I went to Stuyvesant, a school then and now for smart kids. I was not politically active in those years. I had stuffed envelopes in Ted Weiss’ campaign years earlier when he first ran for the city council but didn’t do much else. My father was a member of the Reform Independent Democrats and that’s how we got involved with Weiss. But there was no student government or even clubs for me.
The closest thing I knew to politics was inter-school rivalries on the subway. Each morning I took the IRT Number 1 at 79th Street to Times Square and changed to the BMT to Union Square, where, in the first car we would often meet up with guys from Brooklyn Tech. It was not filled with warmth and friendship. At Union Square it was on to the Canarsie Line to First Avenue.
The only successful political action I recall in my high school years was the week that we all paid in pennies in the cafeteria to protest the principal denying us a trip to the 1964 World’s Fair. We won that one. A great day at a great fair.
My senior year, 1966, there was already Vietnam but I didn’t get it. My high school buddies did. Our senior sweatshirt bore the words “nos morituri te salutamus”, “we who are about to die salute you”!
I’ll never know for sure that they meant what I think they meant, but before many days of college at CCNY had passed, I knew that for me it was about going off to that war. And that’s when I started marching for my life and the lives of my friends; you might say a political awakening brought on by fear and sadness.
I don’t recall marching off campus. The race riots of the late 60’s were watched on TV and came close to school. The assassinations of Dr. King and Bobby Kennedy were sad and frightening and I did participate in the politics of the 1968 election
The first draft lottery was a horror for so many of us. My number came up 49. I would go when my student deferment days were up. My close friend Roy came up 365. I was happy for him and he was sad for me. And I marched. I think the lottery awakened an understanding that we were in this together. Marches and demonstrations were constant.
Those marches helped end a war. It went on so long and so many died and so many others were changed forever.
The decades that followed were not filled with literal marches but I worked for the community (auxiliary cop days) and then for the next generation participating, sometimes fervently, in school business, running the synagogue youth program, becoming a temple leader. My own kids were the focus. They were safe and educated. I never really worried if my son would be subjected to a draft and fight a war but it was frequently in the back of my mind.
And now, I’m marching again, for my grandkids…
Like the marches of my college days, this is a matter of life and death. Living in NY we sometimes feel protected by our strict gun laws and that’s great. No big guns easily purchased. But hand guns are ubiquitous and deadly dangerous. People don’t seem to die here like in other places, but they do. Death by firearms is a problem.
At 68 I’m tired and can’t march far but I’ll stand there and be counted.