Tag Archives: Sihanouk

Leather Mini-skirts, Shop-ins, and Prince No Good Schnook, By A.W.

4 Jun

A.W.  has a long history of activism in Los Angeles, including in civil rights, feminist, anti-war, and environmental  issues. She is currently especially interested in unionism and in the worker-cooperative movement, has been to Mondragon, Spain, and will soon visit cooperatives near Bologna, Italy.

 

Although politics were rarely discussed openly in my home, I later suspected that my parents had been left-wing activists in their youth during the ‘30s, because I absorbed anti-racist, anti-capitalist values, and a desire to work for social justice. Later I realized that they were so silent because of McCarthyism. In 1963 I graduated from UCLA. I was moved by the Civil Rights Movement, which was just getting started, but UCLA was quiet and I felt isolated there. I hung out with liberals but couldn’t find any activists. After college I taught second grade for a while. I hung out with “artsy” types. When the March on Washington took place in August of that year, I was eager to go to Washington D.C. but knew no one who was going. I couldn’t find anyone who was involved in civil rights support work although I was dying to participate. (It’s ironic how we on the left always say that we need to involve new people but I couldn’t find anyone to mentor me.)

I’d read about the sit-ins. In LA, there were “shop-ins”—coordinated by the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC)—which were protests against grocery chains for not hiring black workers. People would pile their carts full and leave them at the checkout counter, yelling Hire blacks! as they walked out. As a teacher at that time you could be fired if arrested, even for civil disobedience. I agonized and decided to risk it. I had read about SNCC in the newspaper and decided I would volunteer, too.

SNCC

I walked into the SNCC office, my heart pounding, and said I wanted to help out. At the time I lived near the Sunset Strip; my mode of attire was a leather mini-skirt, boots, long straight hair, a purse that hung over my shoulder, and makeup. The man behind the SNCC desk stared at me. After a moment he said, “Well, nothing is happening right now but we’ll get in touch with you.” I felt embarrassed and awkward, as if I was walking into a world of which I knew nothing.

miniskirt-Jane-Fonda-lgn

Jane Fonda and mini-skirt in the 60s

For two or three years I continued teaching. In those days I was able to save half my salary. Then I quit teaching, which of course upset my parents, and decided to travel to Europe with a girlfriend.

In Europe we hitchhiked all over. I loved Tangier, Morocco. Then I  traveled around the world with a guy I later married. It cost $3000 for 13 months; hotels were only 50 cents a night. We hitchhiked except in Turkey and Afghanistan, where we told it was too dangerous. There we took buses instead, which were very cheap. I remember we were on a bus in Afghanistan; there were women who were fully draped from head to toe in their hijabs and burkas;  it was a long, hot drive. The bus stopped in the middle of the desert, the men all got off to pee, and in that moment all the women took off their burkas and fanned themselves.

Through Time Magazine I kept track of what was happening back home. I remember reading about the trial of the Chicago 7. There was a drawing of Bobby Seale, shackled and gagged, in the courtroom. I was shocked. What kind of country would do this? When we met European kids,  I felt that I had to apologize for my country. We often claimed to be Canadians.

In Copenhagen there was a big square with a TV. People filled the square to watch the first moon landing. Later on the train in India some men were having an agitated discussion, and someone translated for us that they were debating whether it was really possible for men to go to the moon. According to their religion, it would be impossible.

Between trips, back home in Los Angeles, I experienced the “flower power” culture. I lived in West Hollywood near Sunset Strip. There were “be-ins” at Griffith Park. I held myself aloof from the flower power culture; I considered it frivolous. My boyfriend had given  me a book by William Hinton called Fanshen: A Documentary of Revolution in a Chinese Village, and another one by John Reed called Ten Days that Shook the World, about the Russian Revolution. Both of these enhanced my political education. My boyfriend also knew Communist Party (CP) people in England. In London we stayed with squatters (who had managed to hook up free electricity).

We spent New Year’s Eve 1969 in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. We visited the Angkor Wat ruins. Everywhere were motor scooters vying for riders, but we learned that the guides had cooperated with each other and set common prices, then pooled their money—unlike in other countries where it was every man for himself. Many people supported the Khmer Rouge and hated Prince Sihanouk; they called him Prince No Good Schnook. (Of course, this was before the Khmer Rouge took power and committed so many atrocities.

Prince Sihanouk

When we met CP people in France we were underwhelmed. They seemed indistinguishable from the Democratic Party. One woman was wearing a power suit. The party had a glossy magazine with ads for French auto manufacturers. When asked about that, they said that corporations had no influence over them and that if they wanted to contribute to the party, then why not accept their money. I came away with little respect for the CP in France.

At one point my boyfriend and I went off in different directions for a while. I was in Indonesia on my way to meet him in Tokyo when I realized I could get a free stopover in Saigon. On the plane I met some Americans who lived there but had been back to the States to see their families. It turned out they were Friends (Quakers), who were there to oppose the war. Almost every week they held demonstrations at the American embassy. Now they were worried that they wouldn’t be let back into Vietnam. Informing me that the only places to stay were brothels, they invited me to stay with them.

At the Saigon airport when customs officials saw Eastern European stamps in my passport, they balked. They had a huge book with names of everyone who wasn’t allowed into the country. My name wasn’t there, but they were still suspicious. After questioning me, they told me they must call the assistant American ambassador. After a while I saw a guy walking towards me. He asked me still more questions but finally let me enter the country. I was still wearing my mini-skirt outfits.

I stayed with the Friends. We could hear bombs near the Quakers’ house but they weren’t concerned: “If the bombs are more than two blocks away, we don’t pay attention to them,” they said.

Through them I met South Vietnamese men—leftists and communists—who were resisting fighting for the South. Their goal was to hook up with the rebel National Liberation Front. The Quaker people would smuggle them in the backseat of their car. One time the Vietnamese men crouched on the backseat floor while I sat up straight on the seat, hoping we wouldn’t get stopped by the police or military. Later I wondered if one of the reasons they took me in was that they thought I would be a good cover for their smuggling trips.

Advertisements