An Unfinished Revolution


| 2/14/2014 2:04:00 PM


Tags: Activism, 1960s, 1970s, Kansas, New Left, Student Activism, Alternative Education, Students for a Democratic Society, Social Justice, Vietnam War, Iraq War, Sam Ross-Brown,

A former student activist reflects on a life of dissent.

Standing in CJ Brune’s cavernous library on the south side of Lawrence, Kansas, it’s hard not to get caught up in history. Along with hundreds of books on everything from Afghan geopolitics to radical feminism, the walls are adorned with countless campaign stickers, buttons, and posters. Together they recall a radical lineage: the fiery words of Emma Goldman and Eugene Debs, campaign posters for the Youth International Party, antiwar slogans demanding peace in Vietnam, Iraq, and El Salvador.

I was there to talk with CJ about her long years of activism, how organizing has changed since the ‘60s, and what the future holds for social justice. For more than four decades CJ’s been a fixture of Lawrence’s vibrant activist community, marching for civil rights, sitting-in against the Vietnam War, and fighting back against poverty. In 1972 she was one of 30 “February Sisters” who occupied the East Asian Studies building at the University of Kansas to demand equal pay, a women’s studies program, and an affordable child care center on campus. The action was a dramatic success and marked a high point for women’s rights in Lawrence.

Since then she’s opposed wars in Kuwait, Iraq, and Afghanistan with the Lawrence Coalition for Peace and Justice and volunteered countless hours at the city’s underserved homeless shelter. She also welcomes younger organizers into her home for meetings and radical sing-alongs; for the city’s activist community, CJ’s library has long been a cherished space, and CJ a beloved elder.

Once we sat down, CJ pulled out a copy of the Port Huron Statement, the founding declaration of Students for a Democratic Society, written in 1961. “This was the unifying document for our generation,” she said pointedly, laying it on the white pine table. “It was incredible that we all read this and it struck a chord. But we all started acting as one.”