Tag Archives: David Drum

A Political Turnaround by David Drum, Part 2 of 2

17 Dec

Part 2 of 2

David Drum 007

 

David Drum is the author of eight nonfiction books in the health area, as well as one book of poetry and many magazine and newspaper articles. He is also the author of the satirical novel, Introducing the Richest Family in America.

 

 

Somewhere along the line I lost my belief in Ayn Rand’s objectivist philosophy. Acting selfishly helped me get what I wanted, but it didn’t take other people’s feelings into account. I didn’t like what came with selfish actions — the guilt feelings, disappointments, and broken hearts.

I was accepted into the Iowa City Writers Workshop. When I arrived in Iowa City, I got some financial help from the school, and earned additional money through the university’s work study program. My second wife and I moved into a metal Quonset hut in married student housing. One of my fiction instructors, the novelist Robert Coover, was particularly encouraging my first semester of grad school. When he asked me to help him work on a film he was shooting, I leaped at the chance.

By the winter of 1967, campus sentiment was shifting heavily against the war. The University of Iowa campus was in turmoil. Every male student could be sent to Vietnam after he graduated, and TV news was revealing the Vietnam War to be a horrible quagmire. Students for the Democratic Society and other groups organized opposition to the war. The idea of revolution lingered in the air. Revolution could be heard in our music and our long-haired, restless, cooperative, love-making, pot-smoking campus culture.

Robert Coover wanted to make a documentary about a particular campus demonstration against the Dow Chemical Company. Dow made napalm, an insidious substance that our military was dropping onto Vietnamese civilians. Napalm burned all the way through the flesh and bones everywhere it touched the skin. And Dow was recruiting on campus. Students objected to Dow’s recruiters since their presence implied university support for the war and products like napalm. My role in the documentary was to carry a tape recorder and get some authentic crowd noise during the demonstration.

I remember that the winter air was cold on the morning of December 7, 1967. The sky was overcast. I was given a reel-to-reel tape recorder and shown how to use it. As students gathered, demonstrators set rubber dolls on fire to graphically dramatize the destructive effects of napalm. Angry speeches began on the steps of what I think was an old campus administration building. In the winter cold, I lugged my tape recorder up the steps to be closer to the speakers and the restless crowd. Suddenly one of the speakers shouted, “Let’s go get Dow Chemical!”

The front door to the building was locked, but students surged like a wave of water to the left side of the building. Someone opened an unlocked door. Protesters streamed into the building. I followed them, trying to stay in the middle of the crowd with the tape recorder.

I remember hurrying down a hallway. I remember seeing double doors burst open at the far end of the hall. I remember a wall of law enforcement officers running toward us, carrying batons.

One of them arrested me, and confiscated my tape recorder. I remember saying, “You’re making a mistake.” Reporters were supposed to have some immunity from arrest, but I didn’t know how to make that point, and anyway the officer who arrested me wasn’t listening.

I was handcuffed, led outside, and forced down on the sidewalk with some other arrested students. We were put into a police car and taken to jail. I wound up a group of about twenty other student protesters in a cell at the Iowa City Jail.

We were held for several hours. I remember all of us being walked into a small crowded courtroom, to enter pleas. Photographers were there, with flash cameras. Most of us were charged with disorderly conduct. I pled not guilty, as a lawyer I had never seen before advised me to do. I remember the rather distraught face of Robert Coover, who gingerly approached me when he had a chance and asked me how I was holding up.

Somebody posted fifty dollars bail for me. We were all released. The police kept the tape recorder, even though over the next several months I heard that the university made great efforts to have it returned.

My student life went on. I found another part-time job as a fry cook, working Friday and Saturday nights at an all-night diner and truck stop just off Interstate 80. I also stayed busy at school, where I had a full load of classes. A couple of my poems were published in little magazines. I worked on a novel. I reviewed visiting poets for the Daily Iowan, the university newspaper. It was a kick to see my articles in the newspaper, and wondered if I could do that for a living.

Although I had registered Republican, in the 1968 presidential election I voted for Hubert Humphrey, the Democrat, because I felt he was most likely to end the war. By 1969, the Vietnam War was raging. Lots of young men were getting draft notices, or joining up. A few weeks before I graduated, I was called to a pre-induction physical in Iowa City. My classification was now 1-A, which meant that I could be drafted as soon as I got out of school.

I had decided I didn’t want to serve in the military. However, I didn’t want to move to Canada. I didn’t want to amputate my trigger finger, or pretend that I was crazy. I didn’t want to find a psychiatrist who would write me a letter stating I was unfit for military service, as some of my friends did. My grandfather had hinted that he might pull some strings with the draft board, but I didn’t think that was right. My mother was urging me to volunteer. I wasn’t sure what I was going to do.

My second wife and I drove cross country to San Francisco, where we rented an apartment on Haight Street. While in San Francisco, a draft counselor with the American Friends told me that if I changed my address every three months that the draft board would never catch up with me, since it took at least three months for them to update their records. Other options for avoiding the draft included applying for conscientious objector or CO status, which would keep me out, too.

Changing addresses worked for a while. After San Francisco, I lived briefly in Lake Tahoe, California, in two different apartments in Reno, Nevada, and in Los Angeles, always waiting until the last possible minute to send in change of address notices. Finally I got on at a newspaper in a small town in the San Joaquin Valley. I was hired as sports editor for the Madera Daily Tribune, the first job I’d had in which I was actually paid to write.

In Madera, I learned journalism the old way, by practicing it on the job. But the draft board caught up with me. When I received an induction notice, I filed for conscientious objector status. I submitted a written statement to the board, and I was granted a hearing with the local Madera County draft board. Basically, I argued it wasn’t Christian or right to kill other people.

Before the draft board could decide my case, President Richard Nixon cleverly split the antiwar movement. The first lottery in December of 1969 assigned potential draftees numbers according to birthdates drawn from a hat. Number one was the first to go. My birthday was drawn number 318, meaning that it was unlikely that I would ever be drafted for anything short of an all-out nuclear war. I never heard from the draft board again.

At the same time, politics beckoned. An organizer for the George McGovern presidential campaign blew through our dusty little town, desperate for someone to chair the long-shot campaign. All the old politicos in Madera County were committed to Ed Muskie, a senator from Maine who was heavily favored to win the nomination. On a lark, another reporter and I volunteered to co-chair the McGovern campaign. I had more enthusiasm than he did for the job, and I more or less ran our long-shot campaign in Madera County.

McGovern’s campaign was a continuation of Bobby Kennedy’s very progressive 1968 presidential campaign, which ended with his assassination. A former Methodist minister turned senator from South Dakota, and a personal friend of Bobby Kennedy, McGovern was campaigning on immediately ending the Vietnam War, drastically slashing the Defense Department budget, and more. In order to vote for him in the primary, I changed my voter registration to Democratic.

By late 1971 and early 1972, great numbers of Americans were staunchly against the war. Local people of all ages and races volunteered to help our campaign. Volunteers streamed into California from other parts of the country, and we put several of them to work canvassing precincts for the Democratic primary in June. McGovern won the California primary, and the Democratic party nomination, but unfortunately he lost the 1972 election to Nixon, who continued the war.

Sometime in there, I was surprised to receive a check for $50 from the Iowa City courts. Without explanation, they returned the money that had been posted for my bail. I wondered for years if Robert Coover ever got that tape recorder back, and if he was able to complete his film. Just last year, I corresponded with him and learned that the answer was yes. His 29 minute documentary film, “On a Confrontation in Iowa City,” was completed in 1969 and posted online in 2011 by the University of Iowa’s Digital Library. The film includes a brief shot of me and two other protesters being led to a police car just before the closing credits. I was also credited for helping with the sound.

After my political turnaround, I’ve remained more or less an antiwar liberal, or a progressive as it’s now called. I’m conservative in spending money, but I have marched in many demonstrations and given money to many good causes. As a registered independent, I now vote for the most sensible progressive Democrats or third party candidates I can find.

Like any good citizen, I read and think about the issues. I write and email my elected representatives. As I have done in the past, I sometimes jump up and demonstrate for a good cause when I hear the call.

END Part 2 of 2

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A Political Turnaround by David Drum, Part 1 of 2

4 Dec

David Drum 007

 

 

David Drum is the author of eight nonfiction books in the health area, as well as one book of poetry and many magazine and newspaper articles. He is also the author of the satirical novel, Introducing the Richest Family in America.

 

Part 1 of 2

Like many other young men of my generation, my politics turned completely around in the Sixties.

I was born at the tail end of World War II into a fairly conservative family. My father was a test pilot during the war. When I was in elementary school, America was fighting Communism in Korea. I grew up ducking under my desk in elementary school to prepare for an atomic bomb attack and watching Joe McCarthy on TV. Later, I attended high school in conservative San Diego.

After I flunked my entire junior year and half-heartedly repeated it, I was expelled from high school at the beginning of my senior year. After working briefly as a gardener, I was kicked out of the house and sent to live with my paternal grandparents in Conover, North Carolina.

My North Carolina relatives were southern Republicans, more progressive on race issues than the segregationist Democrats of that day. My grandfather, D.S. Drum, was a strong family man who owned a well-known funeral home. A respected local businessman, he had never borrowed a dime from a bank. My grandfather walked me into Newton-Conover High School, announced that I was his grandson, and got me re-admitted to school.

Like every other 18-year-old man in the United States, I was required to go to the post office and register with the Selective Service. I was mailed a draft card in the summer of 1963. With President John Kennedy in the White House, the first young men my age were being drafted for our undeclared war in Vietnam. Some guys I knew from high school volunteered for the Marine Corps or Green Berets, while I was struggling to finish high school.

My southern grandfather kept me busy. He took me to church every week, and I worked at his funeral home and at the ambulance business after school and on weekends. And finally, after five years and summer school, I graduated from high school.

With the help of my family and a Methodist minister who was a family friend, I was admitted on probation to a small junior college in the Pisgah Mountains, south of Asheville.

I surprised everyone by doing well. Brevard College was a small, private, two-year liberal arts college affiliated with the Methodist Church. About seven hundred students lived on campus. As a college student, I received a student deferment, meaning I couldn’t be drafted while I was in school. I knew there was some kind of war in Vietnam, but I didn’t understand it. Like most of my friends, I presumed we were the good guys, fighting for truth, justice, and the American way.

President Kennedy was assassinated my freshman year. I still remember sitting around that little black and white television set in the dormitory lounge, watching the horrible events unfold.

My college girlfriend, Isabel Dixon, nominated me for class president my freshman year. I had never considered the possibility I could be president of anything, but later that year I decided to run for student body president. I won my first election as an outsider candidate, but the administration invalidated my victory. When the school nominated someone else to oppose me, I ran a second time and beat him too. My only memorable campaign stunt was to be carried into the school cafeteria in a coffin, borne on the shoulders of several students in suits, and to leap out of the coffin in the middle of the cafeteria proclaiming, “I’m not dead yet!”

It was still America, the land of opportunity. While the Beatles and the Rolling Stones were taking the country by storm, I began thinking of myself as a conservative. Another student gave me a copy of Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead, which swept me away. As exemplified by the architect-hero Howard Roark, the book argues that superior individuals with will power create things their own way. Selfishness is a virtue, according to Rand. At this point in time, Rand’s “objectivist” philosophy seemed the right way to live. My political reading in those days was far to the right of the political spectrum — Barry Goldwater’s Conscience of a Conservative, Robert Welch’s The Politician, John Stormer’s None Dare Call It Treason, and books of that ilk.

In 1964, the year I was president of the student body, I supported Barry Goldwater for President. The Republican senator from Arizona was an outspoken conservative and a colonel in the Air Force Reserve. Although I wasn’t yet 21 and couldn’t vote, Goldwater’s honesty appealed to me. I saw him as a political straight-shooter, like John Wayne. I did not think the same of Lyndon Johnson, who took over as president when Kennedy died. Goldwater boldly called for escalating the war in Vietnam, while Johnson painted him as a reckless warmonger.

The Goldwater campaign opened a small headquarters in Brevard, and I did a little righteous footwork for his losing campaign. I hadn’t considered volunteering for military service, since I was still in school, but as much as I’d thought about it, the Vietnam War seemed like a righteous venture at that time.

I graduated from Brevard in 1965 and attended the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, majoring in political science and planning to become a lawyer, and after that perhaps, a politician. I was married by now, but I wasn’t getting along with my first wife. She was pregnant; we lived together in married student housing for a short time. I remember the ferment on the historic old Chapel Hill campus, the impromptu gatherings and speeches as students hotly debated the war in front of old, ivy-covered buildings. I remember stopping to listen to speeches, sometimes in the rain or snow.

A turning point in my political thinking came in February of 1966. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearings held public hearings on Vietnam. Chaired by Arkansas Senator William Fulbright*, the hearings were nationally televised, and I watched them with interest. By this time, my wife had gone back to her mother and taken our infant daughter with her. This left me alone watching the hearings in an empty apartment that I would soon vacate.

Testifying were a great many historians, retired generals, and other experts including George Kennan, who developed the containment strategy that set the strategy for the Cold War. Kennan was among others who recommended withdrawing from Vietnam as soon as feasible.

I do remember being surprised to learn that the people of South Vietnam would have overwhelmingly voted for the Communist leader Ho Chi Minh if the United States had given them a chance to vote. But instead of allowing the vote, the United States created South Vietnam as a separate country, set up a puppet government, and made two countries out of what had been one.

I moved into a rooming house in Chapel Hill. My life was changing. Two writing instructors had encouraged me to think about becoming a writer, and I was leaning in that direction. One of my short stories and a poem had been published in a Chapel Hill literary magazine.

At the end of the 1966 school year, I picked up my portable typewriter and boarded a Greyhound to New Orleans. I had seen The Glass Menagerie several times at Brevard, and I was fascinated by the sad lyric of Tennessee Williams’ play, set in New Orleans. That summer in that crumbling southern city, the oldest and most interesting city in which I have ever lived, I supported myself as a street vendor — selling ice cream, tamales, and hot dogs from a push cart on the streets of the French Quarter and living in a tiny room at the Lee Circle YMCA.

I spent hours pounding the typewriter in my small room. One day a guy told me about the writing program at the University of Iowa. He mentioned an article in Collier’s magazine, which I looked up in the New Orleans Public Library. Iowa’s graduate writing program was famous; it sounded good. On a whim, at the end of the summer I hitchhiked up through Mississippi and Arkansas to Iowa City. Most of the way I travelled with a jumpy bearded guy from Detroit I met at the YMCA who seemed to believe that every person in the deep south was secretly a Klansman who would probably kill us.

When I arrived in Iowa City, the small building that housed the Writers Workshop was closed. But it was a lovely old campus, with a river running through it, and beautiful trees and hills. I slept that night in a laundry room under a campus dormitory. The next day I hitchhiked across the country to see my family in San Diego, the second time I had hitched across the United States. I didn’t own a car while I was an undergraduate, so I did a lot of hitching during those years.

I attended the University of California at Riverside my senior year. I changed my major from political science to English. I worked two jobs to pay my way through school. Since I lived off-campus, I wasn’t too involved in campus life. But I did write a couple of articles for the school newspaper, my first attempts at journalism, and my poetry was published in a small campus literary magazine before I graduated in 1967.

I sent off an application to the University of Iowa’s Writer’s Workshop. That summer I headed for Las Vegas to divorce my first wife. I had become involved with another woman at Riverside, and she wanted to marry me, too.

I worked at the El Cortez Hotel Casino on Fremont Street, dealing craps on the night shift. Although I had nightmares about numbers, it was fun to watch the dice, observe the night life, and to earn cash tips. I remember feeling exhilarated when I emerged from that dimly-lit, smoke-filled casino into the bright early morning sunlight with cash in my pocket. My Las Vegas divorce came through at the end of the summer. Five days later, always the optimist, I married again.

To be continued.

*Editor’s Note. J. William Fulbright was the Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, who in February 1966 initiated a widely watched and televised series of “educational” hearings. Witnesses included retired generals and foreign policy analyst George Kennan. Kennan recommended that the United States withdraw “as soon as this could be done without inordinate damage to our prestige or stability in the area” to avoid risking war with China. His testimony provoked President Johnson to order FBI director J. Edgar Hoover to investigate whether Fulbright was “either a communist agent or a dupe of the communists.”
The hearings resulted in a significant shift in public opinion. The president’s ratings on his conduct of the war dropped from 63 percent to 49 percent. It was now considered respectable to question the war.