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Trying to fight the powers that be

All this talk of protesting on May 1 takes me back to my high school days.No, I wasn’t running around burning my bra although I heard my Aunt Patty did in the ’70s.Our protest on April 20, 1990, at New Palestine High School was hardly for immigration reform, the anti-war movement or women’s rights. Those weren’t even issues in my small rural town more than a decade ago.One issue I remember was whether our high school mascot, the dragon, was really named for what people rumored it to be.Hint: Not that frolicking magic Puff guy.Another issue, for about 169 seniors at NPHS, was if our government and economics teacher, Mr. Hayes, was going to keep his job after his first year teaching at our school. We loved Mr. Hayes, a fresh-out-of-college rookie we nicknamed “Purple Hayes,” la Jimi Hendrix. He had a laid-back teaching style students related to, unlike some of the old-school ways many of the teachers were pigeon-holed into back then.That may have been the reason the school’s administration didn’t see through the haze.Also, there was the issue of sports, a big deal at my little high school. Mr. Hayes was not a coach, and rumors were recklessly flying around, like birds after eating fermented berries, that he wouldn’t be returning because a would-be football coach and econ teacher was vying for his very position.So, we decided to do something about it.A walkout was organized for April 20, which also happened to be my 18th birthday, to voice our support for Mr. Hayes. Someone bought a bunch of purple cotton fabric and we made armbands. We adopted “Fight the Power” by Public Enemy as our protest theme song, and even tried to vote that in as our graduation song.That last part never happened. Shock.But on that rainy day in the spring of 1990 in little ol’ New Palestine, Ind., the power was fought, even if for just a little bit.The majority of our senior class – minus super-smart kids who had an important advanced calculus or botany test cleverly planned for that day – walked from the district office to the high school’s parking lot. The walk was probably about half a mile at the most. But being part of something big like a protest, it seemed like 10 miles.We walked down the street of New Palestine, chanting “Save Hayes” from underneath umbrellas with youthful vigor, happy to not be in class and hoping to make a difference. In reality, we walked ourselves right into a day of suspension and no help whatsoever for Mr. Hayes’ NPHS teaching career.Our principal came out and threatened us all with suspension, but we didn’t flinch. After all, an aprés-protest party was already in the works at this guy named Matt’s house, whose parents were out of town.Like we’d go back to class then.Despite the day-of-suspension threat, we marched around the parking lot with “Fight the Power” blazing from a boom box – yes, they were still called boom boxes then – and symbolic purple armbands uniting us. We were young, white and proud, as so was our leader, Mr. Hayes.Actually, we were young, white and spoiled.And Mr. Hayes was not exactly our leader – he really had nothing to do with the walkout. From what I heard, he never had anything to do with teaching again after that year. I actually saw him a few years later and he was paying the bills by selling insurance.When April 20, 1990, was all said and done, the power wasn’t beaten. And I had to sit out of a tennis match that week as punishment for my one-day suspension.But the party later that day at Matt’s sure was a doozie.Fight the power.April E. Clark still has her purple armband tucked away somewhere in a box of high school memorabilia. She can be reached at 945-8515, ext. 518, or aclark@postindependent.com.


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