Sunday, July 23, 2017
My kids Alexis and Mike just got back from the Summer of Love exhibit at the DeYoung Museum in SF. For them, it’s a museum exhibit. For me, life history. Well, not really. In 1967 I was still a high school Valley Boy interested in debate club, the Dodgers, and Beach Boy music. Law school was in my future. The movement didn’t hit me till the next summer, 1968, one that I spent in summer school at UC Santa Cruz. Let’s call it the Summer of Love + 1.
I'd never heard of Junior Statesmen of America before I got to Santa Cruz. It was just summer school to me. Courses in political philosophy, speech and debate, living in a college dorm in the redwoods, how much better could a summer get?
When I got to the school, they were all talking JSA business. Mock legislatures debating contemporary policy issues, elections picking representative throughout California, a whole subculture of which I was not a part. An outsider at the cast party. For this was clearly the in-crowd of the organization, the Masonic Lodge for future Bakersfield city council members and Republican political consultants, coming to the mountains for a summer retreat. For them, summer school was just a pretext.
The first day's lesson was a surprise.
"We'll have a mock legislature here this summer to give you all some practice at the workings of a government," the director informed us. "Now set one up." And the instructors all marched out of the room.
There we were, twenty nine Junior Statesmen and a kid from the Valley. Furtive whispering in one corner ("You do it, Glen." "No, you."). Eyes dodging one another in embarrassed silence. A few throats cleared to begin speaking, words never offered to the world. All eyes were on Glen and Ron, obviously the two Statesmen of the Junior Statesmen, High Priests of the Lodge. But no motion, not for the longest time. "Why don't we..." someone drifted off in a loud whisper.
Then it possessed me. Lead the Junior Statesmen out of the wilderness. Abruptly, I marched to the front, picked up the chalk, and boldly stated, "We will now have an election for a temporary chairman." I was elected and led them for the whole summer.
I was wrong, wrong in every detail about the Junior Statesmen. They were not a fraternal order, tightly knit in their plots to take over the world. Scratch a Statesmen and you found a Japanese kid from Altadena, a farmer's daughter from Colusa, or a Jewish nerd from La Jolla. I fit in very well, played politics with the best, caballed and plotted and schemed and juggled, lacking only the cigar to match the finest caricature of Tammany Hall. I became an insider's insider.
Not everyone played that game. Certainly Jack and Michele didn't. Jack had the kind of hair that silk worms envy, blonde, thin, straight, and shiny. Michele’s persona matched attributes with John's hair. He always wore a green cord dress coat, she a crown of wildflowers and long dress. Neither wore shoes. Both were collared by nooses of Indian beads. They spoke softly, intimately to each other. Stood at the fringes. Took long walks in the woods. Spent hours watching ants parade over a tree stump or followed a squirrel peeking into every hole for food. For most of the summer I didn't notice them, for they didn't sit up at night debating Plato and Mills with us. Nor did they ever invoke the political whisper before an important vote on universal conscription. When they spoke, it was slowly, unsurely, simply. A dozen young lawyers shouted down their every thought with a hundred points of order.
Weird, they were. Misfits, castoffs. Delinquents probably. I was sure they even... smoked marijuana. But one day, just that one day, I stopped to listen as Michele tried to argue about how we should just get out of Vietnam before any more people got senselessly killed. Her case was weak, unsupported, but the conviction was unarguable, the passion tangible. The wolves circled, she was silenced and made to recant. Yet, in the brief moment that she fearfully held the floor, I heard her. I listened to both of them thereafter.
Unbeknownst to us politicking for our lives in those woods, fifty miles to the north the crowds were again gathering in Golden Gate Park. Hippies, acid, Quicksilver and the Airplane, make love not war, Fillmore, communes, the free clinic. That summer changed the broader world in many other ways: Bobby’s assassination, the Chicago police riot, antiwar demonstrations, the Russians in Czechoslovakia, the Parisian student revolt. Nixon.
I didn't join Jack and Michele, doff my shoes, and spend the summer walking through the woods hugging trees. But when we left Santa Cruz, I brought with me my first set of love beads. And I never did go to law school.
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Poster photo by Harvey W. Cohen - www.harveywallacecohen.com Transferred from en.wikipedia to Commons., CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=12597693
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