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A Former Radical Goes Back to the Future at the 9/12 March

She takes to the National Mall again forty years later, marching for very different reasons.

by
Barbara Curtis

Bio

September 15, 2009 - 12:54 am
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In 1967, I was the radical Alinsky wrote the rules for. On the political cutting edge, I’d been arguing with fellow students and coworkers for years about Vietnam, and my growing disgust with my country led me down many winding roads of anti-American thought. I was counterculture before there was a name for it, skipping my prom and graduation as “bourgeois,” going barefoot, braless, and unshaven, and collecting tattoos at the only place in town those days — a crummy hole-in-the-wall next to downtown D.C.’s Greyhound station.

Everything about me was about making a statement. And while it was pretty exciting for me as a young woman to create a new identity based on rejection of the status quo, for years I’d felt like I was alone.

Then suddenly I discovered I wasn’t.

On October 21, a crisp, clear D.C. day, I arrived with my boyfriend at my first anti-war protest and felt a thrill of belonging and hope. The Pentagon grounds were churning with 50,000 or so people like us — a curious conglomeration of serious anti-American academic types (like me) and sha-la-la-la-la-live-for-today potheads (like him). But the differences didn’t matter to us that day, which celebrated everything from putting flowers in National Guard rifles to taunting police until we were tear-gassed. The counterculture had a big umbrella, and we were all hippies at heart — eager to create a new world, whatever that might turn out to be. This day gave us a sense of unity, strength, and purpose.

I went on to help organize events — from the whimsical Ring Around the Capitol (sponsored by Another Mother for Peace) to the ultra-violent May Day, where we used our bodies to stop traffic on the bridges into D.C. Rallying cry: “If the government won’t stop the war, we’ll stop the government.”

Through it all, to be honest, I felt a little ashamed that I wasn’t completely living up to my political ideals, which involved destroying the status quo. I was always a secret admirer of the most radical — people like Bernadine Dohrn and William Ayers. But while they were busy blowing things up, I’d gotten married and had a baby — Samantha Sunshine. Still barefoot and braless, I kept up my counterculture credentials by dropping her in the college daycare center during the week and carrying her on my back for weekend demonstrations. While my heart yearned for solidarity with my most radical leftist comrades, my mother’s instinct to stay alive and out of jail prevailed.

I was also among the original second-wave feminists — fed up with the machismo of our political comrades — who made abortion the next battleground. As a mother, I became a sought-after spokeswoman for the right to “choice.” After all, an unwanted pregnancy at this point would interfere with my education; didn’t I have the right to get rid of a parasite growing in my body?

Flash forward forty years to find this mother of 12 (nine by birth, three by adoption) once again a political activist — but now for the conservative cause.

What happened? Life happened. A 1972 permanent pilgrimage to San Francisco, another baby (Jasmine Moondance), divorce, promiscuity/experimentation, abortion, drug addiction, welfare — all in accord with my proud leftist political banner. A 1980 move to Marin County, Alcoholics Anonymous, a second marriage, New Age spirituality, birth control failures, building a business, owning a home.

A 1987 born-again experience, homeschooling, a son with Down syndrome, a writing career, three adoptions, and finally in 2002 a cross country move with 24 native Californians (my husband, children, sons-in-law and grandchildren) to come back to the traditional values I’d rejected before.

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