SLACKJAW by JIM KNIPFEL
February 3, 2013

They Made Us Criminals

 

We didn’t start out setting fire to administration buildings or threatening puppies. All that came along later, only after we’d been forced into it.

            When Grinch and I arrived independently at the University of Wisconsin, we were both still filled with a bright and clean-hearted youthful idealism. We went to rallies and protests for all the right causes. We believed that peaceful change was possible. We believed that you could reform the system for the better from the inside. We believed, dammit! Hell, we met at a rally against Reagan’s Star Wars Defense Initiative, for godsakes!

            Even after we broke away from the nonsense and formed the Nihilist Workers Party, we didn’t immediately run out and start smashing things and hurting people. No, we still tried to do things by the book.

            In the lobby of the busy student union a number of tables had been set up where assorted student organizations could distribute information and recruit new members. The young Republicans were there, as was the Revolutionary Communist Party, the Black Student Organization, the Gay and Lesbian Coalition, and Norwegians for Peace. Christians, atheists, Rosicrucians, swim club, dog lovers, would-be rodeo clowns—it seemed like anyone could set up a table there. We thought this would be a fine place for the Nihilist Workers Party to start spreading the word. But when we tried—showing up one morning, hanging a sign, and taking a seat—we were informed that before we could distribute information from one of those tables, we needed to be a recognized student group, and to become a recognized student group we needed to fill out a form.

            That was fine with us of course—we wanted to play by the rules. So we took a form and started filling it out. There at the very bottom, however, were a few blank lines where, according to the instructions, we were supposed to lay out our “beliefs and goals.”

            What the hell were we supposed to say? We were nihilists! It said so right there on the top line! So having no goals or beliefs of which to speak we simply wrote “N/A” in that section and turned in the form. A week later we were informed that we would not be recognized as an official student organization. No further explanation was offered.

            We didn’t let that dampen our idealistic spirits, our belief in America as a place where, if you work hard and keep your nose clean, you will succeed. When we decided to have a parade down State Street—the mile long commercial strip that cuts through the center of campus—we did the right thing and went to the police department to get all the forms we needed to obtain all the necessary permits. We wanted to do things right, after all. And we were always honest. We explained on the form that we were going to declare all the passing buses and cars and delivery trucks a “parade,” while Grinch and I sat along the sidewalk in lawn chairs, waving small American flags and cheering. There would be no need for added police protection or barricades or anything.

            Ten days later we hadn’t heard back on the permits. The chosen date of the parade was drawing closer, so I called the police department and talked to the officer in charge of such things. He was very friendly.

            “Oh no,” he said. “You don’t need a permit for that—you fellas go right ahead.”

            “But,” I insisted. “But we WANT a permit! It won’t be official without it!”

            “Naw, don’t worry about it—you’re fine. You go right ahead.”

            “But we want one!”

            In the end we received no permits, so of course we had to cancel the parade at the last minute.

            Despite that disappointment, we were still out there doing good deeds and trying to make the world a better place.

            We pointed out security lapses on campus by entering unlocked doors at three a.m. and leaving notes that would encourage the staff to make sure the building was secure in the event that some nefarious types might have some bad ideas.

            Thanks to us, the local coffee house banned the smoking of cigars, making the atmosphere that much more pleasant for those who wanted to share a cup of coffee and some civilized conversation.

            For all the good we accomplished, never once did we ask for any credit or even a friendly pat on the back. We were only doing what was right.

            When a group of Israeli students went nose to nose with a group of angry Palestinian students, Grinch jumped in between them without a thought to his own personal safety and tried to broker a peace agreement.

            “Now c’mon you guys—just shake hands and be friends.” With that he grabbed the wrists of the two leaders and dragged them together. And for a moment there they seemed to put their differences aside thanks to the efforts of the NWP.

            We made and distributed flyers listing the toll-free numbers of dozens of large corporations like Dow Chemical, Litton, and Honeywell to make life a little easier for consumers who might want to ask a question about why their microwave wasn’t working, or what sorts of chemical weapons were presently in production. But when our efforts were reported in Time magazine, they made it sound like we were doing a BAD thing.

             As we continued filling out official forms, dotting all the Is and crossing all the Ts, we found nothing but rejection at every turn. No agency, office, group, department or bureau would recognize our efforts to spread goodness. In fact they seemed intent on thwarting us by whatever means necessary. In time it became very frustrating.

            Along with “Visualize Peace” and “You Can’t Hug Your Children With Nuclear Arms,” there was another popular bumper sticker in Madison in those days that read “If You Stand in the Way of Peaceful Change, You Help Make Violent Change Inevitable.”

            What choice did we have? We tried and tried to effect peaceful change, we did everything by the book, we did everything that was expected of us as citizens and faced nothing but rejection as a result. If you think about it even a little bit, we didn’t have much choice in the matter, did we? They backed us into a corner.

            So in the years that followed if a few buildings were set on fire, if a few banks were vandalized, if a few puppies were threatened and a few fish were eaten by leeches, and if we opened a few new doors of consciousness that some stupid fucking chumps were dumb enough to run through, I think we all know who to blame.

 

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