time is right for violent revolution” sang Mick Jagger in August 1968. When I heard it, I had just come back from the Democratic Convention in Chicago, where I was tear gassed by the police. I was seventeen years old and I was ready to learn how to be a revolutionary.
The Rolling Stones replaced the Beatles as my favorite band.
Even in high school I had been immersed in the antiwar movement. Of course it was Vietnam that politicized our generation. I joined the Student Peace Union, and had little peace symbol stickers that I put on everything. I made speeches in my high school classes. I must confess that I don’t remember any of these speeches, but reading what classmates wrote in my high school yearbook, almost everyone refers to my impassioned speeches. I wanted to march on the Pentagon in 1967, but my parents wouldn’t let me go. (Okay, I understand this now, I was barely 16, and D.C. was a long way from New Jersey.) My class voted me the girl speaker at graduation — had to have one girl and one boy every year — and in my speech I said that our generation was going to change the world, and that by opposing the war we were starting already, even though we were still too young to vote.
That summer, working for Eugene McCarthy’s presidential campaign at the national headquarters in Washington, I was introduced to real-world politics, and I loved it. I really believed he could win the election and end the war, and everything would be wonderful. Chicago taught me otherwise.
I went to college in September 1968 to study revolution. I joined SDS. I took a course in Socialism, and another one called Radical Change in America. I decided to major in Government instead of English on the theory of “know your enemy.” I marched on Washington in 1969 and 1970. Of course I was part of the SDS takeover of Harvard’s University Hall, which I have written about elsewhere. I went to New Haven for a demonstration in support of Black Panthers Bobby Seale and Ericka Huggins. It was an exciting time to be in college and be a revolutionary. We had student strikes that shut down the university two years in a row. I was sure that the revolution was imminent, and I was planning to be on the barricades offing the pigs, ready to give my life for the cause if necessary.
The revolution didn’t happen. But student protesters did accomplish some important objectives. We turned the country against the Vietnam War, forcing Nixon to end it. At Harvard-Radcliffe, our protests resulted in co-ed housing (important because the men’s accommodations were so much better than ours), and a gradual increase in the number of women, from the 20% it was then to the 50% it became by the 1990s. We got Women’s Studies and Black Studies recognized as legitimate disciplines. We got ROTC kicked off campus, with academic credit no longer given for its courses on how to make war.
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After college came many years of not protesting, even when there were issues that I cared deeply about. I gave money and time, but there was no taking to the streets. I was working within the system. Then the so-called election of the con artist currently in the White House turned me into an activist again. The Women’s Marches of 2017 and 2018 made my adrenaline start pumping like it had in the old days. Marching down Capitol Mall to the state capitol with thousands of other people, chanting “This is what democracy looks like!” at the top of our lungs, felt great!
This spring, after the horrendous shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, I was awed and inspired by the articulate, passionate students who came forward to argue for gun control legislation. The March for Our Lives, on March 24, 2018, was a phenomenal experience, entirely planned and carried out by high school students. I was joined by my daughter Molly, who was home from college on spring break, and it was fabulous to march with her and chant with her and listen to speeches at the Capitol by students who were younger than she is. While the impetus for the high school student activism was terrible, I am thrilled that they have become activists. I know that they will not stop fighting until the battle is won. They give me hope for the future!