We Thought the System Could Be Changed
Millions of young people have felt that a change is needed. You may or may not agree with them, but you will find it enlightening to get an insight into why they view matters the way they do. This is an account of how one young couple sought to bring about a change, and how they discovered the only way it can be achieved.
AS MORE than 10,000 of us gathered in Chicago’s Grant Park Wednesday afternoon, we could hardly believe our eyes. Guns on the tops of nearby buildings were trained on us. National Guardsmen with fixed bayonets lined the sidewalks. And helmeted police were all around. Why? What was taking place?
It was August 1968. And four miles away at the Amphitheatre, the Democratic National Convention was in progress. It was this that had drawn us to Chicago. We hoped that our presence en masse might have an effect on the decisions made at that convention. Particularly we wanted an end to the Vietnam war.
But why the machine guns, fixed bayonets and helmeted police?
Remember, it was August 1968. American involvement in the war was still growing; North Vietnam was still being bombed. Many political leaders favored escalation of the war. They wanted a military triumph, and some even considered outspoken advocates of peace as being guilty of treason.
Yet this tremendous display of force seemed to us totally uncalled for. We in Grant Park were unarmed. Most of us simply felt that America’s leaders were heeding bad advice. And now we planned to demonstrate peacefully by marching to the Amphitheatre. But what was done to my girl friend Jeanne and me that day jolted our whole way of thinking, deeply affecting our course of life.
I know that some persons may say: “You had no business demonstrating in Chicago. You deserved whatever you got.”
At the time, though, Jeanne and I thought that what we were doing was right. However, we can see now that it was not the right way to achieve change, and we regret things that we did. But why did thousands—yes, tens of thousands—of young people push so hard for change in those years? I believe that my own experience will help you to understand.
AN APPARENTLY BRIGHT FUTURE
I was born to white, middle-class parents in Minneapolis, Minnesota, in 1947. In 1952, we moved to Hawaii, where my father became a successful contractor. Living in a beautiful ocean-front home, we had everything we needed in a material way. America seemed to be the land where dreams could be fulfilled; the future looked bright.
My life was filled with things that brought me pleasure—playing halfback on our championship football team, running track, swimming in the blue Pacific in our backyard, involvement in school government. And soon I was planning to enter college on the mainland.
FACING GRIM REALITIES
In September 1965, I enrolled at Williams College in Massachusetts. Here, with more time to read and meditate, something began to bother me. In Hawaii I was used to racial groups being treated equally, but on the mainland things were different.
During spring vacation in 1966 I flew to Chicago to visit my older brother, who was a director of the University of Chicago Hospitals. As we rode through the ghettos of South Chicago, I could hardly believe what I saw. “How can people live like this?” I wondered. But the fact that they did, and that these persons were generally blacks, deeply affected me.
I wanted to know how blacks felt, so I began to read books written by them, including a number of autobiographies. As I read about the injustices they suffered—the slave trade, their being treated as though they were inferior, their being banned from public rest rooms, their being lynched for fabricated or minor offenses—my eyes often filled with tears. I was angered, and I began to wonder what I could do to bring a change for the better.
I began to look at other things, too, from a racial point of view, such as the Vietnam war. I read in the press how Americans referred to the Vietnamese as “gooks,” and I wondered if we would be dropping those bombs so freely if they were white people. I also heard reports about huge profits that the so-called “military industrial complex” was reaping on the production of war matériel. This made me wonder: Was it possible that profit-minded men, who were willing to sacrifice the lives of people with slanted eyes, were behind the expansion of the war? I began to think so when I heard it said that presidential candidates often depend upon money from such industrialists to finance their campaigns.
President Johnson campaigned in 1964, promising to bring peace in Vietnam. Yet later, month by month, the war was expanding in direct contradiction of what he had told the people. Public media were saying much about efforts of the administration to deceive the public. The “credibility gap” was widening. So, can you see why many of us young folks no longer felt we could trust our leaders?
But now, with the expansion of the war, college students began to be drafted. This forced me to make a difficult decision.
WHAT TO DO ABOUT THE DRAFT?
For months I wrestled with the questions: Can I support the war effort? Can I take up arms and kill Vietnamese?
I finally came to the conclusion that I could not. To me, it was wrong. Some persons, I know, may argue: “Why, you were nothing but a cowardly draft dodger. When your country tells you to do something, the only lawful, upright thing to do is obey.”
At the time I analyzed this matter very carefully. I realized that Germans at the Nuremberg trials, as well as Adolf Eichman in more recent times, tried to excuse the crimes they committed by arguing that they simply were obeying official orders. But, nevertheless, they were found guilty and executed! They were held responsible for their acts, even though their country had ordered them to commit these vile deeds.
To my way of thinking the people of the United States were in a similar situation. The tragic stories appearing in the American press about the napalming of men, women and children—burning them to a horrible death—seemed to me to be similar to the mass exterminations of people in the ovens of German concentration camps. This idea was reinforced when the Vietnamese leader Premier Ky, whom U.S. troops appeared to be keeping in power, declared that his only hero was Adolf Hitler.
EFFORTS TO CHANGE THE SYSTEM
My decision to refuse induction into the military was not a ‘cop-out.’ Rather, I had a deep love for my country, and so I began to think about what I could do to change it for the better. I felt that as a sociologist I might help to solve America’s grievous racial problems, and even international problems. So in 1967 I transferred to the University of Hawaii for my junior year to take the necessary courses to prepare me for that field.
At school a notice on the information board caught my eye. It invited those opposed to the war in Vietnam to come to a meeting of the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS). About this time I got to know Jeanne, a fellow student, who joined me in antiwar activities.
By now even regular news reports were exposing misleading official statements about the war. So, by early 1968, according to public opinion polls, the minority dissenting against the war had become a majority, and we began to see a real possibility of success in our efforts to change the system. This possibility seemed to be confirmed when President Johnson, on March 31, 1968, announced that he would not seek reelection. It appeared that public opinion was driving him from office.
A few days later our SDS president made an emotional speech, and burned his draft card before TV cameras in protest against the war. I joined other students in doing the same—something I would never do now. That evening this was feature TV news, and it was in the newspapers the next morning.
In April, antiwar students in New York city seized Columbia University buildings and closed the school. At the University of Hawaii, students were holding massive rallies against the war almost daily. And then in May, when Professor Oliver Lee, an outspoken opponent of the war, was ousted by the University, students took over campus facilities for several days.
Jeanne and I were among the hundreds of students who occupied Bachman Hall, demanding that Lee be reinstated. The police eventually removed us under the glaring lights of TV cameras. We were arrested, but released on bond the next morning.
A few days later students dispersed for summer vacations. What could we do now? In this election year the eyes of America would be on the Democratic Convention in Chicago. Could we perhaps bring about a change where it really counted, influencing leaders in power to stop the war? At the time we thought so, and decided to try.
“MASSACRE OF MICHIGAN AVENUE”
What occurred on Wednesday of the Democratic Convention has since been called “the Massacre of Michigan Avenue.” Millions saw it on TV. A federal study referred to it as “police riots.” The study noted that police violence “was often inflicted upon persons who had broken no law, disobeyed no order, made no threat.” And we can vouch for this, although some demonstrators did provoke police by calling them names.
When we attempted to begin our march after listening to speeches in Grant Park, the police attacked. Tear gas sent us fleeing in every direction. Soldiers with fixed bayonets were everywhere, blocking the bridges into the main part of the city. Finally we found a sparsely guarded bridge and broke through.
Our numbers swelled as more made it over the bridges to join us on Michigan Avenue. Just when it appeared that the march would be successful, police and soldiers blocked our advance, and they began attacking with tear gas, Mace and clubs. Those in their direct path were trampled to the ground, and blood spurted from their bludgeoned heads. Jeeps with barbed-wire fences fixed to their front began to push like plows into the crowd. Bodies were crushed together. I grabbed Jeanne’s arm and tried desperately to pull her to safety.
Finally Jeanne, her sister and I broke through the barrier of police and ran a long distance away from the troubled area. It was about 9 p.m. and we were hungry, so we had dinner at a restaurant. The only way we knew to get back to where we were staying was to take a train near Michigan Avenue.
WHY WE GAVE UP
We were nearing the station when a band of police came flying around the corner. “We want to catch a train,” I said. They cursed us, and without provocation grabbed us, and started clubbing Jeanne’s sister when she resisted. We were thrown into a paddy wagon. At the police station, over a hundred of us were held all night in a room called “the tank.”
The next morning I appeared before the judge. But he never gave me opportunity to say a word in explanation; he didn’t even raise his eyes to look at me! I couldn’t, in good conscience, plead guilty, so I decided to prove the charges false.
Meanwhile Jeanne returned to school in Hawaii, and I went back to Massachusetts for my senior year. In the months that followed I made repeated airplane trips to Chicago for court appearances. Each time, however, the policeman who was supposed to press charges failed to appear, so the judge would set the case for the following month. After spending several hundred dollars in expenses, my lawyer said it was useless—they would just keep doing this indefinitely until I failed to show up and then they would declare me guilty.
These experiences made me feel that the system could not be reformed. I gave up trying to change it—‘eat, drink and be merry’ became my philosophy. I attended school only enough to graduate. Jeanne came from Hawaii, and we lived together and became deeply involved with drugs. Yet this living only for personal pleasure wasn’t satisfying either.
COULD THERE BE HOPE ANYWHERE?
By our dress, appearance and behavior we felt that we were showing our rebellion against the hypocrisy and injustices of the so-called “establishment.” But were drugs, open promiscuity and other features of our life-style any better? I began to wonder. Many young people considered marriage old-fashioned, yet I could see that changing from one sex partner to another was not bringing them real happiness. I didn’t want this for Jeanne and me, so in the summer of 1969 we were married.
While I felt that efforts to change the system were futile, I still wanted to help people, so I decided to become a schoolteacher. Since I wanted to go where children especially needed help, I began teaching third grade in a black ghetto in North Philadelphia.
As I pored over the medical records of students, I found that most were undernourished and underweight. Many lived in unbelievably unhealthful, crowded facilities. Some, I came to learn, were already immorally involved with the opposite sex. A few were drug runners for their parents. Most couldn’t add 2 + 3, or recognize the letters of the alphabet. I never believed that conditions could be so bad; it seemed hopeless! It was frustrating to think that after spending all one’s efforts one could do so little lasting good. Where could we find a rewarding, satisfying pursuit?
We had delved deeply into astrology, occultism and Eastern religions and found nothing satisfying there. Then I happened to read The Population Bomb by Stanford University Professor Paul Ehrlich. When Ehrlich visited Philadelphia, we also went to his lecture. He said that it was already too late, that ultimate calamities of unprecedented dimensions faced mankind because of their abuse of the environment and mishandling of earth’s affairs. But perhaps, I thought, there was hope in the growing ecology movement.
Remembering the frustrations to which our involvement in the antiwar movement had led, we accepted, but with hesitation, an invitation to an ecology organizational meeting at Temple University. When we entered a room filled with cigarette smoke and heard a discussion on air pollution, we knew that this movement would come to nothing. Nevertheless, I began reading many books on ecology and enrolled in a master’s degree program in environmental education. I felt convinced that the industrialized society would soon collapse, and I started preparing for life after that occurred.
My father owned a hundred acres of virgin fern forest on the island of Hawaii. We began to lay plans for a completely self-sufficient community there that would be in ecological balance with the surrounding area. We were seriously searching for alternative life-styles, since we were convinced that the system was doomed. However, answers for which we had been searching began coming from an altogether unexpected source.
REAL HOPE FOR BENEFICIAL CHANGE
School let out for summer vacation, my younger brother David came from Hawaii and the three of us went on a short camping trip. David, who was considering the ministry as a career, brought a Bible along, and each night, as we sat around the campfire, he read selected chapters to us. Listening to accounts about Joseph and his brothers and David and Goliath, we were surprised to find out how interesting the Bible can be. And as we read the book of Ecclesiastes, the conclusions there regarding the vanities of life in this system of things seemed so up-to-date.
That summer Jeanne and I had a lot of time on our hands. Our only project was an attempt to grow sufficient food on our 13-by-13-foot plot in Philadelphia to sustain us. So we got an Authorized Version of the Bible and started reading it out loud to each other. First, we read the Gospels and Acts of the Apostles. As we listened to Jesus’ scathing denunciations of the religious leaders of his day (Matthew chapter 23), we couldn’t help but think of present-day clergymen. We had been ‘turned off’ by their hypocrisy. An example was their active support of the Vietnam war when public opinion favored the war, and their protest against it only after public opinion had shifted against the war.
Also, we read the prophecies of Isaiah, which particularly impressed us. Coming across the words, “they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruninghooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more,” I remarked to Jeanne, “Hey, this Isaiah was an antiwar protester. In fact, he was into ecology; he wanted to put war funds into agriculture.”—Isa. 2:4, AV.
Then we noted the words just before, “it shall come to pass in the last days,” and we wondered if somehow these words were meant for our day. As we read on, we could see that Isaiah was speaking of ancient Judah and Jerusalem, but we just couldn’t get over the remarkable similarity to twentieth-century conditions. The more we read the more convinced we became that these prophecies must apply in some way to our present world system.
If this was true, then it would mean that today’s corrupt system is to be destroyed, as one prophecy went on to foretell: “The earth also is defiled under the inhabitants thereof; because they have transgressed the laws, changed the ordinance, broken the everlasting covenant. Therefore hath the curse devoured the earth, and they that dwell therein are desolate: therefore the inhabitants of the earth are burned, and few men left.”—Isa. 24:5, 6, AV.
Could we believe these prophecies? We believed in an Almighty God. And we marveled at his creation of life and the natural cycles on earth. It amazed us how tiny seeds that we put into the soil soon yielded such a variety of foods. Could the Creator responsible for such miracles be the God who gave Isaiah this message that seemed to fit our day so well?
We began to think so. But if, as the Bible indicated, this system was to be destroyed, would anything good replace it? We wanted to know. To help us in our investigation we obtained a modern-English version, The Jerusalem Bible, and would sometimes spend the whole day reading it together.
A PERSONAL GOD OF PURPOSE
On one page after another of this Jerusalem Bible the name “Yahweh” appeared instead of the titles “Lord” and “God.” I remembered from a college religion course that Yahweh (or the more popular form Jehovah) is the English equivalent of the name of God that appears in original-language Bible manuscripts. Reading God’s name over and over again began to influence us. We began to view God as a real person, someone we could communicate with and someone who had a purpose. But we wondered, What kind of person is this Yahweh?
Our appreciation for Yahweh grew as we read of his purposes. We had paid special attention to places where the Bible foretells the destruction of this corrupt system, since this corroborated what we believed. But now we began taking note that it also spoke of a new system. Reading prophecies such as the one found in the latter part of Isaiah chapter 65 caused us to feel that perhaps there is a hope for a better future. It says:
“I create new heavens and a new earth . . . They will build houses and inhabit them, plant vineyards and eat their fruit. . . . They will not toil in vain or beget children to their own ruin, for they will be a race blessed by Yahweh, and their children with them. Long before they call I shall answer; before they stop speaking I shall have heard. The wolf and the young lamb will feed together, the lion eat straw like the ox . . . They will do no hurt, no harm on all my holy mountain, says Yahweh.”—Isa. 65:17-25, JB.
Could this Yahweh really create a new system in which such a appealing way of life would be realized? If he was the same One who created this marvelous universe, then we felt that perhaps he could fulfill these promises. But we wondered: Is Yahweh going to preserve any people through the coming world destruction into a new system? If so, who are these people?
None of the churches we knew seemed to fit the picture. As far as we could see, the corrupt men who were manipulating politics and business were, for the most part, respected members of these churches. And it was members of these churches who were fighting the war in southeast Asia. The more we read the Bible, the more the churches appeared to be condemned by the very book they professed to follow.
In a few days I would be teaching again and would start working on my master’s degree at the university. Also, we were getting discouraged in our Bible reading, since we had so many unanswered questions. In a moment of despair we did something we had never done before. Jeanne and I bowed our heads and I prayed out loud to Yahweh, asking him for guidance as to where to turn and what to do.
LEARNING HOW THE CHANGE WILL COME
Having prayed, we lit up marijuana cigarettes. But almost immediately the doorbell rang. Could it be the police? As Jeanne ran madly around the house hiding drugs and spraying the air with aerosol deodorizer, I stepped outside the door, locking it behind me.
Standing there was a young black woman who identified herself as one of Jehovah’s witnesses. She began to speak to me about the very things we had just prayed about. She offered me the book The Truth That Leads to Eternal Life, which I accepted. I also asked: “Where can I observe Jehovah’s witnesses firsthand?” She invited us to their meeting at the local Kingdom Hall, and also gave us copies of the Watchtower and Awake! magazines.
It was Saturday noon, and Jeanne sat down in one room to read The Watchtower and Awake! and I began reading the book in another room. It wasn’t long before we were shouting back and forth: “Hey, listen to this!” “This is amazing!” By late that night I had finished the book. During the previous two months I had read the entire Bible, and now understanding of its related parts began to take shape in my mind.
From youth on I had prayed in the way Jesus taught his disciples: “Our Father, which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.” (Matt. 6:9, 10, Authorized Version) I had thought that God’s kingdom was a peaceful state of the mind and heart. But no! Of course! Now I could see that God’s kingdom is a real government! It is the instrument that God will use to wipe out this corrupt system!
This became clear as I looked again at Daniel 2:44, which reads: “In the days of these kings shall the God of heaven set up a kingdom, which shall never be destroyed . . . It shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand for ever.” (AV) Thus, I came to realize that my earlier efforts to change the system by engaging in public demonstrations were not only futile, but contrary to what the Bible says at Romans 13:1-7. I could now see that true Christians remain neutral regarding political affairs, and wait upon God himself to change the system by destroying it.
I also began to understand that after God’s government destroys this world system, He will see to it that his original purpose to have the earth a paradise will be fulfilled, even as indicated by those prophecies we had read. But now I learned something wonderful that I had overlooked—God will grant people to live forever in that earthly paradise! Such scriptures as this really impressed me: “The righteous shall inherit the land, and dwell therein for ever.”—Ps. 37:29, AV.
But the key, I began to see, is GOD’S KINGDOM. Yes, God cares, and he has a real government by means of which he will fulfill his purposes. The chapter in the Truth book, “Why Has God Permitted Wickedness Until Our Day?” helped me to understand his apparent slowness in taking action. It made clear how vital issues, affecting even the spirit realm, required settling before he destroys this corrupt system.
Yet was all of this just theory? Was there any tangible proof that God’s government really exists? I wanted to know.
WHAT WE HAD SEARCHED FOR
The next day, September 6, 1970, Jeanne and I went to the Kingdom Hall, arriving after the meeting had started. We noticed that everyone was clean-cut, and looked so happy. Even little children participated, reading passages fluently from the Bible. Knowing the situation in the school system, I realized that their parents must take a real interest in them. I was impressed, too, by the Bible knowledge displayed by the people. But what impressed us most occurred when the meeting ended.
Over a hundred people, from little child to old man, came up and gave us the most friendly greeting we had ever received. We were especially surprised since I had long hair and a beard, and Jeanne was dressed in a way identified with hippies. Also, almost everyone was black, this being a black community. At school where I taught it took quite a while before blacks accepted me. They seemed suspicious of whites, but this wasn’t the case at all at the Kingdom Hall.
We were invited to come back on Thursday for the Theocratic School. When we arrived, everyone treated us like old friends. What impressed us was that the purpose of these meetings was clearly to gain a deeper understanding of the Bible. We could also see that what these people learned really affected their lives. We were invited for a meal, and the husband encouraged us to accept the offer of a free weekly Bible study, which we did.
After a few weeks Jeanne and I knew that we had found what we had been searching for. Here were a people who truly loved one another, and who were preparing confidently for life in a new system. Every aspect of their lives was governed by God’s laws in the Bible—hence, they were surely subjects of God’s government. And as we continued to study, the fulfillment of Bible prophecy convinced us that we are living near the final part of the generation that will see God’s government crush the entire wicked system of things.—Matt. 24:3-14.
We could immediately see the urgency of all people hearing this vital information about God’s kingdom, so we asked to share with the Witnesses in telling others about it. We had quit using drugs, and shortly afterward had changed our appearance and manner of dress. In January 1971, we were baptized by Jehovah’s witnesses in symbol of our dedication to serve Jehovah God. I quit my teaching job, obtained other employment, and Jeanne and I entered the full-time preaching work. This has led from one rewarding experience to another.
Having received missionary training at the Watchtower Bible School of Gilead in New York city, we are going to Africa to preach the good news of God’s kingdom. How fine it will be to be able to show them from God’s Word the Bible that the poverty, wars, prejudices and injustices of this system are soon to end, to be replaced by righteous conditions under the rule of God’s Kingdom government! (2 Pet. 3:13)—Contributed.
[Blurb on page 102]
“As I read about the injustices . . . my eyes often filled with tears.”
[Blurb on page 103]
“Even regular news reports were exposing misleading official statements about the war.”
[Blurb on page 104]
“Police and soldiers blocked our advance, and they began attacking with tear gas, Mace and clubs.”
[Blurb on page 105]
“Many young people considered marriage old-fashioned.”
[Blurb on page 106]
‘The clergy registered protest only after public opinion shifted against the war.’
[Blurb on page 107]
“The more we read the Bible, the more the churches appeared to be condemned by the very book they professed to follow.”
[Blurb on page 109]
“Here were a people who truly loved one another.”
[Picture on page 108]
Jeanne and I were finding answers for which we had been searching