. . . a raggedy, in-the-flatlands, couldn’t-pass-the-earthquake-code, stimulating, politically popping repository of blacks who couldn’t get to college any other way, whites who had flunked out of the University of California, and anybody else shrewd enough to go for free for two years and transfer to Berkeley, prereqs zapped.
“We want you to be a virgin until you graduate from college. If you’re not a virgin, you won’t graduate. Once you have sex, you can’t think about anything else.”
I knew I was becoming militant. I just didn’t know if I wanted to become a militant. Malcolm X, Betty Shabazz, the protesters, the sit-in demonstrators down south were my heroes. I loved them from a distance and on paper. But the militants I met, mostly the guys on the soapbox on Grove Street, were harsh and abrasive and condescending to everyone, not just white people. And they made people do things. . . . I didn’t want that kind of power over people. I just wanted it over myself.
Lives came out of the words: how little money one’s father made; the off-the-wall place one had traveled to; family crises; serious illness defeated; political activity noted like a badge of honor – “I belong to the W. E. B. Du Bois Club.” They weren’t afraid: “I participated in the freedom rides.” Stuff I never mentioned: “The protest changed my whole life.” State was a destination for radical students: “I’m a child of a union family.” Dissidents. The streets of Berkeley were the pull for people bucking the system. Nonconformists. State was pulling people like me. I was not an in-between. I was a junior facing a cast of thousands wanting to be right where I was, a part of something big, essential, swimming in the big ocean.