by Patricia Vaccarino
Cambridge Scholars Publishing—223 pp—Price varies
Nick Licata’s latest book is a timely, relevant, and compelling narrative that draws us into the glory days of student activism during the 1960s.These are the halcyon days of citizen empowerment when groups like the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) flourished, imbuing many thousands of young people with a collective conscience to make a better world. At the very least, their attempt to make a better world became a laudable, good faith effort.
In politics, Nick Licata is never thought of as a front line winner or a sure bet. As a student, the first time he runs for office, he’s trailing way behind, and is the candidate everyone was certain would lose. It was through his work with the SDS that he was called upon to run for president of the student council for Bowling Green University. Then against all odds, he beats all of the popular, cheeky frat boys, winning the election to become student body president. Many years later, when he ran to be a member of the Seattle City Council, once again the odds where hugely stacked against him. But not only did he win, he thrived, serving five terms, eventually becoming the president of the council.
In Licata’s book, social unrest percolated on multiple levels that were often fragmented. Racism, Gay rights, and Women’s rights were social issues that affect different sectors and strata of the society, yet they often coalesced under a unified stand against the war in Vietnam. Antiwar sentiment became an inflection point to address many different forms of social injustice in America. Cleveland might have been a conservative working-class town, but there were rumblings taking place among the young that were intent on changing the status quo. Student activists worked to achieve self-governance and to have a voice in the larger university administration. Until then the needs and interests of the students had been largely ignored by the school’s administration. Licata and his fellow student activists became the voice waking up the tone deaf, and a tour de force that sought to overturn a status quo that, until then, had been grossly unfair and unjust.