I admired campus radicals back in the day. These long-haired, sandal-sporting, granola-chomping freaks sounded the alarm that eventually ended a war in Southeast Asia. And along with all that social justice came the sexual revolution, a welcome development to any young man coming of age in the late 60s.
By the time I got to campus in ’71, the protests were pretty much over. Hippie attire and hippie lifestyle were mainstream by then, but most of the passion was gone. Being a “hippie” in the 70s was more about rearranging brain cells than rearranging the world order.
Campus-radical wannabes learned that social movements seldom pay the rent. So we cut our hair and went to work for “the man.”
Radicals have real passion for their work, something that didn’t happen for me until I arrived at Kent State in 1992 at the age of 38. For the next 15 years, I worked just a few steps from where the real radicals made history.
Where are the campus radicals today? They’re out there, and they’re still looking for work when they graduate. But where does a radical PR person go to earn a paycheck? Some thoughts from an aging hippie wannabe.
PETA. No organization does a better job of manufacturing buzz than the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. So if you’re a radical vegetarian, this group is a perfect place to earn your stripes.
I wrote about PETA last November and won’t rehash my thinking here. While I know PETA people care about animals, they often use unethical means to communicate their beliefs and to snag media attention. How else do you explain the naked women?
ACLU. I can’t think of many organizations that act so consistently to protect the disenfranchised. The American Civil Liberties Union has stood up for poor people, gay people, minority people, and even hateful people who find their rights endangered.
While the ACLU may be a noble cause, you should know that lot of people don’t like these guys. Maybe it’s because so many of ’em are lawyers, eh?
National Gay & Lesbian Task Force. Back in the radical 60s, being “queer” was considered a disease by many people. Discrimination based on sexual orientation was common, and early gay rights activists knew that outing themselves came at great risk. But they did it anyway, launching a long and largely successful war for human rights.
While full equality for the gay community hasn’t yet arrived, the movement is now well funded and pretty much mainstream. I know, we’re still waiting on the Pentagon and the Boy Scouts to come around, but they will.
Greenpeace. These guys take civil disobedience to a new level, often risking life and limb to protect Mother Earth. As an environmentalist myself, I cheer for the Greenpeace radicals when they maneuver their rafts into the path an oil tankers or chain themselves to bulldozers. Mother Earth rules!
I haven’t the courage to be a Greenpeace activist, as I’m not a fan of handcuffs and jail cells. But that doesn’t mean I can’t admire the civil disobedience they practice. Besides, they might not like the idea that I’m a deer hunter — with guns!
The world needs more radicals, because radicals bring about change.
When you operate on the radical fringe, you don’t do it for money. You do it because you believe in an idea and are willing to commit your life’s work to it. Do you know how rare that is — in any field?
The real danger in becoming a “Radical PR Pro” is losing one’s moral compass. I may think the folks at PETA are a little kooky, but they don’t engage in illegal and destructive behavior like the Animal Liberation Front. Those guys are nuts.
Back in the 60s, the radical crazies were in the SDS or the Weather Underground. Both groups let their passion blind them, and both did more harm than good.
Wackos seldom help any cause, so don’t become one, OK?
My pitch. If you’re a radical, or if your son or daughter aspires to be a radical, consider a career in public relations. Ideas that change the world must be communicated often and effectively.
Though change begins with radical thinkers, the best of the fringe ideas eventually become mainstream and make the world a better place. The civil-rights movement comes to mind.
What PR pro wouldn’t love to have client as wise and as articulate as Martin Luther King, Jr.?
Top photo from the archives of Case Western Reserve University.
Update: Check out this story about a virtual sit-in that may lead to charges of a “distributed denial of service attack” against a professor at UC-San Diego! Certainly an ingenious use of civil disobedience. And it’s way harder to arrest you!