I had applied for the Wellesley Internship Program in Washington, D.C., and though dismayed and unnerved by the assassinations, I was still committed to going to Washington. The nine-week summer program placed students in agencies and congressional offices for a firsthand look at “how government works.” I was assigned to intern at the House Republican Conference.
Toward the end of my internship, Congressman Charls Goodell in New York, asked me and a few other interns to go with him to the Republican Convention in Miami to work on behalf of Governor Rockefeller’s last-ditch effort to wrest his party’s nomination away from Richard Nixon. I jumped at the chance and headed for Florida.
Although I enjoyed all my new experiences, from room service to celebrities, I knew Rockefeller would not be nominated. The nomination of Richard Nixon cemented the ascendance of a conservative over a moderate ideology within the Republican Party, a dominance that has only grown more pronounced over the years as the party has continued its move to the right and moderates have dwindled in numbers and influence.
I came home to Park Ridge with no plans for the remaining weeks of summer except to visit with family and friends and get ready for my senior year.
My close friend Betsy Johnson had just returned from a year of study in Franco’s Spain. Neither Betsy nor I had planned to go into Chicago while the Democratic Convention was in town. But when massive protests broke out downtown, we knew it was an opportunity to witness history.
Just when we’d gone downtown to check voting lists in junior high school, we knew there was no way our parents would let us go if they knew what we were planning. So Betsy told her mother, “Hillary and I are going to the movies.”
She picked me up in the family station wagon, and off we went to Grant Park, the epicenter of the demonstrations. It was the last night of the convention, and all hell broke loose in Grant Park. You could smell the tear gas before you saw the lines of police. In the crowd behind us, someone screamed profanities and threw a rock, which just missed us. Betsy and I scrambled to get away as the police charged the crowd with nightsticks.
Betsy and I were shocked by the police brutality we saw in Grant Park, images also captured on national television. As Betsy later told The Washington Post, “We had had a wonderful childhood in Park Ridge, but we obviously hadn’t gotten the whole story”
That summer, I knew that despite my disillusionment with politics, it was the only route in a democracy for peaceful and lasting change. I did not imagine then that I would ever run for office, but I knew I wanted to participate as both a citizen and an activist. In my mind, Dr. King and Mahatma Gandhi had done more to bring about real change through civil disobedience and nonviolence than a million demonstrators throwing rocks ever could.
After graduated from Wellesley next year, I took off for a summer of working my way across Alaska, washing dishes in Mt. McKinley National Park (now known as Denali National Park and Preserve) and sliming fish in Valdez in a temporary salmon factory on a pier. During a visit to Alaska when I was First Lady, I joked to an audience that of all the jobs I’ve had, sliming fish was pretty good preparation for life in Washington.