This morning, I received an email message from an old friend, Judith Baker. It was a circular message sent by Judith to urge all of us to protest the expansion of the war in Afghanistan while there is still time. Like Judith, I recall LBJ and the Viet Nam War, and like her, I see this war as having the potential to destroy Obama's presidency. [See my post some days ago.] I will continue to do what I can, of course.
But the message reminded me once again what an extraordinary person Judith Baker is. I first met Judith when we both sat on the board of Harvard/Radcliffe Alumni/ae Against Apartheid. Judith is class of '70 at Harvard and Radcliffe, almost a generation younger than I. She was one of the brave souls who occupied Harvard's Administration Building -- and, if I am not mistaken, was denied graduation as a consequence. [Harvard has always been a real class act.]
She then devoted a lifetime to teaching in the inner city in Boston at the secondary school level. Along the way, she got involved in a program that teaches students and teachers how to use writing as a tool for education. She and her husband, Brook, who teaches law at Northeastern, became involved in South Africa, and Judith and I reconnected. For years now, both before retirement and afterwards, she has been spending enormous amounts of time in desperately poor rural regions of South Africa, bringing creative and effective teaching techniques to Black teachers whose education was stunted by the Apartheid doctrine of Fundamental Pedagogics and its associated rote teaching techniques.
Judith is an extremely self-deprecating person, who routinely downplays her own heroic efforts while lavishly praising those of the people around her. [I feel intensely embarrassed when she praises me for my rather feeble efforts in South Africa, since I view myself as ectype to her archetype.]
Thinking again about Judith reminded me of something that is too often forgotten, especially by those who are of the generation after hers. The Sixties [which is to say the late 60's and early 70's] were a famously exciting time, during which millions of young people experimented with drugs, had a go at promiscuous sex [not quite as original as they thought at the time], and even engaged in a bit of political protest and street theater. For many of them, it was a phase of growing up, a time to be romanticized, looked back at fondly, and memorialized in the selection of songs to download to one's IPhone.
But for many, many people like Judith, it was a time that permanently defined who they were and how they would live the rest of their lives. Time passes, and no matter how hard we all try, only a handful of us can manage to spend the rest of our lives on college campuses. So some of the 60's activists became doctors, others became lawyers, still others became machinists, auto workers, architects, health care workers, or small business operators. But they carried their commitment into their adult lives. As doctors, they now staff neighborhood clinics or even work with Doctors Without Borders. As lawyers, they offer pro bono services to those too poor to afford decent legal advice. As architects they strive to design ecologtically friendly structures that promote community, rather than selling their services to the promoters of gated compounds. In short, all across America are people like Judith whose entire way of being in the world is an affirmation of the commitments they made and the ideals they formed in the 60's. [I do not include myself in this group because when the student uprisings began, I was already a tenured professor of philosophy at Columbia. My role was to support the students in whatever way I could, although it is true that six or seven years ago I joined a group of Harvard students demonstrating for a living wage for Harvard employees, and for a few hours helped them seize the Administration Building, carrying my umbrella and briefcase.]
I have seen many of these now aging radicals at Obama events. Our hair is gray [those of us who have any], our walk is a bit unsteady, but all of us, I think, can feel a continutiy of who we are now and who we were then.