'60S Warlords of Social Change Stay out of Headlines Today Many Remain Committed to Causes They Championed

By Elizabeth Mehren 1995, Los Angeles Times | St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO), August 9, 1995 | Go to article overview

'60S Warlords of Social Change Stay out of Headlines Today Many Remain Committed to Causes They Championed


Elizabeth Mehren 1995, Los Angeles Times, St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)


ONE IS a Connecticut homemaker, another a physical therapist. Some teach. Several are dead; several more are in jail. Some have seen their lives turned into fodder for bad movies or weekly TV dramas.

These are the superstars of social consciousness, protesters par excellence whose names became synonymous with the revolutionary spirit of the 1960s. With the recent announcement that a onetime associate of the violent Symbionese Liberation Army active in the 1970s is a potential suspect in the Unabomber case and the continued release of the bomber's radical-tinged rhetoric, those earlier epochs of radicalism are again being recalled.

Older, grayer and often beset by the infirmities that strike at midlife, many of the warlords of social change remain committed to causes that mirror their youthful fervor. Out of the headlines, many are still in the trenches. For most, political philosophy remains a powerful force in their lives.

With his bushy red ponytail, for example, Mario Savio - 52 and plagued by an arthritic elbow - recently waited for a chance to speak in the crowded room where University of California regents were discussing plans to end affirmative action programs. He never got it, because speakers were selected by lottery. Instead, the Sonoma State mathematics and critical-thinking instructor, whose oratory from the roof of a car sparked the free speech movement at the University of California at Berkeley in 1964, handed out brochures for the Campus Coalitions for Human Rights and Social Justice, the organization he helped start nine months ago.

"Mostly I believe in going along with the program and keeping your eyes open," said the father of three sons, one of whom helped write the Campus Coalitions brochure. "There are so many things wrong in the galaxy, you'd be fighting Klingons if you tried to take on every one of them.

"But occasionally something comes down the pike which is just so horrible" - in this case, Savio said, reduced funding for higher education and the threat to affirmative action - "that you just have to do something."

Across the country, former Black Panther chairman Bobby Seale said he stresses a similar theme in his speeches at 40 to 50 colleges each year.

"If we're not reaching for the future world of cooperational humanism, then we missed the whole damned point," said Seale, who is 59 and lives in Philadelphia. When he is not volunteering as a recruiter for Temple University's African-American studies program, Seale is busy updating his autobiography, "A Lonely Rage," and transforming his best-selling cookbook, "Barbecuing With Bobby Seale," into a CD-ROM. He is also wrapping up a volume on what he calls "polylectic reality."

In one of the strangest scenes in American jurisprudence, Seale was so disruptive in the courtroom of Judge Julius Hoffman in 1969 that his trial was separated from the fellow defendants who became known as the Chicago Seven. All eight had taken part in the boisterous demonstrations that marked the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago. "I am proud that I stood up in front of Judge Julius Hoffman and cussed his butt out," Seale said. Most of the charges were dismissed.

The two class clowns of the Chicago Seven - Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin - both met tragic ends. Hoffman was 52 when he died in 1989, an apparent suicide. It brought to a sad close a flamboyant life that included such antics as throwing dollar bills onto the floor of the New York Stock Exchange, attempting to levitate the Pentagon by mental force and running a pig for president.

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