In his story, Dennis Bidwell guides us through his harrowing journey applying for Conscientious Objector (CO) Status during the Vietnam War. Dennis reflect on his coming of age, the culture of the 1960's and 70's, and his experience writing "the most important essay of [his] life"
Well to set the stage. I was in college from 1967 to 1971, and those were very tumultuous times in this country, much of it having to do with the US fighting an ultimately disastrous war in Vietnam and the growing resistance to that war effort. But I was going through a process of trying to figure out what I thought about all this, and I concluded that I was just morally and conscientiously opposed, that I did not want to participate in this war, and there's a process of becoming a conscientious objector. And I went through that process, and my draft board said, okay, we find that you area conscientious objector. So that mean tthat if my draft number came up, I wouldn't be put into the military and sent off to fight the war, but I would be asked to do some for mf alternative service. At that point,I had been admitted to law school. I was going to be going to NYU in Greenwich Village in New York, was all excited about heading to NewYork, pursuing the law. I made the estimation that my number would come ups o that even if I started law school, I would have to stop law school in order to go do my alternative service of some sort . So I made the decision to just defer and to instead take a job that would qualify as alternative service if my number came up .And I was very interested in urban education, so I decided I would be a day care teacher on a Head Start program in Boston. So I took that job. It turns out that my number didn't come up, so I could have, introspect,go ne to law school and just stayed there and moved in that direction. But instead I wound up teaching. And though I discovered that teaching itself wasn't necessarily my cup of tea, but I got involved in other aspects of urban education issues. I became the director of a community school, and then I became involved in other organizing efforts around education in Boston neighborhoods, and I be ca me involved in a variety of youth services and the funding of youth services. So I wound up getting just totally fascinated with the life of neighborhood organizations in different Boston neighborhoods, particularly Jamaica Plain where I lived for 20 years. And there were a few years where I thought about, am I going to go back to law school or not?And at some point that just kind of faded, and I wound up headed in different directions, following my curiosities, following my interests. As I look back on those years,IrealizedthatIdevelopedasenseofconfidencethatIcouldchangedirectionsandstilllandonmyfeet.Andth at sense of confidence, that sense of agency, has served me well ever since. And as I look back on it, though, I would like to say, oh, it's because of my ingenuity and my smarts, and that may have a little so me thing to do with it. I recognize that so much of this was the privilege that I had, the wonderful education that was made possible for me by my parents. I had a financial back stop. But knowing that there was a very good chance I would land on my feet. Those early years helped give me the confidence to be able to make changes like that knowing how fortunateI was to be able to bring that attitude to things. Many, many people were not and do not now have the kind of background handed to them and the privilege and access handed to them that makes that possible.