Wildcat (University High School)
Remembering The Red Tide: ‘Young People Who Make Revolutions’
11/10/2011 5:56:37 PM
By Jonathan Zavaleta
The awkward girl from Canada shuffled into her first “Red Tide” meeting. Her name was Susie Bright, and she didn’t know too many people, but it was evident that the room she sat in was filled with about 15 bright, young, idealists with a sophisticated vocabulary and a better understanding of politics than most adults.
“The Red Tide” was an underground newspaper started at University High School that challenged everything from school policy to the war in Vietnam. By the time the first issue came out in November 1971, exactly forty years ago, the war-hating, commie-sympathizing, civil rights activists had hell to pay.
The Uni High administration suspended and expelled students caught selling or distributing “The Red Tide” in any way. Even the official school paper, at the time known as the “Warrior,” despised “The Red Tide,” perhaps because they were jealous that “Red Tide” staffers, as Bright puts it “got to say whatever we wanted to.” And they did. So came Bright’s daring first article. When the police disguised as seniors to bust students selling drugs, Bright photographed them and published their pictures. The “Tide” was far ahead of its time when they challenged the name “Warrior” as racist. Only 25 years later was the school mascot changed to the “Wildcat.” “The Red Tide” was a grass roots movement; students met in unofficial ring-leader Michael Letwin’s garage and compiled the newspaper, publishing sporadically but consistently. It was all done the old-fashioned way: with hot wax, a pasteboard, a little money, and a lot of passion. By the second issue, published in March of 1972, more students, including Letwin, were suspended. But this time, the students resisted, staging a sit-in in the Administration building. Nearly 700 students turned up and occupied the building for hours. Administration refused to budge, and seeking their right to free speech, the Red Tide writers unsuccessfully attempted to appeal to the school board. Backed by her parents at the ACLU, Bright sued the Los Angeles Unified School District in the Supreme Court and won. The Red Tide didn’t stop at Uni.
Some students from out of the area began returning to their home schools, and hence the waves of the “Tide” were hitting many shores. To prevent the paper’s demise after the original members graduated, recruitment was stepped up, and some students followed the Tide post-high school. The headquarters of the Red Tide moved all the way to Detroit, and Susie Bright, instead of graduating, followed it there.
Anywhere there were enough young, progressive-minded people with a passion to change the way business as usual was run, Red Tide factions would pop up, and soon there were small groups all over the nation. Even 40 years later, the moral of the Red Tide is still relevant. Their hard work proves, as Bright says “…how a small group of passionate people can change the world.”