Today is the holiday celebrating Martin Luther King. As I listen to the events going on to honor this man my mind goes back 50 years. How can it be 50 years ago? 1968. In some ways the best year of my life. In some ways the scariest year of my life. I see so many parallels between then and now.
Our country was embroiled in the VietNam war, badly divided. Lyndon Johnson was president. How we joined in our contempt for that man. He was a buffoon to be jeered.
I was in Berkeley. The summer before everyone flocked to San Francisco, Berkeley for the love-ins, the music. As we marched through these places against the war in 68, the atmosphere seemed different, more charged.
The draft. That colored everything. Guys our age were putting their lives on the line for this worthless war. It was going nowhere, and it was taking our lives, our dreams with it.We marched to the train station in Berkeley. In tears, I begged the guys standing there to step away from the train which would carry them into war.
Not that they had many choices. It was difficult to avoid the draft. Escape to Canada. Some of my friends did. Conscientious objector? My brother took that route. Find a 4-F exemption? Many of my friends tried that route. Bad eyes? Fake mental illness? Join the Peace Corps. Some draft boards handed out deferments for that. That was the route my husband, Dan was going to se.
Civil Rights. I had marched in 1966 with Martin Luther King in Chicago. Every Wednesday I went to his rally. The energy, the electricity in that space was palpable. I was so totally committed to ending all discrimination. Voter rights. Open housing. Integration.
The first three months of 1968 seemed charged, but fun. Bill Graham concerts. Psychedelic posters. Speeches and spontaneous concerts in Sproul Plaza. Mind bending. Thought-provoking.
Probably the date things began to change was March 31. President Johnson scheduled a nationwide address. We crowded around the television, prepared to boo his every word. Then he said, “I shall not accept the nomination of my party. Televisions had no pause then, no rewind. Our mouths dropped open. It was difficult to take in what he said. We looked at each other dumbfounded. About a minute later, the halls of our apartment erupted in cheers. Others had the same experience. Had our problems been solved so effortlessly?
Then April 3. I was tutoring a girl in the Oakland ghetto in reading. A hush fell. I left her home. Everyone seemed subdued, tears streaming down their faces. I quickly hopped on my bus. Headed home. We had no riots. But I knew this was not my neighborhood. gray pall had descended. There was no glow anywhere.
Politics took over. Who would go for the Democratic nomination now? McCarthy? He was the hero of the left wing. He was totally opposed to the war. Put himself out there immediately. I had watched every television address he had given. Could he be elected? Before we spent much time contemplating this possibility we found ourselves glued to to the television a second time. Bobby Kennedy was going to run!
So smooth. So good looking. So seemingly empathic.
Maybe my husband could finish his PhD without s break for the Peace Corps to get out of the draft! Even though King was gone, hope returned. Until June 6. Again we gathered around our television sets. It was the California primary. This would propel Bobby into the nomination. He could end the war. Dan might not have to join the Peace Corps. Again our apartment house echoed with everyone’s cheers. Then Kennedy entered the kitchen of his hotel. Shots rang out. A hush, once again, fell over all of Berkeley.
We had to leave. We could not stay in the turmoil. Dan would n ot be drafted. My country could not rely on assassinations to solve its problems. I never got involved in watching the Chicago debacle. This was not my country. What happened there could not happen in my country. Police thugs and delegate manipulation, for me, was unacceptable. We grabbed our acceptances into the Peace Corps in Nigeria.
We had heard about the civil war there, in Nigeria, but it was not “our war.”
"With all the beauty surrounding me here above the Verde Valley, how could I not create more beauty?"