YAF ~ Young Americans for Freedom
As a high school student 1967-70 it was unusual to have an interest in economics and government. It was also unusual at that age to have an interest in the arts and spirituality. Reconciling such diverse interests enabled the freedom to make me who I am today. Beliefs in many things has changed over the years but these core subjects remain infused in my being.
I recollect never had any free time in high school as every moment was gladly filled with some kind of character building activity. Of course I did not see it then as character building, it was just something to do. Pursuing the natural course of my innate curiosity compelled me to act instead of watch the world go by.
Dana Rohrabacher, Mentor
I had been drawn into politics early in life primarily due to my mother being active in the Republican party. After befriending Dana Rohrabacher at the age of 16 my journey rapidly accelerated. Dana was then living in Belmont Shore on Livingston Drive while attending Cal State Long Beach when I was still living at home as a student attending Jordan High in Long Beach as a junior.
I met Dana after he returned from Czechoslovakia and my attending his presentation at the local library after reading a small write-up in the local newspaper. His talk was illustrated with photographs he had smuggled out of the country proving that the Russians were occupying the independent nation of Czechoslovakia. The official line from the Russians at the time was that they weren’t there militarily but Dana’s photographs of Russian tanks and Russian soldiers told a different story of incontrovertible truth.
After his talk concluded I introduced myself to Dana as the President of the Young Republicans, a group of high school student activists made up from members attending all five high schools in the city of Long Beach. Dana had a charming charisma and an intelligent disposition that drew people towards liking him and I was thrilled that he invited me to participate in attending a YAF meeting.
The Young Americans for Freedom was the right wing counterpart to the SDS; promulgating youth activism based on conservative ideology. The meetings were full of heady ideological talk spiced with an itch to do something about it. Because of my interest in printing and publishing I volunteered to run the mimeograph machine publishing Dana’s early writings advocating Libertarian issues.
At age 16 I was the youngest member of this political action group made up of college students four years or more older. My usefulness the group was mostly due to my art skills for illustrations needed on the stencils for the mimeographed newsletters as well as for hand lettering protest signs and posters for various events and political actions.
When economist Ludwig Von Mises lectured at the Cal State Campus those signs on the wall were painted by my hand. At that time, the summer of 1969, I was reading essays by economist Milton Friedman, heady stuff then for a 17 year old spending Saturday’s hanging out at the YAF storefront in Seal Beach soaking up political talk.
1969 National Convention, St. Louis
When the California chapters of YAF gathered for the state convention in Glendale in the summer of 1969 to choose state delegates for the national convention. I was there cheering on the Libertarian faction lead by Dana Rohrabacher, later as Congressman the founder of the Libertarian Caucus.
There were two contingents inside YAF, the Libertarians and the Traditionalists, also known as The Conservatives. Think of Libertarians as free thinking pot smoking west coast long hairs and Traditionalists as red neck closed minded short haired Republicans from Kentucky. Although these are extremes they represent the kind of thinking that was then in vogue.
The choice of national convention speakers being Little Abner cartoonist Al Capp and YAF founder William F. Buckley spokes volumes and was one of the attractions convincing my parents to allow me to attend this grand adventure.
In support of the Libertarians I painted a number of posters with bold lettered libertarian slogans including one that read “Don’t Trad On Me” with the illustration of a rattlesnake similar to that iconic revolutionary flag.
I was proud to be the youngest delegate representing California at the national convention in Saint Louis. The ride was a non-stop 24 hour driving marathon to get to Stouffer’s Riverfront Inn, the convention hotel with the enjoyable view of the Freedom Arch and the smell of the nearby cattle yards.
Karl Hess and the Anarchists
The best description of the entire event was chronicled by Karl Hess in The Libertarian Forum of September 15, 1969. It was a raucous event for anyone but especially exciting for a 17 year old. Reporter Jerome Tuccille captures the moment when I was on the convention floor only a few feet away from where the skirmish happened…
“Then came the issue which was finally to polarize the convention into two hostile, openly-warring camps. The libertarians offered their resolution advocating active resistance to the military draft, and saw it trammeled by a solid majority. It was after the reading of the majority plank on the draft which limited anti-draft agitation to legal channels, that the event took place which was to force everyone present to make an instant decision: either in support of the conservative majority, or against them with the radical libertarians. There could no longer be any room for fence-straddling.
A young man, who shall remain nameless for obvious reasons, stepped forward and grabbed a microphone in the center of the floor. Clearly announcing that it was the right of every individual to defend himself from violence, including state violence, he lifted a card, touched it with a flame from a cigarette lighter, and lifted it over his head while it burned freely into a curling black ash. For fifteen or twenty seconds the hall was locked in numb silence, finally to be shattered by an enraged war cry:
“Kill the commies”
The next second can best be described as the instant radicalization of the moderate libertarians. While the first onrushers were knocked back by five or six radicals surrounding the “criminal commie”, the ranks of the Libertarian Caucus solidified into a barrier separating the radicals from the howling conservative majority. In the swinging and pushing which followed, the young student who had triggered the melee escaped outside the convention hall. The libertarians, stepping on chairs and raising their fists against the conservatives, sent up a chant:
“Laissez faire! Laissez faire!”
There was no question where they stood now: in clear opposition to the conservative majority. The majority found their own voices, and howled back in reply:
“Sock it to the Left! Sock it to the Left!”
This was countered with:
“Sock it to the State! Sock it to the State!”
The issues were clearly drawn, and three hundred and fifty libertarians suddenly found themselves in violent opposition to their former conservative allies numbering some eight or nine hundred strong. It took the best part of the next half hour to calm everyone down and get them outside the convention hall.”
Being that close to violence and the ideological chaos of that convention was a vital real-world learning experience. The outcome was the Libertarians lost their seats on the national board and the California delegation left St. Louis behind returning to the west coast. Although saddled with a sense of defeat against forces stronger than us that we once viewed as allies there remained a determination to carry on towards a different measure of success.
I drifted away from national politics to focus on the smaller and more relevant politics of my high school senior year 1969-70. After graduation I would fly to Alaska to work in the wilderness on a surveying crew before going on to art school, to a 20 year career as a carpenter, adding other careers as a teacher, publisher and writer.
Dana graduated from college to write editorials for the Orange County Register, then went to work as a speech writer on the Reagan white house staff before his election to Congress as a Libertarian Republican.
For over 40 years Dean has been published in a variety of small newspapers and magazines. As publisher he founded an alternative city weekly newspaper in 2008 and published over 200 uninterrupted issues over 4 years to over 20,000 readers via 800 locations (and online) before selling the business.
Dean is a Master Carpenter and the author of the biography of Hilda M Gray, desert homesteader.
In 2014 he was appointed Planning Commissioner for the city of Desert Hot Springs, California.
Dean M Gray is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists and Investigative Reporters and Editors and lives in Desert Hot Springs, California.