Tuesday, October 26, 2010

"There was this girl..."

I recently watched a documentary about Daniel Ellsberg, the man who leaked The Pentagon Papers during the Vietnam War and helped move the nation towards the end of that dark episode. As I watched I was reminded of a basic principle of left-wing politics of the 1960s and 70s. Many men first became involved in radical politics because of a woman. Ellsberg was a veteran of the Vietnam war who had married the daughter of a career soldier. But his second wife was a left-winger, and, soon after they began dating, he was accompanying her to antiwar demonstrations. He released the Pentagon Papers a year after they were married.

I have always been a liberal, and during my senior year of high school, I rode a bus to the March on the Pentagon, a large anti-Vietnam War protest in Washington, DC. But my only foray into old-fashion Marxism came during my college years, at the suggestion of my then girlfriend. She convinced me—at least temporarily—that I should get involved with the Young Socialist Alliance, the youth wing of the Socialist Workers Party, a Trotskyist group that is now largely credited with screwing up the antiwar movement and inadvertently delaying the end of the war. At my girlfriend’s suggestion, I drove with two other guys from Carbondale, Illinois to a YSA convention in Houston, Texas to watch scratchy silent films of Leon Trotsky—who was by then long dead—standing on a wall delivering dramatic oratory. Also, for the first time in my life, I heard the International sung by a large hall full of people. Soon my brief involvement with Russian-style socialism ended, and not long after that, my girlfriend and I parted ways.

Several friends report similar stories. When asked how they first got involved in left-wing politics, they smile and say, “Well, there was this girl....”

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