I have stopped worrying about smoking there ever since the day my room was raided by the dorm manager. He issued me a citation for having a hot plate, which he ceremonially confiscated, oblivious to the open bag of marijuana sitting next to the hot plate.
So, my friend Larry drops by and he's all bummed out because his girlfriend Susan has decided they need to chill. He wants to do something to get his mind off things. But there isn't much to do at this archaically conservative school in this small town.
Larry, a junior, is into the philosophy of science and I, a freshman, am mainly interested in media and film. I was named the school paper's theater critic a few months earlier and was fired last week for writing this line: "While Ms. So-and-So portrays a curvaceous Irma la Douce, her singing is conversely flat." The editor told me it was "mean."
I don't really care. I'm actually more interested in alternative media and, as it happens, a group of us have founded an underground newspaper called Iskra, "spark," the name the exiled Lenin gave his paper. I, being obsessed with Marshall McLuhan, get to write far-out articles like one about the curriculum called "The Tedium Is the Message."
Larry and I decide to go to the student union. We run into Charlie, a long-haired blonde who wears so many beads she clatters. Charlie invites us along to Mike's apartment. Mike is the coordinator of the free university we've organized.
We find Mike, who looks like a movie star and wears tweed sports coats with elbow patches, with his girlfriend Kate. She is a redhead with a crewcut. She always carries a copy of Giles Goat Boy in a buckskin bag. Kate and I have a very playful relationship. I tend to hate Mike for getting most of her attention. We pass around a few joints. Kate and I go to the kitchen and make nachos out of potato chips, onion dip and canned black-eyed peas we puree with Tabasco sauce. Well, it beats the cobbler we made once out of peach jam and Cremora.
Mike says we need a project to wake up the campus. The big issue, of course, is Vietnam. Larry proposes a demonstration. Then the usual disagreement about how aggressive it should be erupts. Larry wants to occupy the dean's office. Kate argues that nothing so radical is needed. She proposes what she calls "a silent vigil for peace in Vietnam."
Everyone likes the idea. We won't have more than one sign announcing the vigil's intention. Participants will remain silent no matter what. It will occur daily for a few hours outside the student union. Nobody will be able to accuse us of violence or disrupting people's days. Complaining about disruption, everyone has become aware, is the usual means of discrediting the peace movement, along with the argument that opposing the war demoralizes troops.
"With a silent vigil for peace," Kate says earnestly, "anyone, no matter how they think peace should be brought about, can participate without arguing or impinging on anyone's space." God I love her.
An hour later, we head over to the student union and take our positions along the building's sidewalk. We've made a few calls and there might be 10 of us participating. A lot of students stop to stare at us. Within an hour, the town's newspaper has shown up to take pictures. One day some frat boys in Civil War uniforms arrive to scream in our faces. Drunk and red-faced, they call us potheads. We remain calm, but I admit my heart is racing with fear. The next day the local Army recruiter shows up and throws a freestanding enlistment sign on a metal frame into the street in front of us. It creates a traffic jam.
Over the following weeks, the number participating increases. The school administration tries to discourage us. True, they agree, we aren't blocking traffic, making noise or even campaigning for a particular perspective, but lots of people are very upset. We are disrupting people's serenity.
More photographers show up. As it happens one of them takes our individual pictures and mails them to our parents with a disapproving letter. Of course, the school administration denies having a hand in this, but we wonder how the photographer was able to get our addresses.
I have to say the capacity of silence to enrage the "silent majority" is a rude awakening. Yesterday, someone grabbed my bicycle and punctured the tires with a knife. Then someone lassoed Larry. Now we need police protection. Funny how many defenders of the Vietnam War turn out to be as intolerant and disrespectful of free expression as the president who lies to us. Obviously, their anger has nothing to do with disruption or the troops. That's just an excuse to attack our belief. But things will change. We are doing this to create a better future.
Cliff Bostock, M.A., is a doctoral candidate in depth psychology. His website is soulworks.net.
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