This week, Lynn Kanter is celebrating the release of her new novel, Her Own Vietnam. Click the banner to see the tour schedule. Each day has different content! Book Puke is very happy to be a stop this week.
This is a photo of me wearing the one uniform I’ve ever owned: the powder blue dress girls were required to wear to work at McDonald’s. It’s 1970. I’m 16 years old. I live in Albany, New York, and I’m dating a boy who’s destined to be a soldier. He’s the first and the last boy I’ll ever love.
Like everyone of my generation, I’ve grown up seeing national leaders gunned down in public. President Kennedy. Medgar Evers. Malcolm X. Robert Kennedy. Martin Luther King.
Now in 1970, the Vietnam War is raging both overseas and at home. Already about 34,000 American service members have been killed. More than half of all Americans personally know someone who was killed or wounded in Vietnam. And my older brother turns 18 – the age at which boys can be drafted.
President Nixon orders the military to invade neutral Cambodia, an action so illegal he has to issue the order in secret. In May, the news inflames protests on hundreds of college campuses nationwide. In Ohio, the state’s National Guard kills four Kent State students and wounds nine others as they protest peacefully on their own campus. Ten days later in Mississippi, two Jackson State students are killed and 12 are wounded when local police respond to campus protests by shooting hundreds of rounds into a women’s dorm.
Is it any wonder that 1970 turned me into a political activist?
Or at least it created in me the determination to become an activist. As a high school student, I felt (perhaps wrongly) there was not that much I could do. I marched in anti-war protests, signed petitions, visited coffeehouses where long-haired girls and boys sang protest songs.
In 1970 in my new novel Her Own Vietnam, the main character, Della Brown, had just come home from Vietnam, broken and isolated and feeling older than her 22 years. Something broke in me, too, that year, perhaps something as simple as faith in grownups.
Never again would I assume that the men in power – and they were (and continue to be) almost all men – had my best interests at heart. I realized that it was up to me and those who shared the vision of a nation that cares about all of its people to claim our own democratic power and create change. It would be the women’s liberation movement that forged me into an activist, but the Vietnam War lit the spark.
Almost 35 years later, I’m still at it. An activist is not just someone who’s angry – it’s someone who has hope that things can get better, and the conviction to invest in a future they may not get to see. That’s what 1970 did to me.
Oh, and that job at McDonalds? They paid the girls 10 cents an hour less than the boys – a significant loss when the minimum wage was only $1.45 an hour.
Lynn Kanter is the author of the novels Her Own Vietnam (2014, Shade Mountain Press), The Mayor of Heaven (1997) and On Lill Street (1992), both published by Third Side Press. Her short fiction has appeared in the anthologies Lost Orchard (SUNY Press), Breaking Up is Hard to Do, and The Time of Our Lives: Women Write on Sex After 40 (both Crossing Press), and the literary journal Verbsap. Her nonfiction has appeared in Referential Magazine and the anthologies Coming Out of Cancer (Seal Press), Testimonies (Alyson Publications) and Confronting Cancer, Constructing Change (Third Side Press).
Lynn is a lifelong activist for feminist and other progressive causes, and has the T-shirts to prove it. Since 1992 Lynn has worked as a writer for the Center for Community Change, a national social justice organization. She lives with her wife in Washington, DC.