Aaah, the commonalities of activism, at least in the 80’s. If you were in New York, you worked for NYPIRG at some point in your life. If I’d had political ambitions, I should have stayed: the guy who ran the Binghamton office, where I did some work on defense conversion before it was chic, went on to run the organization and was for a year Andrew Cuomo’s Special Advisor on Policy and Public Integrity.
I find out today that a scant 15 months later, someone else was organizing up a storm — at the same university where I’d end up teaching writing in 2002:
Obama’s environmental education began in January of 1984, a year after he graduated from Columbia University, when he took an $800-a-month position running a chapter of the Nader-inspired New York Public Interest Research Group (NYPIRG) on the campus of Harlem’s City College. He’d arrived at NYPIRG’s campus office—a cramped trailer parked on a patch of grass next to the science building—determined to change the world, but unclear about where to begin. “He didn’t seem unsure of himself, but he seemed unsure of where he belonged,” says Alison Kelley, who was a freshman at City College when Obama came to the campus. “You could tell he was driven, but he wasn’t sure what he was driven by.” The 22-year-old organizer began a campaign protesting apartheid, and organized a trip to DC to lobby for higher-education funding. But as time went by, Obama also found himself wrestling with a wide range of environmental issues: mass transit, recycling, pollution from local incinerators and landfills, compensation for victims of toxic-waste exposure.
I sent the article to one of the organizers I know well, whose work helped spark much of what I spent my time covering at Chelsea Now. One of those road-not-taken stories that can give at least a few smiles. (Is the title a jinx, or just visualization?)