Every student radical at Granada Hills High School showed up before firstperiod class on the morning of October 12, 1969—but we didn’t stay long. Charged with excitement and righteousness, two dozen or so junior longhairs, freaks, yippies, and hippies formed a ragged line and marched past the classroom buildings, past the school gates, and onward to Northridge State College for the Moratorium. College students across the country were boycotting classes, gathering for demonstrations—Tricky Dicky had gone too far with his fascist-racist-imperialist bombing of Cambodia!—and we enlightened high-schoolers, straggling up Zelzah Avenue in the smoggy, already baking San Fernando Valley day, were determined to be a part of the grand protest.

Dave Barber, our official yippie, was towards the front, hair streaming behind him and wire-rimmed glasses sliding down his nose. Every few steps he broke into a crouch and pointed his plastic GI Joe burp gun at passing motorists. His manic grin and huge black pupils registered around 500 mikes of purple haze, tangerine flash, blue owsley, or whatever LSD was going around that week. Sue Ronson, AKA Runaround Sue, swung along beside him in her finest beads, bells, and patches; a Marilyn Monroe in rags, a Gifted Students Program dropout and former Jr. MENSA prodigy gone barefoot flower child. Behind them a few paces, John Newton frowned mightily. Newton dressed conservatively for this group—short hair, new jeans, desert boots, blue work shirt, black tie, and briefcase—but his credentials were impeccable: SDS member, little-red-book quoter, tireless Marx-reader, and mimeograph tract passer. He marched along, keeping his frown trained on Dave and Sue, studiously ignoring Stoney Andy Bordner’s attempts to push a joint in his face.

“C’mon, man, take a toke, take a toke, what are you a narc or what?” Andy rasped nasally. He didn’t know much about radical politics, Cambodia, or moratoriums, but he had the right attitude: his motto was “F— the Pigs” and he never missed a party, even if he had to walk to it.

“Wow, man, how much longer? I’m thrashed, man; I hope this is a f—in’ sit-in we’re going to!”

The rest of us fell somewhere within these social parameters. Abbie Hoffman was Dave’s god, and I’d gotten a kick out of Abbie’s opus, Revolution for the Hell of It, myself. The summer before, I’d joined Dave in a few yippie guerrilla theater raids around town. As a novice socialist, I traded books with John; he’d turned me on to Eldridge Cleaver’s Soul on Ice, then “now that I’ve got your attention,” a volume of essays by Herbert Marcuse. I also liked to party with Stoney Andy occasionally. And, like every other male in our crowd, I was in love with Sue.

We swept into the college, past the nervous stares of the campus police. This was It, I thought, righteous history going down: a coming together of the young enlightened, a harbinger of the peaceful counterculture revolution I was sure I would see before I was 25. The scene on the quad was all I’d hoped for: banners, booths, guitars, lots of petitions and mimeographed broadsides going around. I saw bikers, Chicanos, road hippies with little longhaired kids, Black Panthers, and Hare Krishnas. Up on stage a guy in a beret was screaming into a microphone; below him a lively mass shouted encouragement, shaking fists in the black power salute or “flashing the peace,” with two fingers in a V sign.

Our high-school contingent began to disperse into the crowd. Dave started rapping to some older guerrilla theater guys, and John moved to the front of the stage where he began to pull the latest Maoist communiques from his briefcase. Andy found a group passing around a gallon of Red Mountain wine under a tree. Sue hung out with Dave for awhile, then walked over my way. A group of women came between us, chanting something about “peace, power, and sisterhood.” Sue marched up and down in place after they passed and sang:

March on,
March on,
March on Suffragettes!

“What’s that?” I said.

Sue smiled. “It’s from Mary Poppins.”

After awhile she wandered off. I saw Frank Ortiz passing out flyers in front of a booth marked “Chicano Student Union.” When I walked over, he nodded without smiling, then turned and started talking in Spanish with some other guys standing around. Frank was born in the valley and I’d never heard him speak anything but English before, even to his parents. I used to go over to his house all the time; he was a couple of years older and always our baseball team captain. He was married now to my friend Tim’s sister Mandie; they had a baby and lived at Tim’s folks’ house. Tim said that since Frank started college and got into this Chicano stuff, he’d really changed. “It’s like he just got here from Mexico all of a sudden, all this Spanish and ‘gringo imperialist’ stuff all the time. Mandie and Frank aren’t getting along too good.”

Since I couldn’t join the conversation, I walked over and sat down in front of the stage. A couple of local bands played, and The Committee to Resist the Draft did a symbolic card burning. Then a couple of professors talked about Vietnam and how it was simply a combination of venture capitalism and white racism.

I was drinking wine with Andy when Phil Ochs came on, the big name on the program. He’d played with Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Pete Seeger—all my heroes. We all stood up to cheer as he sat down to tune his guitar. He seemed older than on his album covers; his body was soft and fleshy and his face was flushed, he was sweating and he squinted out at us like he had a bad headache. I remember thinking that he looked a lot more like my Uncle Don the drunk than anyone in the audience. But he seemed to perk up once he started playing and singing. He had a high, whiny voice that made Bob Dylan sound like an opera star, but once you got used to it it was OK. He did “Small Circle of Friends” and a few of his other hits; then he introduced a brand new one, all about how we had to stop being passive, how we had to let go of the whole bourgeois, nonviolent protest scene and fight for the world revolution in progress. The chorus went:

You’re supporting Nixon
but I’m supporting Mao
and I’ve got something to say here, sir,
and I’m gonna say it now!

Everyone cheered and John Newton looked happier than I’d ever seen him. Dave raised his toy gun and Andy hefted his bottle in salute. Ochs went off waving and it looked like the end of the show, but a couple of minutes later the yippie-looking guy who’d introduced everyone was at the microphone.

“Old Prof Summers wants to turn us on to a few words,” he said, grinning. “So lets give him a b-i-i-i-g hand.” I didn’t know who Old Prof Summers was, but I cheered along with everybody else. From the tongue-in-cheek intro, I thought he must be a comedy act— something on the order of General Waste-More-Land and General Hershey-Bar, two Unitarian church pastors who dressed in caricature uniforms and gave caricature promilitary speeches at all the peace festivals and love-ins. The old man who stepped up really did look like the perfect parody of an absentminded professor as he cleared his throat and fumbled with the microphone, and his voice seemed faint and wavery after Phil and the yippie.

“Mr. Ochs has said, Tve got something to say here, sir, and I’m going to say it now,'” he began. “Well, I have something to say to you, Mr. Ochs, and to all the good students in your audience.” I didn’t pay much attention at first. I was watching Sue; she was standing to the side of the edge of the stage, smoking a joint with some black dudes. I started to fade in as the old prof started talking about freedom; how only in this country could a dissenter like Ochs have the freedom to speak his mind. Everybody fake-yawned and made snorting noises, but he went right on, his voice getting stronger all the time. He said he had been a socialist in his youth and a card-carrying communist in the 30’s, but he was a communist no longer. We gave a big fake cheer at this and Dave yelled “God bless J. Edgar Hoover!”

The old man waited until the laughter died down, then began to talk history, starting with the Revolution in the Soviet Union. According to him, socialism died in 1918; as soon as the Bolsheviks consolidated their power, they murdered all the socialists in Russia, and after that they liquidated all the liberals. He said that Hitler’s National Socialism was a natural outgrowth of Stalin’s Imperial Socialism, that Stalin had murdered 11 million of his own countrymen before Hitler even dreamed of the death camps. Stalin’s and Hitler’s joining forces to “rape Europe” in 1939 was what finally turned him away from the Communist Party in “shock and horror,” but he said that it should have been no surprise to him since they were both international gangsters hiding behind socialist rhetoric.

“And the modern, ‘reasonable’ socialists are no different,” he added. “For all their denouncements of Stalin, they share his voracious appetite for power.”

Dave and his friends gave him the Nazi salute and chanted “Seig heil! Seig heil,” but it didn’t slow the old man down. He got on “Mr. Ochs’s mentor, Mao Tse-tung,” and went on about how the “so-called agrarian reformer” had actually been a protege of Stalin, and had passed his apprenticeship by killing hundreds of thousands of his people in religious and political purges at home and countless more in imperialist slaughter in Tibet and Korea. He pointed at posters of Castro and Ho Chi Mihn on the side of the stage. “Oh yes, I know all about those ‘heroes of the revolution.'” He almost spat the last word. “It is a sad comment on human nature that some Americans continue to idolize them even after it has become sickeningly clear that they are puppets of the communist butchers.”

He looked directly at a woman with a baby in a papoose backpack. She was holding a Ché Guevara picket. “My dear, are you aware that in Cuba today, by written law, parents must teach their children to be absolutely loyal to the state, or the government may remove the child from the family?”

He got catcalls and vulgar noises for that one. I saw Phil Ochs standing at the edge of the stage, grinning into a paper cup.

“This war in Southeast Asia is part of the grand strategy of communist world domination. They make no secret of it. The communists are not gentle humanists, they do not share your desire for peace and love; they have declared a war against freedom and democracy, and, whether you know it or not, your activities here today are playing directly into their hands.”

This was too much. We hooted, booed, and shook our posters at him. At least, most of us did. I was getting a strange kick out of the little old man facing everybody off; I hoped they’d let him go till he ran down.

But he was about done. “Most of you are intelligent young people,” he said. “I challenge you, as thinkers, as intellectuals, as free people with open minds.” He pointed at the professors who’d spoken before. “Read! Listen! Study history! Both sides, not just the dressed-up party line my quisling colleagues there would feed you! Take responsibility for your own education in these matters! If you do, you will discover in short order that the communist modus operandi is to offer a man with a bird in the hand two more birds in the bush. Those birds may be called equality, justice, peace—but as soon as the communist can convince a man to let go of his freedom, his bird in the hand, he rewards that man by enslaving him and devouring all three birds. This strategy has worked all too well in a short time over a large part of the globe. It will work here if you let it. God help you if you do.”

The audience howled like a zoo. Some were booing and shaking their fists; some were laughing, chanting, or fake-cheering. The old man shuffled off stage. I saw John Newton had worked his way through the crowd to Phil Ochs; he was gesticulating at the professor’s back and was obviously upset, almost crying. Ochs shook his head, smiled reassuringly, and with a grimace, killed whatever was in his cup.

Stoney Andy was passed out under a tree, snoring and smiling in his sleep. Dave Barber and his friends started to dance around the quad; then they worked into the snake, a sort of conga line where everyone put their hands on the hips of the person in front and undulated through the scene. I didn’t feel like joining them. On the way out I saw Sue on the back of a motorcycle. The guy driving was a huge biker with a “Straight Satans” stenciled on the back of his cut-off jean jacket and swastika tattoos covering his arms.

It’s been 17 years, and I’m back at college. The little hippie babies I saw running through the booths and trampling the posters are older now than I was then. Some of them may be my classmates. Phil Ochs committed suicide in the early 70’s, a victim, like Uncle Don, of the disease of alcoholism. Andy is married with two kids and works in a muffler factory; he goes to Dodger games and drinks a lot of beer. Sue hung out with bikers for a few years, then married a lawyer. She lives in a beautiful home with a nice view of the valley. Dave Barber went to college for a while, played in bands, drove a cab, got married, divorced, then went to computer school. He’s a programmer now and visits his son on weekends. He still likes Abbie Hoffman and got as far as Death Valley in the big peace march last year. Frank Ortiz graduated from Northridge State and got a middle management civil service job through affirmative action. I lost track of John Newton. Maybe he’s a college professor or an underground terrorist, or a volunteer in Nicaragua. Maybe he’s a guru like Rennie Davis, a born-again Christian like Eldridge Cleaver, a talk-show host like Bobby Scale, or a stockbroker like Jerry Rubin. All I know is that nothing would surprise me.

It would make a neat ending to say that old Prof. Summers’ talk changed my life instantly and led me to become a proud young American, but it didn’t work out quite that way. I did begin to read beyond the underground press, but I remained a conforming nonconformist for the most part; I went with the flow, grew my hair past my shoulders, dropped in and out of junior college, registered Peace and Freedom party the year 18-year-olds got the vote. In ’72 I passed petitions to limit then-governor Reagan’s veto power over the board of regents. I remember feeling strangely embarrassed to discover that I didn’t have to explain my petition; all I had to do was say it was anti-Reagan to get a signature from 95 percent of the students at the colleges I canvassed.

I maintained a counterculture lifestyle for years, but more reading—and some firsthand experience—left me disillusioned with leftist politics and “Politically Correct” ideas. Self-styled revolutionaries began to seem hypocritical in their defensiveness about corruption in the movement and their determination to blame communist atrocities in Cambodia, Vietnam, and Africa on the ubiquitous “Imperialist Western War Mongers.” Since when did our freedom-or-death counterculture have to make excuses for totalitarians?

The more I looked into the horrors being perpetrated in the name of socialism and revolution, the less I believed I would ever sit around a “Woodstock Nation” grokking with my Russian soul brothers while wooden ships sailed free and easy. But the alternative was just too weird—how could I align myself with old enemies, with Nixon, Ford, Carter, or (horrors!) Reagan? My solution was to hide out, to give up politics. They were all crooks, so to hell with them! I quit going back to junior college, quit listening to the mainstream news, quit reading the radical press. I worked as a manual laborer for several years and was pretty snobbish about it, but I never could kick the public library and typewriter habit. Reading, writing, and finally hay fever decided me against a permanent career as a self-educated lawnmower operator; at 28 I determined to go back to school and do it right this time, get my education without worrying about all the damn politics.

But my first day at UC Santa Cruz in 1984 shattered my apolitical stance and showed me that the idea of John Newton becoming a college professor for the establishment wasn’t so farfetched. In his opening speech to a large audience of wide-eyed, mostly 18-year-olds, the senior professor of the education department (the program responsible for handing out elementary and secondary school teaching credentials) compared the US government to Nazi Germany, swore allegiance to the Sandinistas, and warned that if Reagan were reelected, “we will probably never see another election in this country.” The kids ate it up; it was like a tent revival, complete with whoops and spontaneous cheering.

I almost quit again, but that same professor telling me, in effect, that I could love UCSC or leave it brought out enough obstinacy to carry me through to an honors degree. I’ve moved around some since then; I’ve talked to students from many colleges and am currently doing graduate work at the University of Iowa, and I know that although UCSC is well known for being an ultra-leftist game preserve, their brand of classroom objectivity isn’t unusual in the university of the 80’s. Sixties radicalism seems to have gained respectability with age; it’s fashionable nowadays to view the US as the worst example of racism, sexism, imperialism, and general nastiness that the world had ever seen. I’ve heard of a turn to conservatism on campus, but what I see mostly is bland, cautious, and what we would have considered “square” students spouting the leftist “Politically Correct” line—what was radical in the 60’s has become safe status quo in the 80’s.

As to my fellow veterans of 60’s radicalism, they remind me more and more of what happened to John Lennon, one of my first heroes. He always denounced religion and capitalism as slavery and hypocrisy; yet toward the end of his life he couldn’t get out of bed without consulting his astrologer, his Edgar Cayce Reader, and the I-Ching—not to mention his wife, business advisors, and assorted political sycophants. Like Lennon, many of my old friends seemed determined to jump from the frying pan into the fire: from adolescent chafing at a workable-if-notperfect system into a bizarre, blind-faith alliance with the worst elements of the totalitarianism they profess to despise.

After years of straining to find good in socialist or “progressive” programs, some of us are finally beginning to separate rhetoric from reality. For my part, I finally came to believe that though our president may not be perfect and our system of government may have its faults, in comparison to that which is forced upon most of humanity these days, Reagan is another Gandhi and the United States is the real “workers’ paradise” on earth.

But of course most of my classmates find that idea as absurd now as I thought it was in 1969. With all the boycotts, sit-ins, and committees-in-solidarity – with – everyone – against – the – United – States, every day at UCSC—and most days at UI—bring a deja vu from Moratorium ’69, when Prof. Summers gave us hell. The old man is surely dead by now, but I still think of him when I read Chronicles, National Review, and Reader’s Digest. I like to think his spirit is floating around somewhere and smiling down at me—even if I was a little slow.