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President Richard Nixon. Many people moved from left of center to far left during his presidency. Photo from HistoryOnTheNet.Com

This section in Roxane Gay’s Nov. 5 New York Times column made me think of the manuscript I’ve written about Camilla Hall:

“At the same time, the past four years have energized me. They have moved me further left from the comfort of left of center. I have become more active and engaged in my community. I find my sociopolitical stances changing toward real progressive values. I am not the same woman I was and I am grateful for that, even if I hate what brought me to this point.”

There’s no doubt that 1968 to 1972 were four years that moved Camilla further left. And the 1972 re-election of Richard Nixon, a president despised by the left because of his commitment to continue the war in Vietnam, must have caused her even more despair. Two years after the re-election, she was energized and active and engaged–and not the same woman she was in 1968 or 1972. But she had gone so far left that she bought a gun and joined the Symbionese Liberation Army, a leftist radical group that kidnapped Patty Hearst and robbed two banks, leaving one woman dead.

As I finished my latest revisions to the manuscript the summer of 2020, Camilla’s story took on new resonance. I saw all around me people energized in new ways, fed up beyond belief with the Trump administration, racial injustice, and social inequality, all while the coronavirus pandemic exacerbated existing frustrations. I always had a logical understanding of where Camilla was coming from and why she might have made the choices she did, but this summer I gained a new perspective.

I wonder how many people share Gay’s feelings. Many people are at their breaking points. How can we address their concerns before they make choices that take them over the edge?

Gay could have been writing in 1972:

“This is America, a country desperately divided, and desperately flawed. The future of this country is uncertain but it is not hopeless. I am ready to fight for that future, no matter what it holds. Are you?”