Tag Archives: 1968

A Day in the Park with Mary Jane, by Sandra Maxwell

30 Apr

 

Author, historian and teacher, Sandra Maxwell has spent her life attempting to understand the human condition. Urged by many of her teachers to either teach or write, Sandra chose writing because it puts into one place all of the elements she is interested in. She can study history, explore human behavior, and teach — all at the same time.  She lives happily with her husband Robert in a Victorian cottage and gardens in Southern California called “The Havens.”

 

I moved from a small town in Illinois to Los Angeles in 1968.  I was twenty, naïve to a fault and eager for adventure. I found part-time work while pursuing my real passion, writing for television.  The man I worked for was a professional writer. He encouraged me to stand up for my rights and the rights of those around me. He had marched with Martin Luther King in Selma, receiving a broken arm for his dedication to Equal Rights. He had protested against other unjust practices over the years as well.

Armed with a business card he gave me with the name of an attorney who specialized in helping unfortunate protestors who found themselves behind bars, I marched for women’s rights, against the Viet Nam war, against police brutality, and for the legalization of marijuana. Which is what this story is about. Now the saying, “If you remember the 60’s and 70’s, you weren’t really there,” is quite true. But I will nevertheless do my best to relate this little tale.

The sun was bright, the temperature pleasant — in short, another beautiful day in LA.  My husband, our friend Don, and I had spent the night passing joints and talking about the rally today for legalization of marijuana. We were tired but determined to lend our support as we arrived at the rally that was being held in a lovely park in L.A. There were to be speakers and musicians there. I don’t remember who any of them were now. I only know that many were well-known, either in the entertainment industry or as mover and shakers in the current atmosphere of protesting.  I do remember being vigilant about where to sit in case of police intervention. I again checked the leather pouch hung around my waist for that attorney’s business card.

My husband, a musician, wanted to sit close to the stage. I reminded him of the recent demonstration at Venice Beach where someone threw a bottle at a policeman. The “police intervention” from that one act led to bloody beatings and several arrests. We began to search for a tree nearer to the edge of the crowd — just in case.

Our friend, Don, had been quiet until we began our search. A veteran of Viet Nam, he had gotten addicted to amphetamines while on duty over there. All he could think of was his need. All we heard as we tried to find the best spot was how he wished he could find someone selling speed. He’d give anything for some speed. Right now!

I was getting nervous. I took my demonstrating seriously and had an inbred sense of responsibility from growing up in Illinois. All we needed was for a cop to see Don buying drugs and we’d all land in jail for sure. I looked up and took in a sharp breath. The grounds were slightly bowl-shaped and around the rim, shoulder to shoulder, stood L.A.’s finest in riot gear.

“Here! We have to sit here,” Don whispered urgently .

My husband and I turned to Don with puzzled looks.

“Just put the blanket here. I’ll explain after we sit down.”

It was a reasonable spot and under a tree, so we laid the blanket down and settled in for the rally.

Don had a goofy grin on his face as he reached under the blanket. He pulled out a small packet of “whites,” then raised his eyes to the heavens. “Thanks.” Someone had accidentally dropped his stash of speed.

I had to laugh. I couldn’t judge. I wanted to make the world a better place, not persecute people for whatever was currently thought a sin. If history taught me anything it was that perceptions of how to live, and what was wrong or right, changed over time.

Nothing happened to provoke the police that lovely day in the park. It was just a tiny moment in time that hopefully brought a smile to some faces.

It took almost three decades to see marijuana legalized. When the bill passed this last election, all I could think of was the goofy grin on Don’s face that day long ago, in the park, sitting on a blanket, waiting to sign yet another petition.

 

 

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“Reborn” at Berkeley in the ’60s, by B.B.

21 Dec

B.B. lives on the West Side of Los Angeles and is a retired librarian. She studied writing at UCLA and Santa Monica College, and found her style—short, personal essays. She has been an activist since her college years, and is now trying to decide which activities she wishes to pursue in retirement.

 

I come from a liberal Jewish family in Denver, but unlike some kids, I wasn’t a red-diaper baby.In the 1960s I attended UCLA. One of my memories from that time is that women students who wanted abortions had to travel to Mexico. A friend of mine got very sick after an abortion in L.A. When the school board found out why she was sick, she almost lost her teaching job. Earlier that year my roommate, the same woman, came back to the dorm and said, ”There are pills you can take to avoid getting pregnant.” This was an eye-opener and I soon hAbortion Symboleaded to my doctor’s to ask for a prescription. I was nervous that he wouldn’t prescribe them since the idea of women having sex outside of marriage was still not widely accepted. My mother, for example, had said, “There were girls ‘like that’ in my day, too.” However, he wrote the prescription without incident, perhaps resigned by this time to college girls.

I was also involved in feminist consciousness-raising groups and even worried that I’d be too hostile to my boyfriend. After graduating from  UCLA in 1962, I transferred to Berkeley, where I was “reborn.” Berkeley was like the center of the world to me then. Every social movement seemed to be happening there, from women’s issues to sex and drugs, from the student movement to civil rights.

Berkeley Protest
I was arrested at Sproul Hall in Berkeley during the Free Speech Movement2 and later spent a couple of weeks in Santa Rita Jail [in Alameda County.]  I could have just paid the fine, as many did, but I wanted to see what jail was like. Bettina Aptheker3 was in there at the same time. The women prisoners slept in  a big dorm and worked at repairing men’s clothes. Jail was interesting. Many of the women were minorities and poor. For us, it was a choice to be in Santa Rita, but not for them.

At the time of my arrest I was a student teacher. Max Rafferty4, superintendent of education in California at the time, denied some of us a credential because we’d been arrested. We took it to court, and through the ACLU and other attorneys we did win our credentials. (I have many of the documents from that court case and was recently asked to donate them to the Bancroft Library at U.C. Berkeley, where other Free Speech Movement documents will be housed.) I finished the teacher-training program, but after winning the credential fight, I decided I didn’t want to be a teacher!

L.A. Public Library

I lived in Berkeley almost ten years. I went to graduate school to become a librarian, but there were no jobs. In 1972 my sister urged me to come to Los Angeles. “No way,” I thought, but two weeks later I found myself there. I took my first job at a private, special education school as a librarian. The teachers were all graduate students so I felt as if I was still in Berkeley. (Later I worked at the L.A. Public Library for thirty years—until 2013—and was happy working with a diverse public.)

In 1977 I adopted my newborn son. Medically, it was the right thing for me to do. Although I’d had several serious boyfriends, I was single when I adopted. I loved being a parent. I was friendly with other single women parents and joined single parenting [support] groups.

Notes:

  1.  Red Diaper Baby:  a child whose parents were in the Communist Party U.S.A.

  2. Free Speech Movement: a student protest which took place during the 1964–1965 academic year on the campus of the University of California, Berkeley under the informal leadership of students Mario Savio, Michael Rossman, Brian Turner, Bettina Aptheker, Steve Weissman, Art Goldberg, Jackie Goldberg, and others. In protests unprecedented in scope, students insisted that the university administration lift the ban of on-campus political activities and acknowledge the students’ right to free speech and academic freedom.[Source: Wikipedia]

  3. Bettina Aptheker: an American political activist, feminist, professor and author as well as a former member of the Communist Party USA.

  4. Max Rafferty:  Rafferty was an educator who opposed busing, sex education and the New Left. His books condemned progressive education and urged a return to the fundamentals. For example, he wanted schools to focus on phonics, memorization and drill, and to discontinue “life adjustment” approaches from education. Among his controversial actions as school superintendent was his attempt to stop schools and classrooms from using books that he considered obscene, such as Eldridge Cleaver’s Soul on Ice and Leroi Jones’s Dutchman. He threatened to revoke the teaching certificate of any teacher who used such works. Politically, he was known as a spokesman for the ultra-conservatives. [Source: Wikipedia]

“Now I don’t have to vote Republican anymore!” by Carol Crouse

19 May

Carol Crouse retired from teaching art several years ago and now has the time to make art of her own, preferably Plein-Air. She volunteers with Planned Parenthood in the San Gabriel Valley, and enjoys doing beauty and special effects makeup for the screen. She lives in Altadena, California, near Pasadena.

 

In 1968-69, Kent State students were having frequent demonstrations on campus against the Vietnam War. Townspeople too were protesting the war. 1969 was my last year of college at Kent State, and I lived in a little duplex. My roomie and I were on one side, and two guys, both named David, were on the other. The Davids were in SDS but I wasn’t aware of that until later. I used to sit in on their political meetings; I paid no attention to what they were talking about. I grooved on their music like the Chambers Brothers’ “Time Has Come Today.”

The Davids and friends planned activities. Demonstrations took place in the bookstore, lounge, etc. Some of us would try to pick out the narcs. The demonstrations were long and snaked around the campus.

I had first realized what was going on in Vietnam when my brother Bill was about to be drafted, in 1967 or ‘68.  I remember my dad insisting, in a patriotic fervor, that my brother join the service. “I’m going to get that critter into the military if I have to Shanghai  him,” was what he said.  Instead of being drafted into the Army, Bill volunteered for the Air Force. When it was time to be shipped to Vietnam, he and I rented a Volkswagen stick shift (I didn’t own a car at that time)—he taught me to drive manual in an afternoon—and I drove him to Norton Air Force Base near San Bernardino, arriving at 2 or 3 a.m.

I still wasn’t fully aware of the war although I did know that I’d never be a Republican because that was what my dad was. Bill wrote to me about some disturbing things about Vietnam.  One thing I recall is his telling me about a fellow soldier who had adopted a Vietnamese orphan, and then had been killed the following week.  He also described the air raids, and the constant sounds of the heavy helicopters flying overhead.  My stepfather Colin admonished him, “Never tell anyone back home what’s really going on.” So Bill stopped writing about it. But I started reading and listening more—these things helped to form my political consciousness.

KentState

In May of 1970, a year after I graduated, the killing by the National Guard of four Kent State students and the wounding of nine others took place. Some of the students had been protesting the invasion of Cambodia; others were bystanders. That summer I returned to campus but it was closed. I had been teaching at Hollenbeck Junior High School in Los Angeles.

My brother Bill completed his active duty and returned home a changed man, obviously suffering what we would now call PTSD. Many guys he’d made friends with had been killed or injured. He told us he’d been bored in Vietnam; he and his fellow soldiers had entertained themselves with bunker-building contests. They had designed and decorated elaborate bunkers with sandbags. Bill had smoked pot but wouldn’t admit it for years because he was afraid of everyone’s disapproval, especially my dad’s.

In the 70s I taught in Los Angeles. Many of my friends and I were enraged at Watergate and Nixon. But we learned that even “good” presidents weren’t always good. For example, the Bay of Pigs fiasco, an unsuccessful military invasion of Cuba funded by the CIA, was supported by Kennedy.

I became disillusioned with politicians. However, I always informed myself about the issues and took part in every election. For a while I dated a communist but I myself was a progressive democrat.

Today I’m a retired art teacher but still avidly interested in mainstream political issues such as the ban on assault weapons.

When I was a little girl my dad used to come home from work and expound on politics over the dining table, pointing to a map on the wall. One place in particular that I do recall was Quemoy.  As long as I can remember, I felt that something wasn’t right about his views.

When Ike was elected, Dad tuned our black and white TV to the convention. The convention was all-male, and most of the men wore pork-pie convention hats. Balloting of the state representatives was conducted, with large lines of conventioneers snaking around the hall in support of this candidate or that.  I’d think, “This is how elections are run?  This is ridiculous!” The balloting continued until one man received enough votes to be that party’s candidate.

When my parents divorced, I remember my mom saying, “Now I don’t have to vote Republican anymore!”

I Love Paris in the Springtime: May 1968. Part I

9 May

By J.F.

J.F. was born and raised in France and came to the United States in 1974 for a visit, where she met her husband. She has been living in Los Angeles since 1975.  She teaches high school ESL and French. She is still very much interested in social movements and in politics. Her background and family definitely shaped her values, while the sixties were formative years in her understanding of the world.

Paris 1968

Part I

It was at my cousin’s communion that May ‘68 started for me. The situation that led to the general strike had started earlier and we were all following events intensely, but things got to a boiling point on that day.

I remember a heated discussion with my grandmother. She supported Charles de Gaulle, who was a flashpoint of the rebellion, representing the stale Old World. Politics must have come up and points of view about the student rebellion must have been exchanged. I was definitely on the side of the students, and my family and relatives in general were fairly supportive, except my grandmother, who was a Gaullist. I was 15 years old at the time and the oldest of the grandchildren. Some of my cousins and I were participating in the “grownup” discussion.

Just before came the March 22 Movement, of which Daniel Cohn-Bendit was the leader. He was in Nanterre at a new university in an old working class neighborhood outside Paris. It was next to a large shantytown, and the students protested conditions in the university and injustices in the society such as the low minimum wage.

What had started as a student movement very quickly extended to the working class even though the Communist Party and the trade unions were very skeptical about a movement that had originated with middle-class kids.  Because it included both students and workers, it was a potent movement.

Late in the evening, I was in my uncle’s car and we were taking back to his place one of his nephews who was a pastry chef apprentice in Paris at the time.  His name was Jean-Claude and he was my age.  It was dark and on the way we passed by the entrance of a factory displaying a red flag and a banner:  On Strike.  There were workers still there since the strike was tied to occupation of the workplace.

Paris 1968.ComiteInternational

On Monday I went back to my school, which turned out to be on strike too with occupation by students and faculty. I did not know it had been decided since I had not gone to my Saturday morning classes as usual due to the family gathering on the occasion of my cousin’s communion.

I had to decide whether to leave or stay and participate in the activities. I stayed with some trepidation, not knowing what to expect. I was aware that this was an unusual, history-in-the-making kind of event, and I had no idea where it could lead.  The student rebellion in Paris had had some fairly dramatic development already as reported in the news.

My family did not have a TV and our source of information was the radio and the newspaper.  We were assiduous radio listeners, especially at the news hour.  At the time my parents listened to a station, Europe 1, whose transmitter was located outside France, since only state-controlled stations were allowed on French territory, and the contents of their news could be censored by the government.  There was a censorship commission, which was abolished after May ‘68 (this was one of the results of the uprising).

Day after day I went back to my high school.  I remember intense and heated discussions about anything and everything.  We were all a little dizzy with what was going on and were very intent on remaking the world.  The Chinese Cultural Revolution was big among students.  Mao’s Little Red Book was well-known even if we had not read it.  What we knew about the Chinese experiment sounded very interesting and different from Stalinist communism.  The remaking of society, going after the establishment, making manual labor noble and worthy, the idea of communities being able to sustain themselves industrially and agriculturally, all of this had been topics for discussion, and not only among the youth.  There was the liberation movement in South America.  We all had read about all this, heard discussions and listened to intellectuals argue about it.

paris68.poster

In school and outside, a lot of flyers and publications were handed out.  There were different tendencies and they all had their printing presses going.  I had to learn quickly about the different acronyms, distinguish between Trotskyists, Maoists, anarchists, and the rest.  One main subject was the police repression going on in Paris, with stories about beatings and interrogations at police centers.  I met students who were in the same school as I, but whom I had never met before.  Some teachers were present too.  I remember my French teacher participating in a discussion on that Monday when I returned.  Others who later would be my economics teachers in 11th and 12th grades were there too.

We would be addressed as “comrade.”  I supposed some of them were already active in the Communist Youth.  The Communist Party was very active in my city, which had had a Communist mayor and city council since 1935.  However, in May 1968, the party was fairly discredited because of its disdain for the student movement.  (It got even worse during the summer with the repression of the “Prague Spring.”)  It tried to make up for lost time, and when we were not allowed to go into the school anymore to “occupy” our classrooms, city hall gave us permission to relocate to the public library.  We all walked down the street with some students monitoring to make sure we were going in an orderly manner.

At the same time the school scene culminated with a student-led forum one evening, to which parents were invited.  I attended with my mother.  A lot of people were present.  I believe we must have explained to them what it was that we wanted.  No, I can’t remember the details, just that it went well and excitement was in the air.   [To be continued next time]