For those of you with short attention spans you can jump to the Sixties Links now.
For the rest, please read on. If you lived through it perhaps there will be some memories. If you were too young to have lived through it please read on - perhaps you'll find some things that you may want to talk about with your parents, or perhaps grand parents.
In the mid sixties I came to San Jose State College as a twenty year old stranger in a strange land - literally. I was born in a place that doesn't exist anymore. It was called the Canal Zone - a unique place with it's own zip code and area code - a little piece of the USA sitting in the middle of Central America, cutting the Republic of Panama in half. Anyway, with a new treaty, signed in 1977, the Canal Zone, or just The Zone to the locals, began reverting back to the Republic of Panama. Tomorrow, January 1st, 1998 it goes completely under Panama's control and my birthplace ceases to exist in the physical world.
The Zone was a great place for a kid to grow up. You could swim in both oceans within an hour, build a tree fort in the jungle within walking distance of home, walk to another country without the need for a passport and have people from all over the world come to your home town by ship. It was safe - essentially no crime, no violence and no poor - if you didn't work for the Panama Canal Company you couldn't live in the Zone. Viola - Utopia!
I came from "the last Atlantis" and got plonked down in San Jose, right in the middle of a very turbulent period in United States history.
On Tenth Street and San Carlos, on the eastern edge of San Jose State College (it wasn't yet a university), sat two small buildings, wedged in between Robert's Bookstore and Mel's Sandwich Shop. The little pointed building was a non-denominational chapel and the adjacent building was the office for the Campus Christian Center. In the basement of the little office building was a place that changed a lot of peoples' lives. It was called Jonah's Wail, a coffee house type place where people came to hang out, drink coffee or tea or hot cider, listen to poets, folk singers and other artists, activists, radicals and anyone else who felt they had something to say or contribute.
For legal purposes, there was "an adult" always present - a very special person named Roy Hoch, AKA Father Roy, Rev or just Roy. He wore the collar of a Lutheran minister but wasn't one to preach - though he could when called on to do so. He spent most of his time listening. He was forty years old - way old to someone 20. To us at the time, finding "an adult" that would listen made Roy somewhat unique and highly valued. Transitioning from "teenager" to "adult" is never an easy thing. But changing during a very turbulent period of history was extremely difficult. There was a war going on, a counterculture emerging, a sexual revolution taking place, a Black Power rising and some strange new drugs were getting very popular with the youth of america and they weren't yet illegal. It was a tough time to grow up. Roy and the Wail made it less difficult.
The country was in the midst of some significant changes and some of the changes were centered in the San Fransisco Bay Area (San Fransisco on the northwest, Oakland and Berkeley on the northeast and San Jose on the south). You see, there was a war going on, though it was officially called a "conflict". Every night, the evening news would start with the day's "body count" - how many young Americans lost their lives and how many "Viet Cong" were killed. If you were a male between the ages of 18 and 26, the status of The War was very important because there was a high likelihood that you could be one of the bodies accounted for on a future evening news report, or you could be responsible for creating one of the bodies mentioned. There's nothing that will grab and hold your attention like violent death a long ways from home and loved ones.
Let me tell you about The Draft. If you were a male US citizen, at age 18, you were required by federal law to sign up for The Draft. You got a little card called a Draft Card that you were to have in your possession at all times. It was a federal offense, punishable by imprisonment, to destroy, deface or tamper with a Draft Card. Guys went to jail for burning that little card. That card had a code on it that identified your tentative Draft Status. IA meant you were physically fit to be a soldier, IVF (Four F) meant that you weren't physically fit. There were a bunch of other roman numerals and letters that filled in the gap between IA and IVF. If you were IA and your number came up you were normally "drafted" (ordered to report to the nearest "induction center" where you were "processed" and then sent off to "basic training" and then "assigned" to "active duty" - with a high probability of spending a year of your life surviving Viet Nam). If "drafted" , it was highly likely that your life would be changed significantly and irrevocably - regardless of whether you accepted or refused "induction".
Naturally there were opponents to The Draft, the most notable being The Resistance, it's symbol being the greek character omega, the electrical symbol for resistance. Members of the Resistance burned their draft cards at Resistance rallies - a Federal Offense punishable by up to four years in a federal pen. They picketed outside Induction Centers (places where young men were taken to be processed into the armed forces). And they went to jail. If enough people said no to the draft the system would collapse, or so it was hoped. "What if they gave a war and nobody came?" was an often heard phrase.
The War wasn't the only thing happening at the time. Just up the road, at the University of California at Berkeley, Mario Savio and the Free Speech Movement was in full swing. Seems college students there wanted the right to organize groups on campus and to express their opinions on anything and everything. Up until then, students were supposed to go to class, perhaps drink beer occasionally, attend football games religiously, get their college degrees and go fill a slot in "industry". The idea that they could have an opinion on anything was a bit shocking, but that they demanded, not requested, to be heard put a lot of guys in suits into a tizzy! And these guys in suits, when in a tizzy, could call out the State Police and the National Guard. The guys in suits did just that, and Berkeley was frequently populated with guys in army fatigues with gas masks and rifles with bayonets attached to the ends of them. On the other side of the line were a bunch of "young adults", some with short hair and white short sleeve shirts, others with long hair, beards. beads and flowers.
The "flower children", as the press termed them, started out in San Fransisco, primarily in the Haight Ashbury District. For the most part the "hippy movement", another term coined by the press, centered on individual free choice and a child like simplistic view that violence was bad and that helping each other was good. There were also some drugs involved, mainly marijuana and hallucinogens and a new one - The Pill - Birth Control Pill that is. The latter was a key component of the "Make Love, Not War" approach to life, though the term Love also included everything that ran counter to Hate.
There were other groups of people who were a bit more assertive in expressing their beliefs and positions - "in your face" is a term that comes to mind to describe them. The extreme of this approach was the Weathermen. They made bombs and blew up buildings - sound familiar? Often the buildings they blew up were the ones in which they were making the bombs. Less violent but more widespread were the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) and the antiwar Viet Nam Day Committee. There were semi-regular clashes between these folks and the local police department - usually occurring in and around the college. These clashes often involved the "radicals" "occupying" the school's administration building and or the college president's office. They normally concluded with tear gas, some thumped heads and a few people being hauled off to jail.
Now throw in the Black Power movement, and the Black Panther Party that started in Oakland. Bobby Seal, Eldridge Cleaver and Huey Newton - these guys wore Afros (large spherical hairdos), long black leather jackets, black berets, sunglasses and GUNS. They talked about "offing the oppressive pigs" (kill a cop) and Black Pride. Unlike the nonviolent Civil Rights Movement and Dr. Martin Luther King, these guys were aggressive, inflammatory and highly visible. They marched into the state capital building armed to the teeth demanding, not asking, for justice and equality and freedom. And the "establishment" freaked! At the time, it was not illegal to have and carry visible weapons - concealed weapons were illegal but visible weapons were not. Of course that changed the next day. Our state legislators reacted immediately with a NEW LAW! Things can get done quickly - but only in a crisis.
Metal detectors at city halls and courthouses would come later. Ironically, the metal detectors at San Fransisco City Hall didn't stop a white ex-policeman named Dan White from assassinating Mayor George Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk in their offices. White shot them repeatedly with his "service revolver", taking time to reload between shootings. He'd be acquitted of premeditated first degree murder based on the "hostess twinkies" defense! (go poke around the web - this actually happened!) Mr. White would later commit suicide after his release from prison.
Acrossed the nation the demand for LAW AND ORDER became "middle america's" battle cry. Screw the constitution - give us LAW AND ORDER. After a while it lost a little steam and eventually came out "lawn order" and went away. But before it did, J. Edgar Hoover - and the might of the FBI would come down hard on a lot of folks that didn't agree to the status quo and were too vocal about how they felt. And the President of the United States would taunt antiwar protesters outside the San Jose Civic Auditorium in order to solidify the votes of "middle america". I kid you not! Richard M. Nixon stood on the roof of the presidential limousine and waved the "peace sign" to a crowd of angry people protesting against the war. He got some great national coverage with that one - standing up to "those people" on behalf of "real americans". And the pity of it all was that Nixon kept the Viet Nam War going another couple of years and did his damnedest to destroy any confidence anyone under 30 had in the government - in any form. By the way, Nixon's first Vice President - Spiro Agnew (I kid you not - that was his name) gave us a hint of what was coming when he resigned the vice presidency after being indicted for bribery. He later plead "no contest" to the charges and was convicted. We're still living with the legacies of the sixties. Hopefully some will learn from history - or maybe not.
By the first Chicago Democratic Convention in '68, the country was being torn apart. A lot of "young people" went to Chicago to try to Stop the War. A guy named Jerry Rubens and a crazy like a fox guy named Abbie Hoffman got a lot of folks to come to Chicago for the convention. Abbie created the Yippy Party as an alternative to the Democratic and Republican Parties and nominated a pig as the Yippy Candidate. This guy knew how to get national media coverage.
Most of the people who came to Chicago that summer were a bit "unsophisticated" and often into "posturing" - thump your chest - yell a lot, wave a stick and look menacing. The Chicago Police Department was not into posturing. They took the slogans - "down with the establishment" and "revolution" literally and acted accordingly. Only they had helmets, night sticks, tear gas and guns! So when the last old time politician, Richard Daly (senior) lost his cool and ordered his police force to "get 'em", the Chicago police did just that. Big mistake on Daly's part.
You see, the world's media was "covering" the convention. There were more reporters, photographers, news anchors and TV cameras in Chicago than anywhere else on earth. These guys knew what a "story" looked like and they were delivered one three times a day during the convention. Middle america saw their kids getting beaten to a pulp and it was the police that were doing the beating - all this while they're sitting at their dinner tables watching the evening news. They could lip read the obscenities that Mayor Daly, the mayor of Chicago, was yelling - live - on camera on the floor of the Democratic Convention. They saw Dan Rathers roughed up and hauled off the convention floor by thugs in suits. They heard Walter Kronkite, the father figure for america, talk of Gestapo tactics. If Jerry and Abbie had been in advertising we'd all have two of everything they pitched. The blood of a Vietnamese child didn't get the nation's attention so these guys served up some "good old american children's blood" - in black and white since color TV was relatively new at the time.
Meanwhile, back in California a young black man, attending the trial of his brother and some friends, smuggled weapons into the Marin County Court House. A judge and several people from the court were taken hostage and led out of the courthouse to a waiting van. The judge had the barrel of a shot gun taped to the back of his head, the other end of the shotgun taped to the trigger finger of one of the "escapee's" hand. Not long after people died violently.
After months of investigation, a black radical communist professor was arrested and charged with conspiracy to commit EVERYTHING. Angela Davis apparently was traced to the weapons used in Marin. Her trial was held at the Santa Clara County Courthouse, right next to the San Jose Police Department's Administration Building and Police Parking Garage. Folks authorized to have guns took "revolutionaries" very seriously. While the City of San Jose put up a security fence around their facility with manned electric gates etc. , the City of Santa Clara, a few miles away, went so far as to drill holes in all police car tail pipes and install cotter pins through the holes to prevent "radicals" from putting dynamite in the exhaust pipes! The country was getting very freaky.
It was a very crazy time for the nation and especially in the Bay Area. "Don't trust anyone over thirty" were words to live by if you were over eighteen and under 30. And "our music" reflected what was going on
come you masters of war
you who build all the bombs
you who threaten my world
like it's your little toy
how much do I know
to talk out of turn
you may say that I'm young
you might say I'm unlearned
but there's one thing I know
I'm younger than you
and even Jesus in his goodness
could never forgive what you do.
come on all you strong young
Uncle Sam needs your help again
got himself in a terrible jam
way down yonder in Viet Nam
put down your books
and pick up a gun
we're gonna have
a whole lot of fun
it's one, two, three
what are we fighting for?
don't ask me
I don't give a damn
next stop is Viet Nam
and it's five, six, seven
open up the pearly gates
there ain't no time
to wonder why
we're all gonna die!
(parents - if your still with me - listen to the music your kids are into - it may tell you things your kids can't adequately express themselves)
OK - back to the Sixties.
In Berkeley, a guy named Owsley started constructing some interesting things from chemicals. Back east a college professor named Leary started playing with similar chemicals. In Palo Alto a guy name Kesey, while working in a Veterans Hospital, started experimenting with these types of chemicals. It was Kesey who, with the Last Great Beatnik - Allen Ginsberg, put together a little "happening" called "the acid test". Take a very powerful hallucinogen (the chemicals referred to earlier) known as L.S.D., put it in some cool aid (electric cool aid acid test) and have a bunch of people drink up. Turn on some strobe lights, have Jerry Garcia and some friends play a little music and see what happens.
One of the things that happened was Acid Rock and that got the Airplane on the Ed Sullivan TV Variety Show on a Sunday night not too long after the early acid tests. The Grateful Dead would have a more loyal following but it was the Airplane that brought "the San Fransisco Sound" to the entire nation. The other thing that happened was that a lot of "young people" started trying "acid" and started seeing things from a slightly different perspective. Once you've seen the walls around you "breathe" and seen colors outside the "visible spectrum" you have a tendency to look at everything more closely and you begin to question everything. And there were many things that we took for granted before acid that warranted closer examination after acid.
The Viet Nam War looked pretty insane. How'd we buy the "Domino Theory"? (if Viet Nam fell to the Communists, the rest of southeast asia would soon follow. After that, Japan, New Zealand and Australia would go Red. Wouldn't be long before LA and San Fransisco would topple and pretty soon St. Louis). What about big gas guzzling cars? Who profited by making materials for war? Why did the police start treating white middle class "kids" differently when those kids grew long hair and wore "funny clothes"? Under age drinking and smoking cigarettes was ok but smoking dope wasn't? Why were black and brown people hassled by the police so often? Why was the Pentagon the biggest building in the Nation's Capitol? Why did our parents drink so much. What were those pills our mother took and why was she so mellow so often? Could money really "buy happiness"? Why did advertising agencies make so damn much money? Who decided what was "news"? Who really got our "elected officials" elected? Who shot Kennedy - John F. and his brother Bobby, and why? Who was responsible for murdering Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.? How did the Central Intelligence Agency get so far out of bounds? (Ollie North wasn't even on the horizon yet)
Once you begin to question, it's hard to stop. Sometimes the answers to the questions are disturbing and create a need for things to change. We were some of brightest and best educated people on the earth. Is it any wonder that we took the skills we were taught and used them to try to change the world? I'd like to think we succeeded, and to some degree we did - but there's still a lot "wrong" that needs "changing". We all need to work on those.
So where does Jonah's Wail fit into all of this? The Wail was a place to go - a haven from some of the insanity happening "outside". It was a place where different kinds of people could go and hang out and talk and listen - for free. A place where ideas could be presented and discussed. A place to go before or after some other activity - be it an acid trip or a demonstration, or after work even. And there was a wise man there who listened and didn't judge. A guy who would listen to someone say something really stupid and not put him down for opening his mouth. Roy would ask questions and, on request, provide opinions and suggestions. And he taught, by example, tolerance, kindness and goodness - things we floundering folks needed to learn, or be reminded about.
At the Wail, many of us found the paths we've now spent most of our adult lives following. Much of what we learned then, or had reinforced there, have been passed onto our children. The Wail and Roy had effects that none of us could have foreseen. At least two of us have become college deans, one a prominent psychologist who works with teens, another a psychologist who works with wife batterers. Some have spent their lives creating songs and music and art that touch people, another became a teacher at a boys ranch (read kid prison) and saves lives. Several have become public defenders and one a union lawyer. Some have written novels and some write text books. One ran the computer division of a major corporation, one was responsible for preventing oil rigs from popping up off the California coastline and me- I work at helping plan for the future of "The Heart of Silicon Valley" and, like most of us, try very hard to leave the place a little better than I found it, or at least no worse.
It was fun to put a Wail Again reunion together 28 years later. We'd scattered to the four winds and lost touch with one another. But a few people stayed in touch and the internet helped a great deal. A small computer made collecting and using information easier and those that attended Wail Again will remember it well. Most important, Roy and Mary Hoch got to see and hear some of what came of all the time and energy they invested in us. From one of the many you helped, on behalf of all you've helped - thank you.
Now you can follow me to the Wail Again Reunion pages or head back "home". Or you may jump to Yahoo and never come back. But I hope that while you were here you learned something you didn't know before you got here. And I hope that when you leave you'll take a smile or two with you and a little piece of the Wail as well. And maybe tomorrow you'll try, just a little, or just a little harder, to make the place a little better.
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