Chico State Student Activism
On a dead-end street a yellow, triangular sign reads: “End.” But underneath someone wrote "war," spray painted in black,
End war, a crude effort that ends nothing, unfortunately, but is telling. Jane Fonda and Tom Hayden were once popular in Chico, California, where the road sign, and brushy creek behind it, occupied a part of Cherry Street just off state Route 32. The Haydens' Campaign for Economic Democracy was a motivating force in local politics at Cal State, Chico in the 1970s.
Back in the day, not only was Vietnam (and ultimately guns on campus) giving students angst, but also the plight of farm workers picking vegetables for the nation — and their children.
Just up the street from the sign, an apartment complex housed many of those angst-filled students over the years, and others unable to pay high rents. It was a Chico haven, of sorts, and telling. Euphemistically called "Richardson's Arms" by a passing tenant one day, the tiny studios, ten to each "longhouse," packed 'em in like sardines.
But there were no complaints at "The Arms," even though most Chicoans could not imagine being impoverished thus — albeit, in a veranda-shaded world. Out in a wider Chico world, the middle-class ruffians from the Bay Area were helping the world. At The Arms, many were just trying to escape it.
But the campus culture soaked the community with concern about what was going on in the country. As in most of America at the time, anti-war protests were common.
In 1966, for example, speaker Ed DiTullio, at a demonstration in downtown Chico, was fired at Cal State after angrily reacting to a heckler in the crowd. The Asian-history professor had been station in Korea. Out of the crowd someone shouted "On which side?"
He was fired for using an obscenity.
Robert Speer, a reporter for the Chico News & Review, said Tom Reed had told him this. Reed later helped found the first local chapter of Students for a Democratic Society, which, according to the Encyclopedia Britannica, was a student organization known for its activism against the Vietnam war.
Students knew this, of course. Bob Mulholland made sure of it. Anyone who visited downtown Chico could find him, often beside his ironing board, signing up voters. He also promoted the Campaign for Economic Democracy, an outgrowth of Hayden's unsuccessful Democratic Party primary race for a United States Senate nomination.
Hayden, of course, was considered a radical by many, and his wife Jane, a traitor. This did not stop the effort, however. Tom Hayden, along with Robert Alan Haber, wrote the SDS manifesto, and back in the day many students at Chico were as naïve as Jane.
We are people of this generation, bred in at least modest comfort, housed now in universities, looking uncomfortably to the world we inherit.1
Cal State, Chico, students, of course, shared in many of the benefits of student activism. On campus student protests ultimately closed West First Street (its traffic blocked students walking to and from class, and caused safety concerns). But the genesis of it all seems to have started with DiTullo. 2
In turmoil the student community blossomed. While many staged protests and sit-ins at Cal State, Chico, others were working more constructively. Tim Tregarthen and Carlene St. John, for example, ran for office on campus, and were elected for student president and vice president, in 1966, according to Speer, and made good on a promise about stating a tutorial program.
The Associated Student leaders started CAVE, a community action volunteer organization, and one of C.A.V.E.'s first programs was at the Gridley Farm Labor Camp. Students studying at Chico State, and others, helped teach the children of migrant farm workers.
All this effort did not go unnoticed at The Arms. Concern for others was at the heart of the Chico experience. This is not to say the student community was perfect, nor all community "regulars" supportive. But opportunities to help promote change were real and raw.
Simply, Chico activists and volunteers headed to state hospitals to help the severely, developmentally disabled, and many others. They helped transport the elderly to appointments and recreational events.
They arranged community meetings to coordinate activities, and thousands of Chicos' community members organized nonprofit recycling facilities, crisis centers and more.
There were failures, of course. A sit-in over gun-toting campus cops, failed to make a lasting difference at Cal State. In "Armed and Alarmed," Richard Ek explored how Chico State students occupied Kendall Hall, the Chico State administration building on December 3, 1975. Students were camped out in the halls for weeks, and it stopped nothing. The campus police were armed anyway.
(Street Photos: Google Maps.)
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His secret? Slow cooking, salt, ham hocks and Anaheim peppers. Delicious! He (we) were the ones CAVE often helped.
For those who remember Jane's father in "The Grapes of Wrath," that's what it felt like living there. It was as if everyone there knew, and understood, why Rose of Sharon should feed the stranger in a barn.
Hayden wrote in his manifesto: We are people of this generation, bred in at least modest comfort, housed now in universities, looking uncomfortably to the world we inherit.
Chico State student activism. Helping others. Or at least trying to....
1 Original draft.
2 Don Hislop remembered the story too, but his account in "History News" is also incomplete, and differs somewhat from what Reed told Speer.