I knew his basic thesis that the experience was better than the impact it had. That just wasn’t satisfactory to me. I didn’t feel that way about the experience I had organizing that year [against the draft, in New Orleans], at 19 years old. The lesson I would have drawn was to never organize again. Or that you couldn’t have any impact. No, I didn’t buy into that.

In an ironic way, having left school and come back, it was sort of like having left as a boy and come back as a man. I really felt for the first time at Williams I was being dealt with directly, seriously and with respect. Gaudino and Craig Brown certainly dealt with me extremely seriously about every issue I raised. I certainly felt, whether or not it was real, and you never know at that age, that they were rooting for me to figure out how to still have an impact.

So when I basically came back after working in welfare rights that summer [1969] it was to essentially say I wasn’t coming back, and they bent over backwards to structure a way that I could be doing a sort of independent study [while continuing to organize in Springfield, Mass.] as part of the honors political science program. I suspect what they really thought was I’d go out for another semester and I would just peter out and I’d be back again and finish up. Or, as it turned out, that I would leave for that semester again and just never come back. I was raised right. I sent them both a note at the end of that year saying that instead of coming back I was gonna move to Boston to take over the whole Massachusetts Welfare Rights organization. And I appreciated everything they’d done.

People become organizers who are driven by a certain, I don’t know the best term — rage, passion, whatever — but there’s a huge amount of drive that eliminates the other choices to the degree you feel you have to do something. To come out of that first year I left to organize against the war, really feeling much more adrift, painfully aware that every minute is important, I thought I was wasting my time at school. So my level of anger and rage went up to a whole ‘nuther level. And certainly the very direct way I was engaged by those two professors was immeasurably beneficial to me. Certainly had you asked me at 20 when I left Williams for the last time, I felt both of them, though perhaps disappointed that I wasn’t coming back, were solidly supportive. I think they were probably in retrospective trying to figure out how to deal with the ferment around.

Wade Rathke '71, formed the Assn. of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) a year after dropping out of Williams and built it into the largest such organizing network in the nation before its voter registration drives became a lightning rod during the 2008 presidential campaign, when Republicans accused it of trying to steal the election for Barak Obama