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

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.

Not much about my current life looks like anything like the me I used to be -- other than a lingering weakness for retro hippie fashion. Oh, and the skin art now lumping me with tattoo-come-lately Baby Boomers rather than communicating my colorful past.

But the hopeful giddiness I felt last Saturday at the 9/12 Freedom March took me back 40 years. And what I observed -- no matter how ignored or spun by the increasingly irrelevant dinosaur media -- tells me that this spontaneous and improbable gathering of conservatives is just the beginning of a movement that in the end will be as culturally revolutionary as the Woodstock generation.

I’m not coming at this like some dry academic -- tsk-tsking conservatives and pushing moderation -- but as a proud and passionate veteran of the personal-is-the-political generation. My agenda here is to encourage conservatives of all stripes who gathered to speak truth to power in Washington and across the country last Saturday, last month, and last summer. My message is to keep up the good work. Don’t listen to what they say. Keep informed. Keep showing up. And watch our numbers grow.

This is just the beginning.

On the morning of September 12, I left for the march with my camera. Since every picture’s worth a thousand words, I thought that would be the easiest and fastest way to communicate what really took place.

But what was going to take place? How many people would show? Though in my gut -- with the latest victories of the new media over the old (Van Jones, ACORN) -- I felt momentum building, I was really just one person going without a group, a strategy, or a plan.

At the Dunn-Loring (VA) Metro station, I noted the nearly-full parking lot -- unlikely on a Saturday -- with many out-of-state cars, many sporting conservative bumper stickers. My hopes began to rise. I was not alone. The platform was filled with people of all ages, some carrying signs. No one quite knew how to ask each other: “Are you going to the march?” But as a reporter, I could and I did.

There was a young couple with three children from Centerville, VA, a middle-aged woman and her mother from Harrisonburg, PA, a couple from Texas -- and many more.

No one I talked to -- on that platform or throughout the day -- had ever been to a protest, march, or demonstration of any kind. No one knew what to expect. All had sacrificed time, energy, and money to come to Washington. All had undertaken this adventure independently with the assumption that they might indeed be the only one showing up.

“But with everything that’s going on, I felt like I had no choice but to come,” was a theme I heard echoed throughout the day.

All seemed informed and concerned, but cheerful and optimistic. I knew this feeling from before -- it begins when you move from concern to action. It’s a beautiful thing to behold, and as I discovered on September 12, particularly beautiful in people whose orientation toward their country is not revolution but recovery.

The real thrill began when the Metro whooshed into the station -- only the second on the route -- and all the cars were already full, standing room only. A roar of surprise went up from the small crowd and we packed ourselves in like sardines. Out-of-towners, most had never ridden Metro. The ride was slow as the tracks were undergoing maintenance, so by the time we made it to the Federal Triangles stop in D.C., we’d had lots of time to swap news, experiences, opinions, websites, and email addresses.

Then my camera and I were squished through the crowd up the escalator and out into the crisp early autumn air of the city I will always love. The march had to begin early, as the unexpected crowds could not be held at the starting point. My heart leaped, and I literally ran a few blocks up and over to get ahead of the march, grateful for DC’s diagonal streets.

For the next three hours -- from my perch on Pennsylvania Avenue, and then walking around the South Lawn of the Capitol -- I shot a story of hundreds of thousands of people who were not astroturfed, an angry mob, Nazis, or racists. Just ordinary, everyday, people -- our neighbors, families, and friends.

The 245 pictures I published the next day tell one story -- but my own experience adds a postscript that I need to put in words.

The feelings bubbling up from the September 12 crowd had several things in common with the protests I went to so long ago.

There was the amazing sense of belonging -- finding there are so many others who have shucked off the MSM misinformation and know what’s really happening. As black motivational speaker Mason Weaver put it: “Ropes and chains instead of hope and change.”

There was the joy at finding how many of us there are -- and what decent, unpretentious people. There was the added solidarity of knowing that we are who we are in spite of the lies spun about us, a solidarity which only adds more determination.

There was the energy which comes from acting rather than reacting. Speaking truth to power, as the left used to call it when the power was on the other side. (And by the way, it’s time to co-opt their language and stop letting them define us.)

There is the hope that from this mass movement will come some people worthy to lead us. Ours will be a movement not led by radical theorists, elitists, would-be dictators, fear-mongers and race-baiters, nor by the moderates who continue to act like nerdy kids trying to break into the popular crowd, but by those courageous enough to break away from the Washington status quo and speak directly to the people.

As with Sarah Palin, the Alinsky left will try to ruthlessly destroy these voices and these leaders, but this time they will not succeed. This time they pushed it just a little too far. They awoke the proverbial sleeping giant, and we are just beginning to roar.

Take heart, my friends. It’s just beginning to unfold. See you at the next march -- and next time bring your friends!