Memories of Protestors Past

I am overloaded with information about the “Occupy Wall Street” protestors that has been heaped upon me daily by the media. The images of the recent protestors have refreshed my memory and caused long-buried scenes of protestors of years ago to resurface. I wish they had stayed buried.

During the late 1960s, I attended a large university where I observed the civilized walls come tumbling down. While a freshman, there were curfew rules, dress code rules. and other restrictions that if violated, would see the violator facing the disciplinary board.

My dorm was massive, sitting atop a high hill and was home to hundreds of women. We dressed in skirts or dresses for lunch and dinner. Our house mother prayed before we sat down for the evening meal. Whoever sat at the head of the table was the hostess and served food from serving bowls placed in front of her by a waiter, a male college student attired in a clean starched white jacket. No one left a table until everyone at their table was finished eating. All that disappeared when the university turned every dining hall into a cafeteria. Many rules went by the wayside. A civilized people exhibit consideration and respect for one another, and rules and laws assist in maintaining peace. The 1960s and the years since have seen us lose our civility.

University rules were not meant to oppress but were for our safety and security. Sure, I complained about the rules like everyone else when they existed but secretly wished they still existed when they were removed, especially when a date turned out to be a lemon, and I couldn’t cut the evening short with the excuse of having to be back at the dorm before curfew!

The protests of the Vietnam War began, and my campus was divided: those who supported the war and those who didn’t. The contrast was visibly clear: the protestors were the hippie-types, often with beards and long hair, grungy clothes and sandals. We supporters of the war usually appeared neatly dressed, men in khaki slacks and button-down shirts, women in neat shirt-waist dresses or sweaters and skirts, and we all wore Bass Weejuns (a leather loafer preferred by both males and females at the time). Many of us were naïve and believed the government would never involve us in a war that was wrong. Both sides were passionate. The SDS (Students for a Democratic Society) members and the Young Republican Club members stood at their tables loaded with literature along the sidewalk in the middle of campus yelling at passers-by to sign up for the cause. The hippies had big bonfires at night where they made fiery speeches. They generally were articulate; they had a cause and could tell anyone who would listen or not the reasons the war was wrong.

Move forward to 1972. I was two years out of college and teaching in an elementary school in South Florida. After school and during the summer, I worked in the office of my congressman, addressing (no computer then, just typewriters), sealing, and stamping envelopes to constituents. As a reward for my hard work, the congressman gave my two roommates, who also helped out in his office, and I the opportunity to work at the Republican National Convention in Miami Beach that year. Richard Nixon was running for a second term against Democrat George McGovern whose platform included withdrawal of our troops from Vietnam. Protestors of the war heavily supported McGovern. The Democrats also held their convention in Miami Beach in July, a month prior to the Republican’s convention.

When it came time for the Republicans to hit Miami Beach, the young McGovern supporters had already left a bad taste in the mouth of the local citizens. Many of them remained in Miami Beach after the Democrats’ convention or returned when the Republicans descended upon the city. They were everywhere and stood out with their hippie clothes, long hair, beards, and protest signs. After teaching all day, my roommates and I would drive down to Miami. One afternoon I was driving along the beach on the way to the day’s assignment, working at the Republican’s information table inside the lobby of one of the big hotels. The McGovern supporters behaved without caution, frightening those of us who enjoy living with law and order. They ran toward my car screaming insults and profanity. Several laid down on the street daring me to run over them, and one man draped himself across the hood of my car. I made sure the doors were locked and slowed down hoping and praying that the bodies on the road would move before my tires made contact. They did.

I spoke with shop owners when I was at the Convention Center and their stories were always the same: the young Nixon supporters—neat, clean, polite, responsible, respectful of other people’s property—appeared in stark contrast to the McGovern supporters—sloppy, rude, and disrespectful. The young Democrat supporters also left their calling cards everywhere—a trail of litter for others to clean up.

When we departed the Miami Convention Center for our cars at night, we needed protection—several males would walk with each group of young women to make sure we all got to our cars safely. McGovern supporters taunted and threatened us, shaking their fists in the air while screaming.

The protestors of the 1970s eventually became part of the establishment with many of them working in government.

The present-day Wall Street protestors have brought all those experiences of the late 1960s and 1970s back. The protestors of my youth and those of today have much in common with their nasty rhetoric, name calling, and often unrealistic demands. But I’ve realized that I have not heard a current protestor being interviewed by a reporter or calling in to a radio talk show make sense! There is not one or a couple of common grievances that unite them. Each individual has his own agenda and many cannot verbally express why they are on the street. Their babble is incoherent, their ignorance of history is astounding, and their understanding of how a Democratic Republic works is grossly lacking—the sad result of a public school education I suppose.

Let’s hope the protestors’ head cheerleader, Obama, will be shown the exit door after the next presidential election. Maybe then, we can work together to bring peace and civility once again to our nation.

Would anyone like to buy my genuine 1972 “Nixon for President” campaign button?