PR for People Monthly October 2021 October 2021 - Page 18

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 the new enlightened stew of the Berkeley Free Speech Movement (1964-65) hippies, yippies, black panthers, the little known white panthers, the Black Student Union, the weathermen, and students amid many others, had the right to be in control of their own lives. Young adults had indeed come of age and were quite capable of making their own decisions. As president of the student council, Licata tackled student rights and student activism as two separate disciplines that were indeed joined at the hip. Working within his elected position as student council president and as local chapter president of the SDS, he was determined to lower the voting age to 18. “Old enough to fight, old enough to vote” became a huge rallying cry for young activists who could be sent to the front lines of Vietnam without being of age to vote. It wasn't until July 1, 1971 that the 26th Amendment became law, lowering the voting age to 18.

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.

The pervading philosophical sentiment of Dr. Timothy Leary, “Tune in, turn on, drop out,” is a misconception of what was really going on back then. Oh, yeah, there were a lot of stoners. But there were also likeminded people intent on being  open, transformed and informed. Organizations like SDS did some good work. The SDS Stop the Draft Protest in 1967 commanded 100,000 participants—a slice of American Pie—the real thing. And on April 26, 1968, about a million students stayed away from classes for the day—a massive walk out, the largest student strike in U.S. History. The chaos and violence that broke out during the Chicago Convention 1968 when The Whole World is Watching was chanted, and indeed the whole world was watching, could have been predicted with the rise of radicals who were hell bent on staging a revolution.

All of the thinking and reminiscing about the activism of the 1960s brings us to today, when insurrectionists stormed the White House on January 6, 2021 to protest an election they claimed was stolen. The key difference between now and then is there was no shred of evidence that our free election, the cornerstone of our American government, was in any way compromised. If the insurrectionists had good intentions that remains to be seen. Whereas in the 1960s, many young people believed in earnest that thought they could save the world’s future from disaster. Licata’s book shows us the difference between insurrection and righteous activism with a conscience. People of all ages can benefit from learning  how to engage with democracy by becoming active citizens.

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