Hey! We never stopped organizing
In an otherwise thoughtful and informative piece, Joseph Margetanski (The May 1972 Protests In Gainesville, May/June 2002) is too quick to dismiss the 70s, and too eager to summarize the 80s in less than accurate sound-bite terms.
The 1970s in Gainesville, post Vietnam War/Watergate, were a time of tremendous organizing and activity around two primary issues: women's rights and the Equal Rights Amendment, and environmental health & safety.
In both arenas new people came into the movement and learned from those still active, who had been trained during the civil rights and anti-war era, and in the early, very tough struggles to create a feminist movement.
Before the end of the decade, student and off-campus organizations were working against nuclear power, for safe energy, against the death penalty, for "taking back the night" and more.
Perhaps most significantly, movements into and victories in electoral politics began to occur.
The Progressive Coalition at UF elected a truly radical slate of candidates to the student government (Doug Tuthill, Deborah David, and David Sobel), soundly defeating the Blue Key party. The Catfish Alliance and the UF Environmental Action Group learned about the "act locally" part of the "think globally" slogan working for Jim Notestein for City Commission-although this campaign was unsuccessful, Notestein was the first genuine environmentalist elected to the County Commission a few years later. Networks built during these campaigns lead to contacts with labor unions throughout the city and county, and the with the black community (beyond the campus)-especially the churches, and contributed to my election to the City Commission in 1983 (running in part on a platform of utility reform, energy conservation, increased citizen participation, and a more thorough review and discussion of the city general fund and utility budgets-always follow the money). These networks also began putting women in office at UF, on the County Commission, on the City Commission, and eventually in the state legislature.
Things like women in office and recycling may be taken for granted now but there was a time when they were new, controversial ideas that required tremendous organizing efforts-much of which was done in and/or grew out of the 70s.
The 80s were also a time of organizing and action, not just a time of "disco-crazed fans in tie-dyes and bell-bottoms". (Actually, it was the Deadheads who wore tie-dyes; bell-bottoms came in long before disco, and in Gainesville, local non-disco music was much more popular than disco, what with bands like The Dixie Desperadoes, The Northeast Band, The Archer Road Band, and Autumn and singer/songwriters like Jane Yii and Barry Sides.)
It is a mistake to think that protest and organizing only exist if there are crowds in the street, opposition from police, and riots. The roots of the Iguana grew out of the late 70s and early 80s activities of Gainesville's radicals and the roots of the Civic Media Center grew out of the mid- and late-80s. These activities spanned the environmental and human rights spectrum and included every tried and true strategy and tactic first taught by Saul Alinsky and Bob Moses: door-to-door canvassing, tabling, public speaking, letter writing, meetings and more meetings, petitions, press releases, marches, protest demonstrations, running candidates for office, and more meetings.
Although the anti-apartheid activity at "Mandela Hall" gained alot of attention and was a great organizing tool, an initiative quietly placed on the Gainesville City Commission agenda months earlier by a Commissioner resulted in the City deciding to divest; the UF, if memory serves, did not respond similarly, despite the hoopla.
In the late 70s the UF Accent Program and the Black History Month program brought in speakers like Daniel Shorr, John Marks, William Kunstler, Eldridge Cleaver, Dick Gregory, Julian Bond, Andrew Young, and Stokely Carmichael.
I still remember what Kunstler said: "Everyone wants to go to where they think the action is. Chicago, New York, San Francisco. But the action, the necessary work, is always right here at home. You have work to do here."
Many people took that to heart. They did not debate the legacy of the Vietnam war protests. There was and is no doubt that the Peace Movement and the Anti-War Movement and the Anti-Draft Movement, in combination, though never a majority, stopped that war. They knew what has always been true: it is not necessary to have a majority to win, waiting for the big numbers and TV to validate the organization or event is a mistake, and a few people like you and me, filled with energy, ideas and a commitment to follow-through, meeting in a room, can make a difference.
Gary Gordon, Gainesville resident, 1956-1970 and 1975-1991
June 10, 2002
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