I got an early lesson in the personal cost of long hair and progressive politics when I got bounced out of the family nest for marching in the first Fifth Avenue Peace Parade fall of freshman year (’65). So I put myself through CU, the antiwar movement, supporting myself working up to 3 fulltime jobs at a time (even while living in Fayerweather). Come September of ‘69, I was drafted (even though my number was 290), so I demonstrated what I learned at Columbia at Fort Hamilton — and went to jail for the day, charged with sabotage. The NYCLU came to the rescue and I returned to campus and organized a weeklong benefit for political prisoners (Country Joe and Twyla Tharp performed in St. Paul’s Chapel). I wrote articles for the Nation and Saturday Review and then started a NACLA-inspired collective, The Network Project, in Bill Starr’s office at Columbia: we wrote 10 “notebooks”, produced radio programs at WBAI and sued the big television networks for 4 years. Then I lived at a commune supporting local artisans in San Juan, PR for 2 years, returning to NY, where I got a Mellon Fndtn. grant to design a performing arts channel for cable-tv systems. I moved to Silicon Valley and got a job managing a cable-tv system for TCI, Inc. for 5 years, learning about capitalism from the inside. Then I returned to the activist fold, getting chain supermarkets to accept organic foods, as Marketing Committee chairman for California Certified Organic Farmers, the nonprofit growers group, in 1987. I moved to a group house in the Haight (SF) and a succession of similar work in various fields, ranging from art anarchist attacks with the Cacophony Society (like “editing” billboard ads) to working with indigenous peoples in Guatemala (helping them create village co-ops to export textiles and crafts to the U.S.) and contributing to “Voz de la Libertad” (the FMLN’s pirate radio station) in El Salvador until 1992. Returned to SF to manage an independent living program for people coming out of long-term imprisonment for Goodwill. I am now “retired” but still teaching refugees English from time to time for Catholic Charities Office of Refugee Services, and living in San Diego.
The most important thing I learned in the movement at Columbia was that having a family had a tremendous impact on one’s ability to respond — one’s response-ability — to the injustices and oppression of the surrounding environment. For me, total commitment, and the freedom of movement it requires, meant sacrificing this goal. While I have regrets about failing to achieve the balance of a “typical” life, mine has been full and I’m happy with what I’ve accomplished so far.- by Greg Knox