Our heroine waxes nostalgic for her college activist days
Tuesday afternoon. This entry from "A Single Guy in the South" reminds me very strongly of something that happened to me when I was young, politically active, and still incredibly naive about the political process.
The event in question happened when I was a member of the UCSD College Republicans, back in 1990, in the middle of a rather contentious race for the governorship of California between then-Mayor of San Francisco, Dianne Feinstein (now my state's US Senator, much to my disgust) and US Senator Pete Wilson. Our group was very involved in the Senator's campaign and several of us actually worked for the campaign as interns, so, when Ms. Feinstein scheduled a rally on the steps of the County Administration building early one weekday morning, we decided that a few of us (no more than 10, as I recall) would show up with some signs and quietly stand at the back of the crowd. Our aim was, primarily, to provide a counterpoint to the crowd of Feinstein supporters we were sure would be present. We created these neat signs using foam and paint and sticks (so that we could hold them up) with slogans like, "Go clean your own bay!" (because she was criticizing Wilson for the state of San Diego's coastline when the state of San Francisco's bay was no better) and "Remember, you like special interest money".
That morning, bright and early (I want to say that the event started before 9am, but that might just be because I never got up much before noon back then) we carpooled down to the County Admin building, disembarked, and trooped over to the front of the building where the podium was set up. The first thing that I noticed was that the crowd was really big, and I don't just mean the number of people there, although that was also true. I mean that the people (primarily men) who were there were huge. I figured out why that was so pretty quickly when I noticed a huge tour bus with a "Ironworkers for Feinstein" banner on it parked at the curb. It turns out that the local union had bused in a supportive crowd of ironworkers to make lots of noise. It should show the level of our naiveté that none of us was concerned by this. We got our signs put together and spread out at the back of the crowd, so as not to get in the middle of the people who were already assembled.
Ms. Feinstein started her stump speech then interrupted herself to say, "It looks like we've got some millionaires in the crowd this morning." It took me a minute to realize that she meant us. Millionaires? Hardly! I suppose the fact that we were showered, well kempt, and wearing clean clothes (in contrast to the crowds she usually spoke to) could possibly have led her to that belief, but we were just a bunch of college kids up early on a school day -- there was not a rich kid in the bunch. At that point, several of the ironworkers turned to look at us, and that's about the point that I felt the first stab of fear. Ms. Feinstein continued to speak and it was a few minutes later that I noticed, out of the corner of my eye, several ironworkers and the president of our club having a heated discussion near a fountain on the outskirts of the event. I didn't hear what was said but my friend, Tracy (she of the Valentine's Day visit), says that it was words to the effect of "if you touch me again, I'll see you in court". It should be understood that he was pre-law, not one to back down in the face of overwhelming odds, and one heck of an orator (all traits that would serve him well in his future as a District Attorney), so the fact that he was, essentially, taking on several burly ironworkers on his own wasn't that unusual. I sort of lost track of what was going on over there, however, because I was suddenly facing a situation of my own as I was lifted up and thrown against the tour bus by a rather large female ironworker.
As I've mentioned here before, I'm the ultimate girly girl. I don't know how to fight, nor have I ever had any interest in learning. I'll do my damage with Mastercard and Visa, thank you very much! This was the first, and so far only, time in my life that I'd been physically assaulted and I was so stunned that I just didn't know what to do. You know how you always wonder what you'd do if you were ever attacked? Whether or not you'd remember to scream? Sadly, I don't have to wonder anymore. The only reaction from me was a grunt as the wind was knocked out of me upon impact. I did put my arms out in a futile attempt to protect myself, but that was about it. Tracy, on the other hand, was in a similar situation to my left and ended up using her foam sign to beat back her attacker. I don't really remember how we got out of there. I think we sort of slunk out in the midst of a chaotic mass of ironworkers and foam hands.
Two amusing other, somewhat amusing incidents happened that I didn't see. The first was that, when called a "douche bag" by a charming female ironworker, one of our club members responded, "Clever, except that they're disposable nowadays, Grandma!" The other was the picture that appeared in the paper the next day showing part of a forearm with a fist headed toward an ironworker's midsection. No one ever knew whose arm that was until Tracy piped up and said she'd seen my (then) boyfriend (later husband, now ex-husband) extricating the president of the club out of the middle of an advancing circle of menacing ironworkers as we were exiting the area. Her comment upon seeing the paper? "I recognize that forearm!"
Do you know what the funniest part of this little story is? Ms. Feinstein never stopped her speech. Not as college students' bones met the cold, metal of a tour bus and not as first amendment rights to assemble and speak were physically assaulted. There is no way that she couldn't have noticed what was going on, because she's the one that pointed our presence out to the crowd to begin with. She could have stopped speaking, called for calm, and sent security in to stop the violence. She did none of that. I was outraged, and still am, by what happened that day. This is America, not some third world nation. People are supposed to be able to express their views, peaceably and without fear of reprisal. Things like that happen on the news, in foreign countries I've never been to, not here and certainly not to me, or so I thought. Just a little speed bump on the road to adulthood.