On A Teen’s Activism

We applaud our youth when they find a cause and embrace it with all their passion and enthusiasm. Only the most cynical among us would try to dampen the spirit, the tenacity, the drive of a young person who finds a mission, a purpose.

Marsha Albert was one such youth, and she found her passion one evening as she watched news on her family’s TV. This was the 1960s, and youthful activism was one of the most enduring and endearing positives of that tumultuous decade. Marsha, age 15, saw a segment introduced by CBS’s “Uncle Walter,” Walter Cronkite. Cronkite had narrated a segment that December evening in 1963 that looked at a developing situation in the UK and throughout Europe, and Marsha sat and watched the entire program, riveted to everything Cronkite reported. When the news ended, she promptly marched up to her bedroom, grabbed paper and a pen, and she did what many young people of the 1960s did: She took action.

What Marsha did was she wrote a letter to her local radio station. She demanded to know why the station and other US media outlets didn’t address the issue Cronkite had raised that evening. “Why can’t we do that in the United States?” Marsha asked in her letter. “Why can’t we have that here?” she wondered. The station, impressed by her passion, agreed. If Marsha felt this strongly, they reasoned, perhaps other kids her age felt just as passionately about the issue. They resolved to do something about it.

The station was Marsha’s local station, WWDC-AM in Silver Spring, Maryland, a Washington, D.C. suburb. Marsha, being so close to the US capital, couldn’t help but be aware of the issues of the day. After all, it was practically her neighborhood. And the station, being in the DC area, also was aware of its responsibility to its listening public regarding important issues of the day. So, the station took action and called in some favors. The BOAC (now operating as British Air) cabin crew that flew into the capital brought recorded information about the topic into Washington and had it delivered to the station so that WWDC could address the situation directly.

And Marsha was invited to the station to talk about the issue on the air, to introduce the topic to the public and to stimulate the discussion because of her letter and her passion. And Marsha did just that. She introduced it, the station played the recorded information and–the station’s phone lines exploded with ecstatic calls from other young people who couldn’t believe what they had heard. They, like Marsha, had become energized to the point of frenzy about this topic. And, like Marsha, they wondered why this could not be brought to the United States.

You see, Cronkite and CBS had actually recorded the report that stirred Marsha so much the week of the Kennedy assassination, but they had shelved it for a few weeks because the network thought the topic was too trite, too trivial given the gravitas of the days surrounding Kennedy’s death. By mid-December, they felt enough time had passed, and, besides, the nation needed something to divert its grief.

Cronkite’s report was on a fever that was sweeping through the youth of the UK and Europe, and, in a way, Marsha and then the other young people of the DC area were among the first in the United States to also catch this contagion. Marsha was the one who caused it to first be broadcast in America.

You know this fever as Beatlemania.

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