Monday, January 22, 2018

I wonder if I've learned anything after fifty years on the barricades

This clever sign was sighted at the Wyoming Women's March in Cheyenne. The times they are a changin', but maybe not so much.
At the Wyoming Women's March Saturday in Cheyenne, i was a last-minute recruit for the security detail. To that point, my role had been membership in the food committee. I am a cook and  gardener so naturally gravitate toward the culinary part part of any event. I have cooked quiches, casseroles, and desserts for Democratic Party fund-raisers. I've been grill cook for non-profit fund-raisers, notably Wyoming UPLIFT. I've cooked my No Added Salt NASty Man Chili, for the first women's march on Inauguration Day.

Food is one of my favorite things. But yesterday, I was drafted into the all-male security corps. We were coached by Wendy Soto and an officer of the Cheyenne PD. And then we walked down Capitol Avenue to take spots at intersections. Our job was the prevent traffic colliding with the marchers. For that, the flashing lights and sirens of police cars helped immensely. I was at a busy one-way intersection. In front of me was a police cruiser. Behind me, a pick-up truck idled among the cars. I turned around to look at the stalled traffic. Nobody looked happy. Then again, none were flipping me off.  It was a typical Wyoming scene. Me in my arctic coat, wool cap and gloves. Polite Wyomingites waiting for a bunch of radicals to walk by. Nobody running anyone down, as happened in Charlottesville. Nice motorists who, in 2016, voted for Trump and right-wing state legislators who want to send immigrants back to Mexico and liberals back to Colorado. These regressive folks are in the majority here. They can make this place scary for liberals.

But on this day, the activists outnumbered the Know Nothings. I knew that security had become an issue with an online threat against the march. Our security chief, Gaylan Wright, was home sick. So we had to step up. All of us held the threat in our heads as we stood protecting our brothers and sisters from the anger that usually lurks just beneath the surface.

I am a veteran of protests going back to the Vietnam War. Back then, I was just a youngster, 19 and 20, confused about my role in the world. My confused pals, angry about the Kent State Massacre and the Cambodian bombings and the draft, had turned out for the protests equipped with gas masks we'd bought earlier that day at the Columbia, S.C., army surplus store. When the tear gas flew, we were going to be prepared, as the Scouts had taught us to be. We were good Scouts but lousy protesters. Thing is, I could have been at the Navy ROTC ball with a cute Southern girl instead of out on the streets. I was a good Scout but a lousy midshipman.

As we awaited the arrival of the South Carolina Highway Patrol riot squad, all as big as a Gamecocks' lineman, my buddy Pat cut off half of a finger throwing back a broken bottle which had come out of nowhere. Pat was in shock, bleeding profusely, searching the ground for his half-finger. Me and a guy who said he'd been a medic in Nam, helped Pat inside with a promise we would find the finger. The medic staunched the bleeding but said we had to get Pat to the ER. Meanwhile, the troopers had arrived in force, surrounded by a hailstorm of tear gas, and proceeded to bludgeon the protesters. I now was glad I'd gone inside. At some point, I agreed to find someone to help Pat. I found a sympathetic National Guardsman who looked young enough to be my freshman room,mate, and he agreed to get an ambulance on the scene.

He did. I was one of the stretcher-bearers who took Pat outsider to the ambulance. The photographer from the Columbia paper caught us as we hefted Pat into the ambulance. The photo was in the morning paper. Luckily, I was just shown from the back and not identified. The Marine colonel who commanded our ROTC unit would not have been pleased. But I clipped the photo from the paper and gladly showed it around to my dorm chums.

What did I do the rest of that dark night? First, I tried to get back to my dorm. I snuck outside and was prepared to dash across the busy street, when a Guardsman stopped me. Uh oh. He just cautioned me to get inside since the troopers were beating up anybody who looked like a protester. I thanked him and ducked into the Pika House, where Pat's brother Mike was one of the members. He needed to know about  Pat. I located him and gave him the news. He told me to stay here for the night while he tried to track down his brother. I nodded off at some point but got up early to go back to my dorm. As I walked the street near Campus, I was shocked to see that all of the detritus from the previous night -- tear gas canisters, broken bottles. gas masks -- had been swept away. The morning air was filled with the spring scents of  honeysuckles and lilacs. All was right with the world. But where was Pat's finger?

I went from the USC campus to the mass demonstration in Washington, D.C. I was an onlooker, caught up in the rush of events. I didn't really know what I was doing but I was in some fine company. Jane Fonda spoke. Lots of speeches. Richard Nixon journeyed out of the White House for an early-morning rap session with protestors who. like Nixon, had been awake all night. I just missed Tricky Dick, as I was on the other side of the monument, mellowing out after a night on acid. There was a concert, if I remember correctly. 

I was back in D.C. in July, hitchhiking from Norfolk with my ROTC cruise-mate Paul from Notre Dame. On Honor America Day at the National Mall, cops tear-gassed the Yippie Smoke-in at Washington Monument and the gas seeped down into the crowd of My Fellow Americans who just wanted to see the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and listen to Bob Hope's jokes. And see the bitchin' fireworks.

You would think that all that would have cured me of activism. But it did not. A cloud of tear gas would put a hurting on this 67-year-old cardiac patient. Yes, I am a bearded 6-foot-2 security guy in a day-glo vest who couldn't withstand a bit of tear gas or a raging Trumpist. But the point is -- I keep showing up. Not only for me but for my wife and children. The cameraderie of a march helps soothe the sting of Trumpism. It may make a difference and it may not. But I am here. I am. A Man. Who supports equal rights.

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