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A young Mrs. Shapiro Mrs. Shapiro in 2007
Shapiro, as a past draft advisor, relates the extreme measures some people would go through to get out of the draft Shapiro talks about some of her activities in communes such as the communal sock drawer, and the "Free Wheels."

Gail Shapiro was born in Newark, New Jersey, and grew up in towns much like Wayland.  As a schoolgirl, she lived through Cold War duck-and-cover drills, and by her freshman year in high school was both aware of world events and very politically active.  Throughout these years and into college, Gail was involved in protests not only against Vietnam, but also protested with the White Panthers and for the women’s movement, lived in communes, and was a self-proclaimed “Hippy.”

Through her experiences Ms. Shapiro shows that you can make a difference by supporting your opinions through actions.  She tells us to be optimistic, and that one little baby step towards change can make a difference in the world.  She is certainly a woman who lives by the slogan “Actions speak louder than words.”

Shapiro Gallery


Q: Please state your name.

Gail Shapiro: Gail Shapiro.

Q: Where were you born?

Gail Shapiro: Newark, New Jersey.

Q: Could you describe where you grew up for us? What was your childhood like?

Gail Shapiro: I was born in Newark. My parents lived in a city suburb of Newark and I lived there until I was 5. Then we moved to Hillside, which is kind of a blue-collar town in the same area of New Jersey. And then when I was 9, we moved to Millburn, which is a town very much like Wayland and I stayed there until I graduated high school.

Q: Did you like it?

Gail Shapiro: Yeah, pretty much. I was one of those weird kids who actually liked high school

Q: Did you have any siblings?

Gail Shapiro: I’m the oldest of four. I have a sister who is 4 years younger, Rida, who is the director of the national symphony orchestra; she lives in Washington. My brother Stephen lives in New York City and he’s an entertainment lawyer. He does all the big rap stars so anybody you listen to; he’s their lawyer. And Dan, the youngest, is an engineer by trade and he is now working in the family business: which is a toy store, because he has kids and didn’t want to be on the road so much. So that’s my family and we’re all pretty close.

Q: Was your father in World War II?

Gail Shapiro: My parents are still alive and they both work full time and my dad was in the army but he didn’t see combat he was a cook.

Q: As a teenager how aware were you of world events?

Gail Shapiro: Oh that was what I did, absolutely- probably second to knowing what was number one of the pop [music] chart, but [world awareness was] definitely before clothes.

Q: Were you in the baby boomer generation?

Gail Shapiro: Yes.

Q: Were you a typical [baby boomer]?

Gail Shapiro: Yeah I would say, probably. If you want to take a stereotype of sort of nice, Jewish girl from suburban New Jersey [who] grows up and joins a radical collective. Then when that switches over goes back to the land and joins a spiritual commune and then goes and gets married and all that stuff, like typical, yeah, sure.

Q:  How did you feel about the cold war and communism?

Gail Shapiro: I was pretty young and I was born in 1950, so the cold war was when I was in elementary and middle school. What I mostly remember was the duck and cover [drills]; where we would have airway drills where you would get under your desk when the bell rang- like that was going to do any good in the event of a nuclear war- but you know, I didn’t take it very seriously. It didn’t really scare me because I was more concerned with the immediate; like what was going on in the immediate world.

Q: When did you start getting involved in those types of events, such as activism and stuff like that?

Gail Shapiro: Well my mother did a lot of charitable work. I mean, she was the UNICEF chairperson in our town - she still is and, actually, has been for 40 years- so I grew up not even knowing we had a dining room table because it was always covered with UNICEF coins.  She was a Girl Scout leader and did a lot for cancer research and a lot of other things. In fact she was one of the people who worked on finding a cure for Polio. She wasn’t a scientist. She raised money for the scientists and she said that was one of the greatest days of her life  [was] when she got a call saying they found a cure for Polio. If you think about AIDS; and you think about someone saying we found a cure for AIDS; it was like that because it [Polio] was not preventable and it was pretty scary stuff.  So I grew up in a family where that was the normal thing to do.  I would say, myself, when I was about 14 or 15, I did my first civil rights march.

Q: Wow that’s young.

Gail Shapiro: No. It wasn’t young at the time; maybe for you today; but it wasn’t because if you were aware of what was going on you either put on your villager clothes and went to school, or you did something about the world; that was the culture.

Q:  How conscious were you of race matters?

Gail Shapiro: My personal experience with race matters is [that] I lived in a town where, as I said, is very much like Wayland. I don’t think until I got to senior year there was a black person in my school. There were no Latinos, a couple of Asian people

Q: Was it just the area you lived in?

Gail Shapiro: No, the whole town. The white suburbs were [called] the white suburbs for a reason. Because people came from Newark, which was integrated, and all the cities around it were [made up of] people who left the city because they wanted better schools. And my experience was that- and this I kind of look back on and it’s astounding- I did not meet a black person socially until I was in college.

Q: Was it weird for you when you first met a black person?

Gail Shapiro: Well, no, because all the cleaning ladies were black. And I say that kind of tongue and cheek, but the cleaning ladies came for the day because unless you were very wealthy you didn’t have live in help, but the thing what you did in the 50’s and 60’s was you had someone come and clean your house once a week. So they would take the bus from Newark and they would get off at the corner near your house… the only black people I saw were people who came to clean houses; and that was my experience. Then when I got to college - actually it was the summer before between high school and college - I worked as an apprentice in Province Town Theater, which is where I met my first black friends. And it wasn’t weird; it just was.

Q: When did you first hear about the conflict in Vietnam?

Gail Shapiro: Well, probably around Kennedy’s administration. I knew there was something going on; I was pretty conscience and I was in 5th or 6th grade; but I knew something was going on over there, but I didn’t know the politics of it … probably until I was about 14

Q: When you started really getting involved?

Gail Shapiro: Yeah. When I started getting involved was well - remember my mom wouldn’t let me out of the house without a grownup until I was about 15 or so. I didn’t drive, we didn’t go anywhere, [and] my friends didn’t drive- so probably about 15 I would say was the first time I did a peaceful marching.

Q: Was there any particular reason or something that made you want to get involved?

Gail Shapiro: Well the war was wrong. It was clear that we were there, we weren’t invited, we were there to you know, “protect the world from communism”; and it was clear to me that the people of Vietnam wanted to have determination over what happened to their own country.

Q: They wanted independence?

Gail Shapiro: Yeah and I was not convinced that we were there to “save them”. I mean, what was it our business to save them from themselves? So I didn’t buy the party line. I just thought it’s wrong; we’re sending our boys over - and thank god none of my very close friends. I know people who went to Vietnam, but not my very close friends at that time

Q: So on April 19th, 1967, in the morning of a Peace Rally in central park 175 men burned their draft cards and then a few months’ later people were returning their draft cards.

Gail Shapiro: I was there.
Q: Can you please tell us a little bit?

Gail Shapiro: Yeah, it was cool, - I’m trying to remember who said stuff because in a way some of the peace marches all kind of go together. So it was probably Phil Oakes singing, and Jerry Rubin and Abby Hoffman and those people talking. If you look at the Internet I’m sure it will have who spoke - but it was this huge amazing gathering. It was in the sheep meadow in central park, and people were just really fired up about the war, and this was really a political statement because to burn your draft card you could get arrested right away - and people did. Stokely Carmichael spoke at that rally; Martin Luther King and I think Benjamin Spock… he was a pediatrician and he was a leader of the anti-war movement, very influential. But just to be with all those people…I’m trying to put myself there to remember what it feels like…well you’ve been to big concerts right?

Q: Yeah.

Gail Shapiro: … and the energy of just your favorite groups? But when you go to a concert… when the people come out, there is this huge energy and everybody’s there for a reason? Well, if you take that, and multiply it, because you were not there just for fun like you are at a concert, but to do something and somebody was speaking -and especially it was impressive because I was a kid; I was 16. I was a junior in high school and I went with my friends… - and to be there with the energy of a concert, but with grownups, who were e famous grownups saying and articulating the things that you felt and you just knew were wrong, and you felt passionate about; it was really amazing. And then to see all the other people feeling the same way you did and knowing that we could; the whole overarching feeling of the anti-war movement was that we could make a change and we did. I mean, we stopped the war. We probably didn’t stop it fast enough, or soon enough, and too many people got killed, but we changed the tide of how the American public felt. And that was a good thing - and there were a lot of bad things that happened - but that was a good thing. So that was really the beginning of that, and I think that was the first big anti-war movement - because we had done a lot of local things and demonstrations and things - but that was really the first big demonstration that I was in, and that was really cool.

Q: This is a little backtracking but what did you think of Kennedy?

Gail Shapiro: Oh he was a hero. I mean, we didn’t know then what we know now because the media didn’t report things the same way, but he was, you know, he was handsome, he was young, his wife was cute - I mean Jackie Kennedy was only 31 when she was the first lady and think about that, that’s just amazing. She’s younger than my kids - But he was going to save the world. But of course what we know now is that wasn’t true, and he was the one who got us involved in Vietnam and there’s a lot - you can go back and look- but at the time he was definitely a hero.

Q: After his death was the public different, the public opinion?

Gail Shapiro: Well public opinion of the war or just in general?

Q: Just in general

Gail Shapiro: Well if you look back from the prospective of an adult you can go back and say that that was the beginning of when things changed; but you didn’t know that at the time. Just remember, it was absolutely shocking that someone would kill a president. Yes, obviously, it happened before. It happened a lot of times; people shot sitting presidents like Lincoln; but to shoot a president that everybody loved, and it was just, it was scary. I was 13.

Q: Do you remember when you first found out?

Gail Shapiro: I was home form school that day, pretending to be sick, and my mom called from the supermarket and said, “Turn on the TV.” She was out with my little brothers and she came home and I got really scared and I didn’t know what was going on. And she said “don’t worry nobody is going to hurt you”, because it was like 9/11; you don’t know whose coming at you but I remember just sitting there and being glued to the TV for the whole weekend watching Oswald get shot by Jack Ruby as it happened; because the cameras were running. And through the eyes of a 13 year old, the most amazing thing to me was seeing Walter [inaudible] cry. Because when he announced the death he got choked up, and you just didn’t see that. You know news men were not emotional, they weren’t stars; they were just news men and they were serious and respectable and the fact that he got choked up and actually showed emotion - which was the first time it probably ever happened on the air - was really moving. And then I remember, because in the mind of a 13 year old, I remember being kind of mad that I missed seeing the teachers cry, because that would have been really fun, which is really a nasty thing to say, but I was 13, and I missed seeing the teachers cry, and everyone told me about it and was like you shouldn’t have been out of school this day. But it did have a huge impact on how people saw the world. I remember also feeling - after the initial shock got over, and the funeral and everything- just feeling safe - because you know… a lot of times people who were hawks often called us [people against the war] unpatriotic; but we weren’t, we really loved America we just didn’t want America to be messing with somebody else’s country - and I remember feeling at the time, at 13, being very safe, that we lived in a country that there could be an orderly transition. Because you know his [Kennedy’s] body was on the airplane and Johnson took the oath of office and life went on; as opposed to another country where there would have been a coup or something. But I remember that sense of feeling safe.

Q: That’s amazing that at thirteen you even thought of that.

Gail Shapiro: Well, I was a smart kid. (laughs) But anyways, it was right after that. But … I just remember really feeling safe that we lived in America and very grateful for that.

Q: How did you feel about Lyndon Johnson?

Gail Shapiro: When he first took office I just thought, “Okay good he’s president.” And as I was in high school I didn’t like him because he escalated the war. The media wrote lots of songs about him… But Lyndon Johnson was … when I got sort of conscious of what was going on; I would say at about 14 or 15. He was the one who was sending little boys to Vietnam. One of the chants in the marches was “Hey, hey LBJ, how many kids did you kill today?” and that kind of stuff. He was the focus of what was wrong with the government at the time. And of course Nixon after him, which was even worse. But I remember being completely, completely, blown away when on March 30, 1968, when he came on TV and he said, “I’m not going to run again.” That was fabulous news, fabulous news. My friend called me from college and said, “Did you hear that?” and I said, “Yeah, I was listening.” I was sitting there, doing my homework, senior year. “Did he really say what we thought he said, he’s not going to run?” It would be like Bush getting on TV today and saying, “I’m not going to run again.” And people go “Wow”. But that was what it was like… I mean he was a very good politician, but he was against what we believed.

Q: How did the media impact the way you saw the war?

Gail Shapiro: Well, that was really an interesting question because, it’s hard to imagine, given the influx of all the stuff we see on TV. Remember, we’re talking an era where you did not see a married couple sharing a bed on TV, never mind Victoria’s Secret ads. You know? … But, you didn’t see people in underwear, you didn’t see violence, and you didn’t see anything. Watching the live pictures that they sent from Vietnam was the first time most people in America had ever seen violence on TV. And it was the war, up close and in color, and that was really shocking.  Parents didn’t let their little children watch it.

Q: I know there was a picture we saw in history of a VC getting shot in the head. Do you remember seeing that?

Gail Shapiro: That was a famous picture, but there was a lot of that kind of stuff. And I tried not to watch it a lot because I tend to be really sensitive to that stuff and I can’t sleep. But I was very aware that it was happening, and I would look from time to time so I knew what I was doing. But that was just absolutely shocking. We’re also talking about a time where, for example, if anyone got shot, anywhere in a neighborhood even far away, people talked about that for weeks. It wasn’t like every day, “Oh another shooting, oh another shooting.” It didn’t happen; it didn’t get reported. And the media has really, really flipped since the time of Kennedy’s assassination. If you go down to the Kennedy Museum down in Harvard point, and you go back and look at the headlines of the day that Kennedy was shot, or the day of the funeral, there was a plane crash that day - or the next day, somewhere in that three-day period. I think it was a TWA flight at Kennedy airport. The article said (I’m making up the numbers but it’s something like this): Plane crashes, 93 survive, and 115 died. But the headline was “Plane crashes, 93 survive.” What would the headline be today? How many died, right? That epitomizes the difference in the media between then and now. Now its blood, guts, and gore; before it was the hope and the good stuff that was reported.

Q: Would you consider that [the violence reported in the media] a bad thing?

Gail Shapiro: It’s a terrible thing. I think it’s a terrible thing. And I think what it does is - the violence, and the TV, and the movies, and videogames, and song lyrics, and everything else - I think it leads young people to violence. I think they get used to it, and it’s not shocking and it’s not horrible…and it is, because it’s [just] part of life. And to me that’s wrong. Life is something to be respected, and if one person dies in Iraq, or one person died in Vietnam, that’s really horrible and it shouldn’t happen.

Q: All those media pictures of soldiers shooting people… what did you think about the soldiers? I know that a lot of soldiers were called baby-killers.

Gail Shapiro: Yeah, I didn’t do that. As I said, I was a smart kid, so I was aware, and I wasn’t really inflammatory; I tried not to be inflammatory. But I understood, and I kind of understood this the older I got - definitely by the time I was 18 and went to California to be a draft councilor - that every kid went into the army. Yes, some of them volunteered, but most of them had no choice. This was a class war. The kids who went into the army were the kids who were blue-collared families who didn’t go to college; my friends didn’t go, they were all in college. They all got 2S deferments. I finally stopped being a draft councilor because I realized when I came back here that every rich Harvard kid I got out of the draft, some kid from East Cambridge was going in his place. And I said, “ I don’t want to do that.” So, it was a class war too. It wasn’t the rich kids; it wasn’t the son of the people on the draft board and the son of the politicians who were going, it was the poor kids. So I wouldn’t call them names. I just think that it was too bad that they had to do that. They were either unlucky and got drafted, or they didn’t really have a choice economically. The struggle was all one struggle; women’s rights, gay rights, (I wasn’t part of that because that wasn’t my group, black power wasn’t part of my group), but women’s rights and the anti-war, and the class struggle and the ecology movement were all one movement.

Q: So there were gay rights movements back then?

Gail Shapiro: Not until 1969. June 1969 was the first time. I mean there were things that happened, but that was the first public stonewall, but I wasn’t involved in that.

Q: Do you think the media did a good job covering the war and keeping people informed?

Gail Shapiro: That’s a good question. I’ve never thought about that. Did they do a good job? I think they did a good job showing what was happening [but] I don’t think they did a good job because it was news. It was news. They did news. And yes, they did a good job of that. They didn’t have the editorials and the commentaries and all that stuff on the news like you see today; [today] it’s all mixed together like an entertainment show. It wasn’t like that. So I’d say, yeah, they probably did. Although, it’s always a fact that whenever there was a demonstration it was grossly under-reported; the numbers, usually by a factor of about 10. It would be like the organizers would say there was one million or five hundred thousand, and the government would say there was ten thousand, and the truth was it was probably somewhere in the middle. But that was pretty common.

Q: Do you think the things that happened on the home front affected Vietnam? Like what was happening there? Do you think the demonstrations or anything had an effect on Vietnam and what was happening overseas?

Gail Shapiro: I don’t think so. I think it had an effect on the policy makers, the president and people here, but I don’t think that… well, yes and no. I know somebody who was serving there and he heard about it and he felt kind of demoralized. He said, “Well people aren’t behind us.”  I know that when they came home from the war people would spit on them and stuff, and that wasn’t their fault. Some of them it was, but very few. Most of them got drafted or they had no other choice…. But I do think that the demonstrations had an impact on shaping public opinion, even in America after, I’d say, 1971, or even after Kent State. Your parents looked and went, “Wow, that’s bad. They’re shooting kids. That’s not good.” And that really started to turn the tide. Because politicians only listen to the people who vote for them, and the ones that change, you know, right?

Q: Do you remember hearing about Kent State? Where you were?
Gail Shapiro: Exactly, I was in class. I was in college. I was at Goddard in Vermont, and we heard about the shootings, a couple days later and class was  immediately shut down. And I actually dropped out of college that day and didn’t come back. Well, I went back when I was 38. I left and I said, this can’t happen. There were demonstrations all over and part of it was kind of stupid because people were just saying “Oh, well, we’re going to demonstrate, and what they did was they screwed up their final exams. And who cared about the kids who were getting good grades?” But, the demonstrations were showing that you can’t go around killing kids. And, I never went back.

Q: How old were you?

Gail Shapiro: I was 19. Kent State was May 4, 1970, so I was almost 20. And then I got married two weeks later.

Q: Did you go to California after you dropped out?

Gail Shapiro: No, I was back already; I was back from California. I was living in Vermont at the time. I went to California the year before and then came back after six months.

Q: Can you tell us a little bit more about your experiences in California?

Gail Shapiro: Yeah. I went to California with my husband, and he was in grad school. I did a semester at San Francisco State right after the strike. The whole campus shut down and S.I. Howack came in and took over;  it was a big thing. So I was there in September ’69 to January of ’70 for one semester. … And I worked at Draft Help [as an apprentice], which was down in the Mission District, and I learned how to legally get people out of the draft, and council them if they wanted to avoid serving, or help them with their case to be a conscientious objector, or, that failing, to go to Canada.

Q: What were some of the most common ways to get people out?

Gail Shapiro: Well, there were some little-known physical ailments that a lot of people had but didn’t know; for example; chronic bronchitis, which legally could mean three episodes of acute bronchitis after the age of 13. If you got a doctor to document that, you’re out. [Another example is ] a pilonidal cyst, which is this little cyst at the base of your tailbone, a lot of people have it and don’t even know it. You’re out because you can’t sit, you can’t march, you can’t do stuff like that. A lot of people used a psychological deferment, anti-authoritarian stuff. There were doctors in every city, psychiatrists in every city, who were anti-war, who would write letters saying that you were crazy or whatever. I literally knew somebody who went to the induction physical. - see, you had your pre-induction physical to see if you were ready for service, and then if you pass that you came home and waited, and if you passed they sent you your induction notice, which is what was over there. And then you show up, you get another physical to make sure you’re still in good shape. And then you’re on the bus - And a person who tried every way to get out, at this induction physical, they took his blood in a syringe, and he said, “I want a receipt for  that.” The doctor goes, “What do you mean you want a receipt for that?” He said, “ You just took my blood, I want a receipt.” “Well, what do you mean?” And he grabbed the syringe and shot it in his mouth; he was out. Crazy. You do anything you can. I mean, just crazy people, right? Doing all sorts of things, legal and then some to get out. We also counseled a couple kids from the Navy who jumped ship and wanted to go to Canada-  that wasn’t a good idea, because when you went to Canada, there was a point system for landed immigrants to get legally into Canada. You got 10 points for speaking English, 10 points for speaking French, 10 points if you had a job, 10 points if you had a relative there, 10 points if you had someone to sponsor you, 10 points for every year of education you had, because they didn’t want criminals and crazies coming to live there-  but the thing is, if you went to Canada, you didn’t come back; you couldn’t come back. And it wasn’t until way later when Jimmy Carter did the pardon… When you went to Canada you weren’t coming home for your mother’s funeral, you weren’t coming home for your sisters wedding, you weren’t coming home to  your brother’s graduation; you were gone, and you couldn’t come back.

Q: Just kind of being exiled. I think somebody was interviewed yesterday that jumped a ship and went to Canada.

Gail Shapiro: Yeah, yeah it was a scary thing, and you had to go to a new country, and couldn’t see your mom, and these kids were 17, 18, and 19 years old. It was scary and brave at the same time. But we did help people that wanted to do that, to give them the best chance, and the first thing we told these two kids is; change your shoes. You can wear bellbottoms and t-shirts, but if you’re wearing your navy shoes they’re going to know; you have to get some sandals.

Q: Altamont, that was the concert with the Hell’s Angels?

Gail Shapiro: All I can tell you is when we got there: bad vibes from the beginning of the day, just bad vibes. It wasn’t anything like Woodstock and it wasn’t anything like other concerts. It felt really bad from the minute we got there. It was an outdoor concert, like Woodstock, but not with people living there. It was just a one-day thing. It was outside on some kind of a speedway, I think. I don’t even know where Altamont was; we hitch hiked there. That’s one of those things you shouldn’t do, but we did that because it was a viable means of transportation, which it isn’t now, but back then it was different... I went with some friends… and as soon as you got there it was just bad vibes and the concert was good. I don’t remember who played, except for maybe the Rolling Stones, and I actually left before the stabbing happened because it was so negative that you just didn’t want to be there. And the Hell’s Angels, we would just be sitting there and they would just start roaring up and down in between people, and you’d have to scramble to get on the side. They had given them the job of security and it was this big power trip. It was just really, really unpleasant. So, I remember the concert being good but just saying to my friends, “Let’s just split, this is not good.” And I’m glad I did.

Q: Was it supposed to be a peace rally?

Gail Shapiro: Yeah, it was just supposed to be like a concert, you know, an outdoor concert, a festival or something like that, but it was just bad from the start. Santana was there, I remember hearing Santana. They were really good. I got to hear a lot of really good concerts because one of my roommates in San Francisco was the cousin of someone who played in Jethro Tull, and so we got really good seats, and tickets. We got Fillmore West, who was really great, we saw Grace Slick, we saw Janis Joplin, we saw Jimmy Hendrix- just anybody great you can think of, we got to see, and it was just really cool…. What else did we do? We did a lot of drugs in San Francisco… I can’t speak for everybody, but for the people who were politically aware, and then later kind of spiritually conscious, drugs were not to get high. Drugs were to see God. Drugs were spiritual; you were seeking a religious experience, and when you dropped organic mescaline -  people didn’t want to do acid because that was too harsh, and again, I wouldn’t advocate this now because unless you know who grew the dope in their backyard, I would never do it now, not in a million years would I do drugs now. It’s very different. Then it was safe; you knew the person who made it in their lab, or you knew the person who grew it in their backyard and it wasn’t going to be laced with bad chemicals. You weren’t putting money into the pockets of the Mafia - although I suppose some of it probably was and we didn’t know - but mostly you knew the people who did it, and it was a whole lot different. Not a good idea now, I don’t recommend it. But, at the time, it was a way to bring the community together. You didn’t do it alone, ever. You never tripped alone. You did it with other people that you loved and trusted. If there was anybody you didn’t love or trust, you did not trip with them. And there was always one person who was the designated driver, which they do now, who didn’t, so that in case anybody had a bad experience they could help them and guide them and take care of them and make sure they had a safe place. The point was to see God. That’s the only way I can explain it. I didn’t do it that much, but in November of 1969 I had an experience that I knew I was as high as I was ever going to get from drugs, and when I came down I just thought, “this is disappointing” because I can keep doing this or I could go off and try to find God on my own, in some other non-chemical way, which is what I ended up doing after politics; joining a spiritual collective.

Q: Did you ever have a bad trip or anything?

Gail Shapiro: No, but I saw people who did. I wasn’t into drinking. I’m probably the only person you ever talked to at the age of 14 who has never been drunk in her whole life. To me it was very anti-social. I later went into public health and I found that a lot of the reasons that kids, especially kids in high school, drink is because they don’t have any social skills.

Q: Really? I guess that makes sense.

Gail Shapiro: Yeah, they don’t know how to relate to people, so it takes the edge off and so forth. But we had good social skills so we just used marijuana. And in my crowd, people didn’t drink. It just wasn’t done, and I still don’t drink. It puts me to sleep. Don’t smoke dope, I gave that up in 1972 when I found out I was pregnant. It’s been a very long time; I’m legal.

Q: Okay, so you went to California, and then when you came back you went to Vermont for College, and then you dropped out?

Gail Shapiro: Yes, and then I dropped out and moved to Boston, and I‘ve been here ever since. I’ve been living here in the Boston area since spring of 1970. I lived in Wayland in 1975 for a time. Then moved back to Newton, and then I’ve lived in the same house in Wayland since 1978. I tell you, it was the right time to buy a house. Couldn’t do it now, I don’t know how young people do it.

Q: So, when you went to Boston, what kind of [things did you experience?]

Gail Shapiro: Okay. I went back to Boston, got married, my mother and sister made my wedding dress; it was a little hippie wedding dress; white lace with purple ribbons all over it; a little Mexican wedding dress. We got married in my mother’s living room, and I kept my fingers crossed because I didn’t really believe in the power of the state to say that I was married or not. I didn’t really want to get married, but, like I said, nice girls didn’t live with their boyfriends, so that’s what we did. So I kept my fingers crossed - that was really mature, right? But, that’s what I did. That marriage lasted six years, we had a nice baby, but we were too young. We came back, and we moved into a political collective where we did community organizing work. My job - because I was into women’s health and stuff-  was I went onto the street corners and I taught kids about birth control because, at the time, I remember, this was in 1968, it was illegal to dispense birth control even if you were married unless you had a doctors prescription. So, you couldn’t buy it at the drug store, you couldn’t buy it on the corner, you couldn’t buy it anywhere, and there was no legal abortion. So I felt that my task at the time was to talk to young women and young men, and tell them how to protect themselves… Other people in the house did PE, political education, and taught people about the war and what they could do. Every morning in the house we had an hour of political education. We got up at six o’clock. We studied, we read: The Wretched of the Earth, by Franz Fanon; good book, and Bobby Seale. We read things to educate ourselves about our black brothers and sisters, and our gay brothers and sisters, and people who were in the movement all over the world. We tried to educate ourselves about what was happening everywhere. We lived communally, so we would pool our income, whatever income there was; none of us had regular jobs… I was an astrologer; I did charts and brought in money that way. Other people went and worked in the supermarket, or whatever they did. We bought our food collectively, and we took care of the babies collectively. There were two married women, I didn’t have a child yet. We took turns sleeping in the babies rooms. I drew the line at the communal sock drawer because you had to get up early in the morning to get a matching pair. And, one of the purposes of the house was to smash monogamy, and I was a new bride. This didn’t sit very well with me. You couldn’t have sex unless you had the door open because it wasn’t communal.

Q: So it was too intimate?

Gail Shapiro: Yeah, it wasn’t sharing and it wasn’t free; [the house said] monogamy was the basis of the nuclear family, which was what was screwing up the world. But, the thing is that the men made up the rules, not the women. So I just didn’t have sex the whole time I lived there; for six months, and it was pretty scary. That could’ve been the demise of the marriage, but anyway, there wasn’t group sex, not where I lived. It was just simply, if you were going to go off with someone, there couldn’t be any exclusivity. You just had to be open about it and so forth. And like I said, the men made the rules, and the other two women had babies so they were too busy taking care of the babies, so it didn’t matter.

Q: How many people were in the collective?

Gail Shapiro: About 7 or 8, depends. It sort of went back and forth. We all owned guns, and we had gun permits because when we got raided, we had to know what to do.

Q: How often were you raided?

Gail Shapiro: Never. I’m talking sort of facetiously here. We had to arm ourselves because of the factious pigs who were going to come and get us. (I’m making air quotes) But we wanted to be ready. That is when I learned to meditate, which served me very well through my life. I learned to meditate because I needed to have something to do in jail. Of course, I never got arrested, but just in case... We had cash that we hid in case we needed bail money. They didn’t take credit cards; we didn’t have credit cards. And that was how we lived. That didn’t last very long. It was pretty unpleasant, really.

Q: You didn’t like it?

Gail Shapiro: No. It was kind of weird. We were there for a few months, and then we moved to another collective. That’s when we started working on May Day, when we lived in sort of a normal house but still in collectives with people who were working on and organizing the May Day demonstrations in 1971, which is what this letter is about. [Skimming letter] We were working with a group called the May Day Tribe, it says. There were seven days of peace action. It’s about the people’s peace treaty; about getting people to sign the peace treaty. There was a mass mobilization in Washington, and a rock festival, and that kind of stuff, and demonstrations. Our goal was to shut down the city. The slogan was, “Washington May Go.” Get it? So, anyway, this was a small thing about facts on the war. I’m trying to pick out one that was pretty… Desertion rate of ARVN was 15% a year.” So even the South Vietnamese didn’t want to be in the South Vietnamese army. In Saigon, it was a capitol offense for anyone to publicly advocate peace or neutrality. It was about the oil leases; (reading)  “Sometime this spring, 17 highly sought-after leases to drill for oil off the coast of Vietnam will be awarded by the Thieu-Ky government to international petroleum companies, most of which are American” (Wall Street Journal, and confirmed in various trade journals.)” So the whole war was about oil, it wasn’t about communism, I don’t think.

Q: So you think there were hidden reasons?

Gail Shapiro: Well, it was economics, just like now. It’s not really any different. Except then communism meant that if the communists controlled the country, we couldn’t get the oil. … Nothing’s changed. We just knew at the time the war machine, the military industrial complex - Eisenhower was the one who called it that first, and that became sort of the catch-phrase - was about money and greed, and sending young boys to do old men’s work. And it’s still the same.

Q: Can you tell us… you said you were a white panther for a little bit?

Gail Shapiro: Yeah. The White Panther Party was started in Michigan, and it was just a little off-shoot of it here. And that was the collective that I was talking about - the second one where we had the communal sock drawer. We just did our political education and tried to work with people and teach them facts about the war, and why they should be against it. We tried to rally other people. When we moved back to Cambridge after that we got interested in ecology too, and that was the first Earth Day. And we actually had  a Free Wheel; Free Wheel is so cool. We got an old postal van, one of those big mail trucks, and painted it with beautiful colors, and we just drove up and down Mass. Ave., all the way from Dudley to Harvard. We were the same route as the Mass Ave. bus, and picked up people for free. We had a little cup and they would donate money so we could pay for the gas. We would either follow the bus, or we would try to get right in front of the bus, which really ticked off the T at the time because we stole all of their customers. And after awhile it wasn’t just Hippies, it was old ladies saying “Hey, a free bus. This is really cool.” It was like the people’s bus so you wouldn’t have to drive. The downside was that we didn’t really think economics; we weren’t that smart, so we would only collect enough money to pay for the gas for that day, but when the van broke down we didn’t have any money to fix it, so we had to close it down. There were actually two vans; there was one that went some place else; but it was a really cool idea, and it was to save people from using their cars and bicycles.

Q: That’s a good idea now.

Gail Shapiro: It is a good idea. You could do it, but you have to think strategically. I think the most important thing - I know you didn’t ask me this - but I think the most important thing that I learned from this entire experience is the importance of goal setting and planning; because we knew we wanted a revolution; we knew we wanted to overthrow the government because they were doing wrong things. But nobody had an idea of what came next. We sort of had this vague notion of how it would be; but maybe with a model of Cuba or something like that. But Cuba is a very tiny island, and what can work in a socialist government in a very small space, can’t work in an entire nation. So, we didn’t really have a plan for what would happen after the revolution.

Q: So you knew what you wanted to happen, but not what was going to happen?

Gail Shapiro: Yeah, we knew what we didn’t want, but we didn’t really know what we wanted. And that’s why I think a lot of people - after the war ended, and towards the end - got really disillusioned, and a lot of us sort of moved back to the land, went to Vermont; started communes, started things like, - that kind of stuff. Some of us went into religious or spiritual pursuits, and some of us got married and moved to the suburbs, or all of the above. But it taught me that you really have to know what you want…

Q: When you say you wanted to “overthrow the government”, do you mean that in a literal sense, or more of a metaphorical sense?

Gail Shapiro: More metaphorical. I think we wanted the leaders out; I mean we worked for McCarthy because he was for peace. That was my first mainstream political- going door-to-door knocking on the doors for Jean McCarthy. “Keep clean for Jean”. We cut our hair; we dressed neatly; that was the slogan you know so we kept clean so we didn’t freak out the average American. And then of course  [there was] McGovern. McGovern was actually the first president I voted for because I was old enough to vote then; you had to be 21 to vote and they actually changed the law on my 21st birthday to 18. George McGovern is the first president I could vote for, and again was anti-war and they [anti- war presidents] all lost. You go through channels and there’s only so much you can do, so you vote with your feet, you go on the street. That was another slogan; you just went and you put your body where [inaudible]. There were a lot of people who were on college campuses and just said “Oh we don’t like the war,” and they all gathered together and then they went back to their fraternities and drank beer. There were some of the people I lived with who had been in the weather underground and SDS and things like that; who had been really doing some things where their life was really at risk, and to me, those were the people I respected and admired. Looking back on it rightly or wrongly, they put their life on the line for something they cared about, and to me that’s what mattered; that’s all that mattered. Just going to a demonstration twice a year didn’t really do it, and that’s why I really felt I needed to put my whole self into it. And when we didn’t do what we had hoped to do - you know what happens to that idealism; and that was the thing when Kennedy was shot, a lot of people said “Oh the idealism - but no.” But yeah, I came back and I founded a women’s center and I’ve been doing that for fourteen years. I was a childbirth educator and I taught a lot of women how to have babies in a healthy way without drugs and that kind of stuff. I’ve always been active in a lot of different things. I was one of the mothers who helped get seatbelts on the buses in Wayland; my daughter was on the cover of the town crier wearing the first seatbelt. I think the message is; pick a problem and work on it, pick a problem and address it.

Q: Really put your heart into it.

Gail Shapiro: Yeah. There is an old saying from Jewish tradition (I'm paraphrasing): “It is not up to you to finish the work, but you are not free to avoid doing anything at all." That is, you’ve got to do something. So, whatever it is you care about - whether it’s animal rights or the environment or women’s rights or anything else - pick some small thing and change your little part of the world.  I think if everybody did that we would be a lot better. Goethe said that - a German philosopher -- (again paraphrasing) "If everybody sweeps their own front porch the whole world will be clean." I believe that is very important. I think it’s irresponsible to do nothing when there’s so much to be done. Look at all the problems. But you can’t get overwhelmed and sad either. You can just say, “I’m only one person, I can do one thing,” and then do it. And I’ll say that till my dying day.

Q: Can you please tell us about some of the papers, the underground papers that you worked on?

Gail Shapiro: Yeah. I was just a kid. I was younger than most of the people there. I worked a little on the Old Mole, which is one that was put out by SDS in Cambridge in 1969. Then I worked for The Real Paper  which got bought out by The Phoenix, and then they changed all the names. It was bought by Stephen Mindich, who also bought, if I remember correctly, the Boston Tea Party, which was the cool club at the time, and WBCN and The Phoenix, and so had made this little media conglomerate in Boston. But until he bought us out we were [an] underground paper; the alternative paper, and it was really fun. I didn’t do writing at the time; I did paste up. [Paste up] is when you actually made the newspaper. You had to actually physically paste the headline on, because there were no computers, and there was a machine to make headlines called the PhotoTypositor. You actually did dial a thing to get a letter, take a picture of it, push the lever, move it over, get the next letter, push the lever, move it over and then you would come out with a headline which you would then run through a waxing machine and paste on the page; that was my job. 

Q: You did that individually?

Gail Shapiro: Yeah, for the headlines. And I actually worked on the Town Crier here in Wayland in 1975 doing that too. Until computers took over the world, that’s how you made a newspaper.
Q: You mentioned the FBI in your e-mail.

Gail Shapiro: The FBI followed some of the people in my house that they thought were connected with some of the Weather Underground. There was nobody there that did anything criminal - at least that I know of- but they were just investigating everybody, so they would follow us. And every day I would go out - I remember because I was pregnant with my first child at the time - at 4 o’clock in the afternoon, I lived in Cambridge - they’d start tapping the phone, and we couldn’t make any outgoing calls. I would pick up the phone and they would say things like “You effing commie maggot.”

Q: The FBI said this?

Gail Shapiro: We don’t actually know if it was the FBI or the Cambridge Police, but we think it was the FBI. We don’t know because they never identified themselves, but it was somebody because every day from 4 o’clock on we couldn’t use the phone. If we had an emergency we would have to go to a downstairs neighbor, and every day when we left the house they would follow us.

Q: And they weren’t discreet about it?

Gail Shapiro: : Oh no. They would follow us and we’d just sort of wave to them and say “hi, how are you?” A couple of times when I was home alone - this happened one time - they came up the back stairs, which is really scary, and I was really frightened. I hid in the closet, like that was going to do any good, but they said, “Gail we know you’re in there, we don’t want you, we just want to search the apartment, we want to talk about your roommates.” Blah blah blah. And they thought they [the roommates] had connections to some of the actions that were going on, but I don’t think they did, and I don’t know if they did. One of our roommates was an FBI informer, which we found out in a really funny way. The FBI would come and infiltrate collectives and then feed information back about where the demonstrations were and stuff. A lot of people who were onto these people would just give wrong information. In fact, they would block the phones, and when I had a little trouble when I was pregnant,  I wanted to call my doctor at 4 o’clock, at least the FBI men all had mothers, and I said, “Look you jerks I’m having trouble, I need to talk to my doctor, I’m pregnant, I’m having trouble with my pregnancy, get off the effing phone.” They hung up and waited for my doctor to call, and I spoke to her, and as soon as I hung up they started calling us again; calling us names and calling us everything… but at least they all had a heart; they all had mothers, motherhood always trumps (laughs). But it was pretty scary. They came up the back stairs and said, “We know you’re in there; we just want to come and talk with you.” I never got arrested.  I never did anything illegal; unless you count jay-walking. I didn’t really do anything that was illegal because I didn’t see the point in going to jail. To me, it just seemed like a waste. What can you do from jail? I didn’t want to be a hero; I just wanted to do what I could do, so I tried to avoid being arrested. And when it came to May Day, even walking in the streets, 10,000 people got arrested; that was the largest mass arrest in American history and no one talks about it. 10,000 people got arrested. They didn’t even have a place to fit all the people that got arrested. But we avoided it. We got tear-gassed and ran into some professor’s office at George Washington [University] and hid in there until it was over. I was glad because when we went out the next day there were a whole lot less people there. That was really scary. They put all the cops in Ryder trucks; they rented Ryder vans and parked them where we were; and just came out with all their gear and started smashing heads. It was pretty scary stuff. But after that I settled down to motherhood and other things; suburban life.


Q: When did you start getting involved in the women’s movement?

Gail Shapiro: [I was involved] from the beginning. Well, I was young when it started in 1968; I was still in high school. Here in Cambridge, women in one of the collectives - I wasn’t involved in the actual take over of the building- but I came in after the take over, 888 Memorial Drive. That was a building that Harvard had scheduled for demolition, to build dorms. They were taking away community housing… and women - not me - occupied the building and took over the building. It was International Women’s Day, March 8, 1971. They marched to the building and occupied it, and took it over. Of course Harvard immediately turned off the heat and lights, and I was outraged. How could they turn off the heat? It was cold! Excuse me we were in the building… The women there were trying to show the need for a center for women. It was very cool just being there. The really funny part was that when we got there we had discussions about who could come in and who couldn’t come in. Obviously, it was a women’s center so men couldn’t come in, but some of the women were nursing and they had babies or they had little ones. And they said, “Well when does a boy become a man?” They had these ridiculously absurd discussions about how old a boy was a man, and we finally decided that if he was still nursing he was a boy, and then he was a man, so he couldn’t come in. That’s how we made the decision. It was pretty funny; it was pretty absurd. So some of it, even when you were in it, you could see the humor and the irony. There were some people who were so serious, and I guess I wasn’t one of those.

Q: What are the parallels that you see between Vietnam and Iraq? Any lessons that you think we learned or didn’t learn?

Gail Shapiro: I think we should’ve learned to keep our nose out of other people’s business. I have to say, I’m not as well versed about the background about Iraq because I had to make a conscious decision not to do that because I knew how angry I would get. I made a decision a while ago, for right or wrong, just to be more involved in the community as opposed to world affairs. So when I give my charitable gifts, I give locally. There are many important international causes, but I try to give locally. I try to make a difference here, rather than there. So I kind of made a decision to back off a little bit from activism there because it’s too hard for me. It’s hard because there’s so much I see. When I was sixteen I looked at the men who ruled the world; they’re still there, they’re still at it, it hasn’t changed; nothing’s changed. It’s sad and scary.

Q: In class we talked about how there’s a lot more opposition to the war now than in Vietnam, but there aren’t even close to as many people protesting. Do you have any ideas as to maybe why this is?

Gail Shapiro: I think people don’t feel the same sense of hope and optimism that we had. I think that when we were involved in the anti-war movement, there was a great sense that we could do anything. We were the baby boomers; baby boomers at every stage of our lives have changed everything. I mean we’re going to change dying, watch us. We’re going to change how people retire and how people die. We are this huge mass of people, and whatever we do is leading. But, that said, I think there was just a much greater sense that we could make a positive change, and I think now people don’t feel that way. I think, yeah there are people who work against the war, but I think that most people just say, “I’m just one person, what can I do?” And I think there’s not that sense of hope or optimism that we had.

Q: Also not the same sense of loss, kind of because we’re so used to it.

Gail Shapiro: Well, there’s no draft. You put a draft in - you just watch what happens if some of your classmates start going, or if you get drafted. God forbid they start drafting women, you watch what happens. You put in a draft and watch all the baby boomer mothers and grandmothers, and watch what happens then. But there’s no draft. So now the people are going because they want to go, even though they don’t always want to go. People are going because it’s the only economic choice they have.

Q: And people don’t have a fear of being sent away.

Gail Shapiro: Yeah well who’s in the war? It’s not middle class kids who are going to college, it’s poor kids and people who feel the war is right, which I think is less then people who don’t have any other choice; who don’t have any job, who don’t see any future, who aren’t going to college. What happens then? Vietnam was middle class boys, upper class boys getting drafted; that was totally different.

Q: Is there anything that you regret doing or not doing?
Gail Shapiro: No, I feel like there was consistency between what I believed, what I was able to do and what I did.  I feel that I have integrity about this issue. There are a lot of mistakes I made in my life, but I don’t think that they have to do with the war, and how I was able to live my life. I feel pretty good about that overall.

Q: Do you think there’s anything we could do to help out?

Gail Shapiro: Yeah. Pick something that you care about, and do something. One thing, one baby step is not too little. What do you feel passionate about?

Q: I think homeless people and starving people in Africa and all that is horrible. There’s no reason anyone should not have a meal in front of them.

Gail Shapiro: And why do they not have a meal in front of them?

Q: Because people that have the money don’t care enough to give it to them.

Gail Shapiro: Ok, that’s one reason, what else is connected to that? So there’s an unequal distribution in wealth in the world. If you look at United For a Fair Economy website, they talk about how the concentration of wealth is so huge in the United States as opposed to other countries… do you eat meat?

Q: Yeah.

Gail Shapiro: Well, look at that. Read Diet For a Small Planet and look at how many people you can feed, how many acres of grain go into feeding a cow that feeds one person, that could feed other people? Consider becoming a vegetarian. Do something personal; the political is personal, and the personal is political. Pick something you care about and do one thing. Think about it, consider. What about you?

Q: I always wanted to do a lot to help with ALS because my uncle died of it and so did my grandfather. Me and my uncles and my sisters were actually thinking of doing an auction or something to raise money.

Gail Shapiro: Don’t reinvent the wheel because one of the owners from Longfellow, his brother died of ALS, and they do spin for ALS to raise money every year right here in town. If you’re going to do something, always look and see who’s doing it first. I can tell you from having started my own non-profit [organization] 14 years ago; it’s hard work. There’s probably somebody doing what you want to do. Join up with them and find likeminded people and do that. Raise money, raise awareness, raise consciousness, talk about it. There’re lots of things you can do. But he’s a good person to talk to. And you?

Q: Mine’s mostly animals.

Gail Shapiro: What kind? Animal rights? Animal welfare?

Q: Everything, the environment basically and keeping it clean because there’s so much pollution, but the reason pollution is a problem is because of the animals.

Gail Shapiro: Do you volunteer at Buddy Dog? (www.buddydogs.com)?

Q: No. I’ve tried doing that before, but it doesn’t work with my schedule.

Gail Shapiro: Ok. So think about other things you can do to let other people know about it; Sudbury River Valley Trustees (www.sudburyvalleytrustees.org) have a lot of ecology stuff. There’s a couple of websites. There’s an organization in Cambridge that give tips on things you can do to save the earth. Do you have a pet?

Q: No, mine died last year.

Gail Shapiro: Mine died 12 years ago and I still can’t get another one because it’s hard. So it might be time to take care of another pet, or you could talk about neutering. It only takes $25 to spay or neuter an animal, so there aren’t a lot of unwanted animals around. That’s something you can do and raise money and donate there. Talking about global and environmental issues is huge. When you drive a car, get a hybrid - those kinds of things. Pick one thing that you really care about and do something. I think that’s the message, because if enough people do that, we turn out better and don’t give up hope because things are changing. Things are pretty dark, but people have said that since the time of Aristotle. Young people are doing this and everything is in chaos and stuff. The old people always say, “Young people are this and that”, but no, I see a lot of young people doing a lot of really good things. If you just care and you work hard you can make changes and it will be better for your kids.