It was mid October 1967, the Wisconsin air chilly, the sun bright. The long drawn out discussion was over—those who wanted to be arrested inside the commerce building would block the Dow recruiters’ doors and those who didn’t would line its corridors. Or protest outside.
I quickly realized that any distinction about committing civil disobedience was moot. We were stuffed inside the building like sardines in a can. No one could tell who was blocking a door and who wasn’t.
A university rep gave us a chance to leave before police would be called in to clear the building but no one made a move. I guess we thought that, at worse, they would push us outside—if we thought anything at all.
Then the tear gas bombs hit and the sardines, blinded and choking, began pushing and pulling each other in a deteriorating meltdown of rage and confusion. Facemasks lowered, a phalanx of riot geared cops descended, indiscriminately swinging clubs in every direction. We were red meat in front of Dobermans. Men, women, it didn’t matter. Blood flew in all directions.
They cleared the building with brute force but as we stumbled into the sun, eyes tearing, coughing, gagging, we saw the enormous swell of the crowd—many of whom had come to watch or were simply going to class but had now joined the ranks of outside protesters appalled by what they had seen.
Hundreds and hundreds were politicized that day including folks who’d never paid any attention to the anti-war movement. And now actually began to listen. It was a seminal moment, not only at the University but nationwide as people were stunned by what they had seen on television.
There are those who believe the anti-war movement of the Sixties failed. From where I sat it was the genesis of long lasting social change: women’s rights, gay rights, poor peoples’ rights, and a vision of a world no longer built on the “survival of the fittest.”
And now, 42 years later I watch Wisconsin’s protesters, relive my memories, my beliefs about our lasting effects, but wonder whether this year’s Madison augurs well for Amerika’s political direction or a losing stand against the country’s dark march.
Detroit just announced that it is closing half of its schools and firing one half of its teachers. Providence, because of “budget” rules, fired all their teachers. Boston’s school superintendent is trying to unilaterally close about half a dozen schools and you can pretty well imagine the neighborhoods she chose.
Health Insurance companies are creating hospital tiers. You want to go to a “good” one, you pay extra. Virginia’s General Assembly passed legislation requiring abortion offices, clinics, and centers that perform first-trimester abortions to be regulated as hospitals—arguably the strictest requirement in the country.
Texas has committed 466 of the 1,239 state-sanctioned murders (executions) that have taken place in our country since 1975. And it’s Texas, by virtue of population, that designs much of the content of our nation’s social studies textbooks—content decided by a committee that includes a real estate agent and a dentist but no historians or economists. Corey Booker, a mayor I respect, makes it clear in Brick City, a TV documentary series about his administration, that he’ll cut everything possible to keep police and firemen happy. And a couple of years ago The Boston Globe presented a pie chart that indicated almost 70% of the country didn’t believe in evolution.
I could probably write on forever, but would prefer, love it, if people would fill in their own blanks.
It was Wisconsin who voted in this governor. Who voted out a fairly progressive senator. Am I really surrounded by seven out of ten people who refuse to incorporate fossil evidence into their world view? Have we totally given up trying to break the cycle of poverty that causes crimes to simply rely on catching and jailing those who commit them? I know we’ve turned our backs onany notion of rehabilitation in our prisons.
And yet, and yet, there are people on the street fighting for the right of collective bargaining and unions in general. People on the street struggling for a woman’s right to choose. People on the street championing gay marriage and the actualization of “Don’t ask, don’t tell.” People on the street demanding decent housing and food for the poor and disenfranchised. Honorable lawyers working every day to keep innocent people of color out of jail.
I’d like to believe. I hate the idea of doing a lemming into the sea but I smell the salt. I hope it’s fucking age.
“In three words I can sum up everything I’ve learned about life: it goes on.” -Robert Frost