In this column, we try to bring you entertaining recaps of Pacific’s many and wonderful events. This week, I attended the Tom McCall Center for Civic Engagement’s Tom McCall Day event, which advertised the “opportunity to learn about who the center was named after, and what the former governor accomplished for Oregon.”
The event consisted of one lonely work-study student perched nervously behind a table in the UC, offering the scavenger hunt papers shown above. I didn’t see anyone besides myself take one. Arrayed on the table were three or four pieces of paper with bullet-pointed accomplishments of Tom McCall, Oregon’s Republican Governor from 1967 to 1975 and renowned protector of Oregon’s public lands, farmland, and clean air and water. One sheet displayed the Oregon Bottle Bill that required bottle distributors and retailers to give 5–10¢back per recycled bottle, a revolutionary idea at the time, and the cornerstone for recycling (and opening the avenue for thousands of garbage can scroungers looking for extra change).
McCall’s listed accolades prominently featured environmental safeguards and clean-up projects combating pollution and land degradation—apparently unthinkable for a Republican governor today. One bullet point said, “Vortex 1, the first (and only) government sponsored outdoor rock concert.”
That doesn’t even begin to describe what was one of the strangest events of the early-1970s. Yep, you heard me. President Nixon was scheduled to speak in Portland at an American Legion conference, bolstering support for the war effort in Vietnam. To put Nixon’s appearance in context: Only weeks earlier, students at Kent State University in Ohio were protesting the Vietnam War, which had not-so-clandestinely spread into neighboring Cambodia, when Ohio National Guardsmen opened fire and killed four college students.
At the time, student protests were prevalent, especially on college campuses, and Governor McCall was rightly worried about blood in the streets between the legionnaires and the hippies of the People’s Army Jamboree, who would be in town protesting Nixon’s war campaign. In a burst of genius, sorcery, or pure inspiration, McCall quickly put together a huge Woodstock-style music festival just 20 miles south of Portland for the weekend of the conference. Although Nixon’s visit was canceled, the festival was a massive hit, preventing conflict between the protesters and the legionnaires—and lifting McCall on an unlikely wave of popularity into his second term as governor.
I asked the work-study student what connection McCall had to the university. They said that the MCCE was named after him. I asked if he had helped fund or establish the center, and the student’s eyes went wide. “I don’t know,” they said. They were just there to hand out the uninspiring scavenger hunts.
According to the MCCE’s website, the center is named after McCall on his merits alone. For 25 years, the MCCE hosted an event called the Tom McCall Forum, “(b)ringing together liberal and conservative figures to debate issues of national importance.” Pitting figures such as Newt Gingrich and Ralph Nader together, the debates must have been quite the spectacle. I vote we bring back the McCall forum and Vortex 2.0, too! — Lane Johnson