©2023 Robert Sickles
I was a shiny new college freshman in ’68 at the University of Washington, and yearning to find a social connection on that vast campus. Wandering into a small rally near the Admin Building one afternoon, I hardly had time to figure out what the speaker was shouting about before a pretty young woman handed me a flyer and asked if I wanted to go hear Hubert Humphrey campaign for President at the Seattle Arena that night. She turned on the charm, I smiled and said “I guess, OK. But I don’t even know how to get around Seattle yet.” And that was really about the last thing I remember doing with my brain engaged on that day!
You see, the lass was very intriguing, and as I said, I wanted a social connection. Her name was Lolly, and I took to heart her flirting nature. She had curly red hair, a cute face and a playful way; might have auditioned well for the part of Annie when she was a little kid, though now a lithe and winsome adult. Lolly said I should come early to her apartment and then we’d take the bus downtown together.
Enthused, I knocked on her door at 5:00, and she sang out “Just a moment, Bob.” I had a good tingly feeling about this. She had spaghetti and meatballs on the stove and sliced bread on the table. “I hope you’re hungry,” she beamed, “I’m starving. We have time to eat before we go.” A warm current was sweeping me along. She’d cooked me a meal! I was fascinated. I wished I was old enough to buy wine so I could add the right touch to romance. Such a dream!
Um… dream interrupted. Lolly gobbled her dinner, grabbed her handbag and moved quickly to the door and said, “Come on, we have to go!” Around the corner, she hailed a few others who were waiting at the bus stop on University Ave. and we all boarded the #7 bus to the city. I wasn’t sure if I was to sit next to her her or hold her hand or what.
At the Arena, a larger group was assembled, and that loud guy from the campus rally led the way into the Arena. Now I had time to read the banners and hear some of the chanting, and I realized this bunch were supporting the Peace & Freedom Party candidate for Presidency, the Black Panther figure, Eldridge Cleaver. And I finally got it—we were not there to hear Humphrey, but to disrupt him. Did I know anything about Cleaver or care about Humphrey? Not much, but I was feeling so good about Lolly, and felt drawn to stay close to her group!
From our seats in the upper level, the shouting and heckling started as soon as Humphrey walked on stage. Banners were unfurled and the demonstrators booed, chanted and hurled accusations about all the radical ideas of the day: injustice toward Blacks, the Selective Service draft, atrocities in Vietnam, jailed and assassinated leaders of opposition politics, polluting the Earth, and so forth. Humphrey had to pause his address several times. At one point he wagged his finger in our direction and whined something snide about the hooligans and their nasty noise.
Through all of this, my mind was in a fuzzy-mush over Lolly’s curly red hair, freckled nose, gutsy energy and, ahem, other things. I was probably the only one of us who had no idea that we were being watched by some very somber dudes in black suits who spoke to each other in tiny microphones on their wrists. I didn’t understand that the protesters’ main goal was to get hassled by the “Fuzz” and show up on the evening news.
Soon the Feds and Police were all over our section, forcibly escorting some very agitated individuals away from their seats. As our numbers decreased, the remaining few kept up the harangue, while I slouched into my seat and pretended that I didn’t know those trouble makers. Well, they cleared me out too and I found myself being patted down and questioned in a utility hallway under the Arena, while watching the most keyed-up protesters being handcuffed and loaded into a police van. The rest of us were cautioned to keep it down. They took our names, photographed us, opened the gate and told us to get lost and cool off or we’d be spending the night in detention. One cop nudged me in the arm as I walked to the exit. “Stay clear of those idiots, Kid. You don’t really want that kind of trouble, do you?”
Out on the plaza, Lolly was so fired up, “Wow, that was exciting! Wasn’t this great? Come on Bob, let’s go down to the Federal Building and support our guys who got busted!” She was thrilled to have made Humphrey stutter and stumble over his speech. But I could only think about how pointless this all was. It dawned on me that my evening with Lolly, and probably my future with her, was over if it had, indeed, ever begun. She turned to talk with someone, and in a flash, I pivoted and blended into the night to catch the #7 bus back to my dorm.
Humphrey lost to Richard Nixon, of course. Please don’t be mad, I hope it wasn’t our heckling that cost him the election.
Eldridge Cleaver got 35,000 votes in the ’68 election with Huey Newton as his running mate. While in Folsom State Prison he wrote Soul on Ice and was prominent member of the Black Panthers. Jailed for thieving and drug use, he saw the light and became a Moonie. Later he converted to Catholicism, then led a hybrid Moslem/Revivalist church, and was finally baptized a Mormon. He also joined the Republican Party and was a popular speaker at conservative events.
I never saw Lolly again.
And, the elephant in the room… just to answer everybody’s burning question… there are many reasons why I won’t be running for President; but, folks, it’s simply the likelihood that someone, somewhere, would dig up a photo of me being dragged around in a control hold by two Federal Agents. Not my best moment!