What My Radical Mentor Taught Me About Protesting Today

What My Radical Mentor Taught Me About Protesting Today

Back in the Fall of 1969, I was increasingly disturbed by the direction of the Vietnam War and just sticking my toe into the campus counterculture at Northern Illinois University. I would comb notices for events advertised on posters and began to attend a few—a planning meeting to support a student strike, a gathering of the campus chapter of the SMC (Student Mobilization Committee to End the War). I’d cling to a wall at the back of the room and try to blend with my brand new jeans, and be amazed at how order would arise from the chaos before me—everyone yelling at once, purposefully raucous, yet somehow arriving at decisions. I’d slink out, without interacting. Intrigued, but not ready to engage.

Sign This

One day at the union, Marcia plopped herself down next to me, shoved a petition under my nose, dared me not to be apathetic and told me to sign it. I don’t remember what it was for, but I certainly obeyed. She had seen me at all the meetings and knew a ripe convert who needed a push when she saw one. From that moment she became my radical mentor, schooling me in all the important things—we were “freaks” not “hippies;” it was “grass” or “weed” not “pot;” proper attire meant the bells of your jeans had to be a complete circle, not sticking out like triangles from your ankles; and there were “right” ways to get involved (SMC yes, SDS and YSA—the Young Socialists Association, no). She immediately introduced me to her expansive circle including virtually any non-straight person on campus (back when “straight” meant “conforming,” not sexual identification) and gave me the name I am still called by to this day, “Lovely Rita.”

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