Sitting in the audience at the Tribute to Heroes Award Night last week, I wondered how many of the honorees had begun their lifelong passion for community service and support for good causes during their college days.
Just the night before, I had attended a campus rally against domestic violence and sexual assault called “Take Back the Night.” I was at least four decades older than most of the 200 participants. I only knew two people in the crowd, DeKalb County State’s Attorney Richard Schmack, and retired NIU Communications Department chairwoman Lois Self. Being there brought back a lot of memories, all the way back to 1962 on that same campus, only about 200 yards from where I stood 51 years ago to demonstrate for another cause.
I noted that two other people at the Tribute event had been at that same NIU protest a half century ago; they are Marilyn [Frank] Stromborg and Jerry Smith. They seem to have matured and mellowed over time as activists, while I probably haven’t.
My last protest of any note was in 2004, when I organized a small but notable group to protest outside a major employer in Livermore, Calif., from where I had just retired three years earlier. The corporate powers-that-be had decided not to observe the holiday commemorating the Rev. Martin Luther King’s birthday and I felt that was wrong. While I worked there I had protested their policy to no avail, so I figured at least the negative publicity from us standing on the sidewalk waving a sign encouraging employees on their way to work to remember King was one way of getting our point across.
That has been the story of my life, taking a strong stand on various issues, not always successfully, but at least I felt better for having made the effort. I even have a humorous pin with the slogan “I chase windmills,” which refers to the novel “Don Quixote,” in which the title character chased imaginary enemies that turned out to be giant windmills across the landscape.
So this takes me back to 1962 again. In the spring of that year, we organized a Committee for Student Rights to protest a (perceived) oppressive NIU administration that we thought still treated us like children instead of young adults. We drew up a list of 13 demands and rallied 1,200 students on the lawn in front of Swen Parson Library and the biology building, now occupied by Lowden Hall. Thankfully, it was peaceful, so I didn’t get kicked out of school, which one dean suggested could happen to me.
Now I implore young activists like Iffat Fathima, a leader of the “Take Back the Night” rally and march last week, to keep their passion for righting wrongs all through life, pursuing worthwhile causes, whether they be in the workplace, in the streets, or in government.
• Barry Schrader can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or at P.O. Box 851, DeKalb, IL. 60115. His column appears every other Tuesday on this page.