Jottings: Standing against injustice
The year was 1969. The radio played Buffalo Springfield and I sang along:
"There's something happening here/what it is ain't exactly clear…"
Bob Dupuis, Bill Mantone, Harry Turner and I stood in our Navy uniforms at Chelsea Naval Hospital in Massachusetts. A news broadcast had just announced the student takeover of University Hall at Harvard. We were trying to make sense of these anti-Vietnam protests. We had corpsmen friends who were dying in Vietnam. We wanted to honor them. We wanted to
serve our nation in the best way.
Bill said, "The government is using us as pawns. I'm glad the students are protesting since I can't."
Harry said, "Brats! They think this is a party!"
Bob and I decided to attend the next Harvard Stadium protest to see firsthand. We melted into a stream of thousands of students with long hair, beards and love beads. Bob stood out in his military buzz cut and lack of facial hair, but we were accepted in a solidarity of youth. Speakers addressed President Nixon's escalation of bombing after promising "peace with honor." The
students wanted ROTC removed from campus. They wanted an African American studies program. They concluded with a decision to return to class while continuing dialogue with administrators.
It was April. Spring was in the air. Bob and I felt our own sap rising with these speeches as we accepted the mantle of citizen responsibility. Hope and laughter ran through conversations as we left the stadium. The breeze brought the sweet fragrance of blooming flowers.
That happy chatter stopped. There were police standing shoulder-to-shoulder in riot gear hemming us in. Sunlight glinted off their visored helmets. They held batons and mace. Some were on horses. They looked poised to hurt.
So we were the enemies? These first attempts at free speech as baby citizens would be met with force? No one thought us intelligent enough for discussion? In an instant my heart was completely with the protestors. Would these students see Bob and I as the same brutish
opposition if we wore our uniforms?
Everything changed again when the young man in front of me pulled out an empty whiskey bottle, broke it and turned to me with shards pointed at my belly. "Let's get the pigs," he yelled. I heard more glass breaking and yelling behind me as other young men repeated the same challenge. Students started screaming and running in fear. Horses came forward ready to
trample us into submission. It felt like an earthquake. Civilization as I knew it was crumbling and swallowing us up.
But something else was also happening. A young man stepped away from the panicked stream and held his arms in the air.
"Stop! Stop! These glass-breakers are plants. They WANT to undermine us! Don't let them do it! Call on your better angels."
His words had little effect, but I was greatly impressed by his courage. I knew who I wanted to be. I would find ways to stand firm in the face of physical threat. I would find ways to speak out against injustice. I would choose communities that would strengthen me.
I wondered again, "What is the best way to behave to serve my country?" I had a new answer.
Cherie Dupuis is a member of the Jottings Group at The Lake Oswego Adult Community Center.
You count on us to stay informed and we depend on you to fund our efforts. Quality local journalism takes time and money. Please support us to protect the future of community journalism.