When asked about my memories of the McCarthy campaign, my first reaction was that I remembered very little The more I thought about it the more frequently little snippets came to mind.
For me it began in late 1967 with an ad in the New York Times for an organization called CDA, Coalition for a Democratic Alternative... an organization opposed to the war in Viet Nam and for that reason the re-election of Lyndon Johnson.
I sent a check for $10. My first political contribution A few weeks later I received an invitation to a meeting in my own neighborhood, on West 72nd Street... at the headquarters of the Ansonia Democratic Club. I later learned that the names and addresses of the contributors had been divided up geographically among the local political clubs.
At this meeting one speaker spoke of his wife who was one of the founders of CDA, and another main speaker about his wife who was, at that time, a Democratic District Leader. (I had absolutely no idea what a District Leader was). Although their admiration for their spouses was commendable, it was not the reason I had come to the meeting.
The names of the attendees were again divided geographically between the two clubs who had sponsored this meeting--Ansonia and Park River Independent Democrats. A few weeks later I received a letter from the District Leader male, who had spoken at the meeting about his wife.... a founder of CDA. The letter said, in part, that it was a pleasure to have met me the week before at the first meeting, etc., etc. The note annoyed me, as had the meeting, so I scribbled a note at the bottom saying, "you did not meet me, you talked at me," and mailed it back. So much for my first foray into political activity.
In the same period of time there was a fund raising event at Town Rail for the Boston 5. This included Dr. Benjamin Spock and the Reverend Sloan Cotfin of the Riverside Church. I can't remember who the other three were. Dr. Spock spoke forcefully about the necessity for all of us to get involved, whatever our political party, with a "peace" candidate. He went on to say that we couldn't afford to wait for whoever we might consider the 'ideal' candidate. This was directed primarily toward those Democrats waiting to see if Robert Kennedy would announce. Hard to remember that in those days Nelson Rockefeller was considered a peace candidate.
No matter to whom Spock was directing his remarks, they made quite an impression on me -- I decided that I couldn't wait around for the perfect political organization.... there was no such thing, and I should join the local club. It was more important to try to elect a President who would extradite us from the morass in Viet Nam, and I had to do my part, no matter how minor.
So, off I went to the local club, Park River Independent Democrats . . . a club strongly supporting Gene McCarthy (and Paul O5Dwyer for Senate), and the end of the war in Viet Nam.
In New York State gathering petition signatures to get on the ballot always begins on a Tuesday. It takes many thousands of signatures for a candidate for President to get on the ballot. The McCarthy campaign wanted to qualify Gene McCarthy on the very first day. To accomplish this, parties were held all over the state on Monday night, and everyone was urged to stay until midnight to sign petitions at 12:01 AM. The PRID party was at the old Esplanade Hotel on 74th and West End Avenue (then an old hotel . . . now an assisted living facility). We were there all evening . . . nibbled on goodies, drank wine and kibitzed about local campaigns as well as the McCarthy campaign and waited around until midnight to sign.
There were hundreds of these parties all over the state and McCarthy was qualified on the first day. We continued petitioning and then campaigning all summer. The candidacy of Robert Kennedy had the effect of dividing the people in the peace movement. Sadly, his assassination did not seem to bring people together.
There were hoards of young people following the McCarthy campaign from state to state. Their slogan was "Keep Clean for Gene." They were volunteers and we were all asked to help provide them with housing.
Although, at that time I had a very tiny one bedroom apartment, my living room couch turned into a double bed, so I had two young women living with me for that entire summer. I hardly got to know them. They stayed at the headquarters or out with friends until late at night. I left early every morning for work.
During the '68 convention in Chicago I thought so much about them, hoping they were not getting beaten up by the police on the streets of Chicago.
Until I started trying to remember that summer, I haven't thought about them for many years. They were called the Children's Crusade. Hard to believe they would now be in their 50s or close to it. I hope that many of them have kept the ideals that motivated them in those years from the snows of New Hampshire to the steamy streets of New York and the chaos of Chicago.