The highway made me an organizer. A good one, anyway. What I learned there would set the tone for my ensuing decades as an activist, movement strategist and community artist. A good core curriculum. During my teen years and early twenties, I racked up a good 26,000 miles hitchhiking the roads of the US and Canada. I wasn’t a drifter. Roads were the connecting lines between points of interest and hitching, a cheap way to move along them.
I was already a rebel. Born into the anti-colonial struggle in Puerto Rico, I arrived in Chicago in turbulent, fast-moving times. At fifteen I had left home and I would drop out of high school soon after. When the police killed Fred Hampton, the Chairman of the local Black Panther chapter, I stepped into the world of organizing and activism and never looked back. By the time I was on the road I had some pretty radical ideas in my head. Whatever illusions may have held sway in the urban enclaves of activism, the road was a reminder that not everyone in the US was excited about the movements that were shaking the country and disturbing the peace—at least not in a good way. Nixon’s silent majority was a reality.
I set myself two ground rules to govern my conduct in this uncertain landscape: 1) I would not lie about what I believed, and 2) I would not get myself killed. You may notice the inherent tension between these goals.