When my first husband, labeled Madman Kelly by his Princeton colleagues, came to the end of his Sociology degree in 1968, the campus uncharacteristically fire-cracked with small anti-war rallies, civil rights demonstrations and teach-ins on avoiding the draft. Memorial services for Martin Luther King, Jr. ignited embers in the Ivy League gentleman conscience. Bobby Kennedy’s funeral train passed by Princeton Junction as I watched with our toddler son Joe hanging in an Army surplus knapsack. I campaigned for the poet-senator from Minnesota, Eugene McCarthy in nearby Trenton with Joe on my back.
Madman Kelly graduated and we partied through the summer at the Jersey Shore. Kelly lifeguarded, Baby Joe and I frolicked on the beach, and we delighted being together in the light of day.
At night Kelly and I took turns going to bars with our friends, and I started smoking pot and getting in arguments over the Viet Nam war. Jersey Shore barflies had nothing on me—I’d been schooled by Princeton peace activists and Ramparts Magazine.
President Lyndon Johnson did not seek reelection. That left Eugene McCarthy, the intellectual standard-bearer of peace and justice, to shepherd the world toward a frenzied utopia in his campaign for President.
After Bobby Kennedy’s assassination in June, I started tutoring a young cousin for cash to buy stationery and postage stamps and took to writing letters to Kennedy delegates asking them to vote for McCarthy at the Democratic Convention in August. I’d pontificate daily to friends and strangers on the beach and in the bars to test out new reasons to support McCarthy over the late-arriving establishment candidate Senator Hubert Humphrey. I fully expected my work to pay off at the Convention in Chicago and longed to be at the youth festival planned in my hometown during the Convention to celebrate my candidates’s victory.
By the time I joined friends at a neighborhood saloon to watch the Convention on TV, news accounts of the protests and riots were interrupting coverage of the political speeches inside the Convention Hall. But that didn’t matter to me. Soon all would be well. McCarthy would clinch the nomination and beat Richard Nixon in November. No doubt about it.
The unthinkable startled me out of innocent political bliss. The TV flashed back and forth between white men bullying peace delegates inside and police beating peace activists outside. Mayor Daley ordered the police to shoot to kill. People who looked like me were dripping in blood.
What was happening? Eighty percent of primary voters were anti-war. We won the battle and I was sure we’d beaten back the war machine. The delegates rejected McCarthy and his peace plank, nominated Hubert Humphrey and iced out Democratic activists.
And me? I added martinis, LSD, mescaline, speed, librium and cocaine to my diet. I could see no future. By the time the next presidential election rolled around in 1972, AA meetings monopolized my time and I did nothing but slap a George McGovern bumper sticker on my VW.