The Change Chronicles: A Novel of the Sixties Antiwar Movement
A young woman's journey to radical consciousness, motherhood, and "revolutionary hope" in the nonviolent antiwar movement of late-1960s Berkeley. Highlighted by the Port Chicago Vigil and civil disobedience demonstrations against the Concord Naval Weapons Station near the San Francisco Bay Area, this novel explores how "the Movement" changed each woman and man who lived it.
[Part 3 of this novel appeared, in very different form, as "You asked 'What was happening then?'" in Vietnam Generation, vol. 6.]
Except (from Part 1)
. . . as he stepped around the table toward her, his hands slowly lifted. His fingers spread to touch her hair.
"Ri, I cannot give." She mustn't lean into those hands. "Not the way you do." She mustn't think those hands beloved. "I cannot love." It would be hard; the way could easily be lost. Careful not to stumble, she rose to leave, but his arms went around her and he pressed her face against his neck. She leaned close, breathing him, accepting the gift, then raised her head to go.
Excerpt (from Part 3)
. . . Marines lounged against the chainlink fence not far from the closest police cars. The television crew, looking bored, lounged on the tailgate of their van and chain-smoked cigarettes. In the pasture, crickets chirred. A police radio sputtered. Someone said, "Look."
Far away from Concord shone the five yellow lights of a truck.
"There's another." Lee was pointing, cowboy hat held bunched against her side. Behind the first five lights came five more. Across the road, police rushed to take up positions; the television crew removed their camera-lens caps and readjusted lights. Tall as houses, the trucks drew nearer, rumbling up the slope.
Too fast, Nora thought. They were coming too fast.
The first truck swerved, the heavy momentum of its bombs behind it. Bomb-crates swaying, lurching forward, it sped through the gate into the base. Across the road, a dozen hecklers laughed.
Out from the blackness, its five lights gleaming, the second truck loomed--again, too fast.
Someone, in the television lights, was running out to stop it.
The person—for a moment, she could see him—was Ted, leaning forward, arms bent as if to shield himself. She did not like the way he held his arms. This person, he was goiing—whoever he was, now she couldn't see—was going to be killed.
And there's nothing I can do to stop this. I'd only confuse his timing, distract him. Her eyes turned away into darkness—the flat white road. And if I move, the hecklers will attack us, and the people here, the baby, will be hurt. If this was even happening—
Gears ground; the truck braked hard. She half-glimpsed, in the white light, five Marines rush forward, attack the person. Blocking her vision, the high-packed truck lurched past.
Whoever this person, they were dragging him along the pavement in the camera lights, hitting him with nightsticks, knocking him to the ground. Her feet would not move. Not I who's stopped a truck. I, who'd only make things worse.
Samantha was running out onto the road--throwing herself across the demonstrator, one hand upraised toward the Marines. A sergeant shouted, raised his club, then lowered it to his side, snapping a command; the Marines pulled away.
In the camera lights, people were helping the demonstrator back, covered with gravel and bruises. There was a wide‑eyed focus on each person's face. Nora could see now; the demonstrator was Ted.
As people's hands rose in V signs and the vigil lines began to sing, she stepped back, away from the television cameras, away from Ted. "We shall overcome someday," people sang.
Now I shall never overcome. If I couldn't do this, I have already died.
Excerpt (from Part 4)
. . . Her abdomen swaying under her new wide tent dress, she awkwardly bent to pet the cat. Something in the posture made her remember Benjamin leaning across the Ahimsa House mimeo machine, saying, "Wow, you'll really fight for that man!" Fight for him. For someone. As she would now, and for the child. For life, for love.
She had seen Juliet outside the Mediterraneum soon after Labor Day. They had spoken of the vigil, of Juliet's struggles to change the hecklers' views, of what Nora herself had done.
"Juliet, you're right," she'd agreed. "I mean, none of us is going to forget what happened out there, and the—the heroism, you know? But oh my God, I'd just rather just be somewhere with Ted, alone with him." Somewhere where waves crashed on the sand, where—oh, it didn't matter the place. Juliet had said, "I used to feel like that with Ron. I'm happy for you both."
Now Nora set the pot back on the stove. Her mind couldn't stop reviewing, whirling, just as during the hard year before. But this time, she'd known community. This time, Ted had been there, had said "I need you." She set the table, mixed the hamburger with bread crumbs and sage.
Then she peered out the window into the twilight. The fifth month. When better to recognize that one loves life? Especially when one has witnessed the love for the one and the many. Inside, the child was growing and moving—her child, this real child. Would it like the new parents she would find for it? They would have to be people who touched others. They would have to love the child, take care of it. Make sure it didn't run in front of trucks! Trucks could be dangerous. Every time you cross the street, look both ways.
Oh no, she really was trying to protect this baby! She'd better start smoking less, even quit. She put out the cigarette. I'll cut down.
Out the window, the first morning stars shone clear. She remembered how Ted had visited and said "I need you—I need you," how their need had overwhelmed her, how for a brief time their passion had been deeper than anything.
Yes, my love is true and whole. Once, on the vigil line, when Ted had hugged the frightened Juliet, she too had cared for Juliet; they had all shared a love that spread across the huddled dawn beneath the morning star. She too; each loved, was whole.
Oh, but love, love, love—spinning from first position, she whirled to the imagined song. And you don't even have to like the Beatles.
Excerpt (from Part 5)
. . . Leaning back in the rocking-chair across the room, Samantha took out her guitar and began to sing, in her throaty mezzo-soprano,
She walks by night in a long black veil,
visits my grave when the cold winds howl,
nobody knows, and nobody sees,
nobody knows but me.
Nora put down the god's-eyes. "That song," she said, "reminds me of that night. No one knows. No one saw all that happened. Even the photos—at the AP, they didn't come out."
"I wish we could show everyone what happened, everything that happened out there. People need to know how change comes about."
"Yes. At least we saw. I saw what you did, Samantha, what Ted did, giving so far beyond the possible."
"No, we hardly—"
"I saw." There had once been a time—she remembered the Brecht play, Caucasian Chalk Circle, with the servant woman who gives up everything to save the baby abandoned by the queen. Now, with Samantha strumming "We Shall Overcome" on the old guitar, Nora could almost remember—there had once been a time when she'd known her own parents to be beautiful, brave, generous people. For too long, she'd lost that vision.
Samantha changed key, began a Joan Baez song, paused. "I think sometimes we've been gifted, Nora, to have seen what we've seen."
Reach out. As if whoever's there is loved. As if the loved one's there. Outside, the street was empty. Love the love in everyone. His real parents love him; he loves them.
Excerpt [from Part 6]
. . . Standing beside her table, she glanced over at the frayed mandala of the inner-outer self, the Port Chicago Vigil poster, the banner BRING THE TROOPS HOME NOW, a photo someone took at Stop the Draft Week of her wearing her poncho and waving a blue-and-white peace flag. She hadn't eaten supper yet; she could fix a salad, maybe some cold chicken. In the kitchen, she set out a plate and knife and fork and opened the refrigerator.
"Nora!" The urgent voice came from the yard, just outside the back door. She reached for the doorknob and pushed aside the curtain over the little window. Out there in the night was only--she could make out only--a man's silhouette.
"Nora, hey, it's me. It's Len."
Of course—his voice. But, she realized, opening the door, not very like the Lennie she'd known.
His face was chalk-white; his chin and cheeks were a stubbly mess. There were mud stains all over his jeans, and he was soaked from the rain, his flannel shirt a sponge. As if he were some sort of desperado who'd been standing outside for days.
And yet, for all that, the helpless, abstract, apolilitical, socially incompetent mathematician he had always been--or been until the evening with the news photos last spring. "Just like my little girl"--he'd kept pointing at a picture of an Vietnamese toddler. "It's a luxury, you people out there with your nonviolence," he'd said.
"Len, you'll freeze—get over here." He moved like someone sleepwalking. She dragged him toward the heater, turned to relock the kitchen door. Prowlers, of course there could be prowlers, but something else, which she didn't understand, made her wary. Made her feel inexplicably vulnerable.
Shivering, he stood by the heater, the nervousness of his hands painful to watch.
"Can't live the whole evening indoors, eh?" She hoped the humor would ease him.
But he raised his head. His eyes looked flat. "The pipe-bomb. It's been on the news yet?"