For example, it was mandatory for young women to become members in the Association of Women Students (AWS) as an automatic function of enrolling in the university. The AWS functioned as an archaic organization that set dormitory rules to keep young women apart from young men, especially in dorm rooms. Kissing in public brought a steep infraction to young women, but not to young men. While boys could be boys, women were subject to curfews, and also told what they could wear. No short skirts or pants were allowed. As student council president, Licata waged a campaign to do away with arbitrary rules that were best relegated to the past when universities and other institutions traditionally operated in locus parentis and acted as parents (babysitters) to young adults. The authorities, old guard, did not fully embrace that the times were indeed changing. They didn’t see, as Licata states, “[the] Cultural Revolution brewing in their own homes among their on sons and daughters.”
In his early years as a student activist, Licata burst into Bohemia. Even in relatively conservative Cleveland,
he has no trouble finding the coffee house and taverns that serve as incubators for the free exchange of ideas. He’s determined to understand the underpinnings of “participatory democracy.” Ever the explorer, he ventures far beyond Cleveland, hitchhiking on rural roads. Intent on getting to New York City, he finds himself detoured to Washington D.C., but not even a blizzard and total white-out conditions in remote areas of Pennsylvania can stop him from getting to his destination. This fearless persistence also seems to be a driving theme that colors his political life, whether it’s academic or municipal politics. The SDS did not adhere to a “correct ideology,” but worked with any part or group interested in social change. To wit, so did Nick Licata. He didn’t arbitrarily pick sides but reached across the aisle, got things done, and won.
Eventually, the SDS imploded, splitting into factions similar to the tension in our current democratic party, which has divided into progressives and moderates. Back in the late 1960s, the SDS had a new, more action-oriented faction that was growing frustrated with fighting against racism, against capitalism, and classicism. The other faction was older, more cautious, reserved and willing to work through the slow process of change.
There is great inspiration watching an individual choosing to be an instrument for social change and staying the course. I’m reminded of the words of Peter Maurin*: “We want to make the kind of society where it’s easier for people to be good.” A good memoir isn’t just the telling of the story of an individual’s life with its trials and tribulations, and joys and triumphs. A good memoir captures the essence of a much larger story— why what happened in the 1960s is still important today. Lessons are learned by traveling with Nick Licata—he was part of a movement that intended to change the community and the country for the better. As human beings, we are at our best when we believe in something much larger than ourselves. Therein lies the real hope for a better world.
Nick Licata is a former Seattle City Council Member, Founding Board Chair of Local Progress & author of Becoming A Citizen Activist. He can be reached at www.becomingacitizenactivist.org
*Peter Maurin was a French Catholic social activist, theologian, and De La Salle Brother who founded the Catholic Worker Movement in 1933 with Dorothy Day