Staying True To My Roots

No, I don’t mean the color of my hair. It’s silver-white by nature. What I mean is I can’t and won’t walk away from the roots of what make me me.

I discovered the world when I went away to college. Even with the Vietnam war lucking in the darkness of my senior year of high school, it didn’t make a huge impact until graduation day. That was when I realized that almost fifty percent of the boys in my class who weren’t going to college–and that was the majority at my high school–were being drafted within weeks of graduation. Fifty percent. Boys I’d danced with, cheered for on the football field, studied with. They were going into the draft. And I was off to college. It didn’t seem fair. Just because I was female, I was somehow safe.

I had already had two run-ins with the reality of the wider world. I had everything I needed to go the college of my choice. I contacted my congressman and asked for a recommendation to the Naval Academy. His response: a form rejection letter. A form letter! I was ineligible. My principal took me aside and explained a painful fact of life. Not in so many words, but he told me I wasn’t eligible for the Academy because I didn’t have a penis. The Academy was still male only. It wouldn’t be until 1980 when the first co-eds entered the Academy.

The second smack of reality was when my high school counselor refused to sign my college applications. She didn’t approve of the colleges I’d chosen. She said I should go to the local junior college (old term, but I’m old) and study to be a teacher, a nurse, or a secretary. That’s all she knew; that’s what she counseled all girls. So, my principal stepped in and sound my applications. When I was admitted to UCLA, I walked into her office, wished her a wonderful life, and left a copy of my acceptance letter on her desk.

Once I got to campus in Westwood, I absorbed the zeitgeist. The war in Vietnam. Poisoning the earth. People’s rights. Women’s rights. I marched against the war, sat in at a Federal building and was arrested so many times I knew the sergeant at the booking desk by name. No charges were filed. We spent the night in the drunk tank before being released. The police were so overworked with bigger problems that a few dozen students peacefully protesting the war and doing their homework on the floor of the Federal building didn’t warrant a fuss.

I found a home marching against injustice and give voice to those who couldn’t. I marched for all sorts of reasons, but the one that mattered the most was the Delano to Sacramento march for field workers rights. I didn’t do the entire march, all 340 miles, but I was out there several times. I still have buckshot in my ass from a sheriff firing off his shotgun to chase us off the highway. Forget that we had a legal right to be there. Forget that we had permits to march if we didn’t block traffic. Forget we were right. The sheriffs had shotguns. I recently told a friend about the march. She immediately dubbed me, “Buckshot Betsy.” Never thought about a nickname, but it fits.

In 1967 groups of students stood in silence to protest Dow Chemical, the maker of napalm, recruiting on campus. This went on for weeks. UCLA didn’t experience the violence that University of Wisconsin did, but we did get public attention. I protested the treatment of women and burned my bra for Women’s Rights.

With that as my background is it any wonder that I include injustice in my novels? I had Mad Max confront an crazy doctor who killed women, racial injustice, pastoral malfeasance, a scientist who released pathogens into a hospital. Follow that with a serial killer with her own warped code of “ethics,” and a group of militia that attacked military institutions.

Look for more hints of my activism. Meet me on the street and you’ll see me wearing my “Black Lives Matter” mask over my N95. Scratch my surface and you’ll find the long-time activist alive and well. Instead of marching or standing in the rain holding signs, however, you’ll find me raising my voice here and in my other writings. Join me.

4 Comments

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4 Responses to Staying True To My Roots

  1. Right on, Betsy! I’m proud to know you!

  2. Chuck Lumpkin

    Betsy, I’ve known you for a lot of years. We have worked together selling our books. We have worked on various boards, Virginia Writers Club, SMAC and Lake Writers. But, in my wildest dreams did I ever think I would be working along side, “Buckshot Betsy”.