The crosswalk incident: 1968
IN 1968 VIKING Hall (now known as the Ondine) was a private coed residence of about 535 Portland State College students.
Among those living in the hall was a wheelchair-bound student, Jay Wardlow. One fall day, an inattentive driver clipped Jay and knocked him out of his wheelchair as he was crossing Sixth Avenue. He was not injured, but other angry students and I wanted to do something. We contacted City Hall and were told that a crosswalk light would cost $1,500 and was not scheduled to be installed at the intersection of Sixth and Hall any time soon.
We decided to take action on our own. At least 20 students were involved in painting a crosswalk at 3:00 a.m. Using military precision, it took only a few minutes. We did have barricades and other ways to divert traffic ... but there was really no traffic in the middle of the night.
We tried to make the lines look neat—and not painted by students—but we used really cheap white household paint that refused to dry in the misty early morning. When the interstate buses came into town about 6 a.m. their immense tires picked up the pigment and laid it back down some feet away. You could see the paint trail fade off down the street.
City officials were mad. When the local TV news picked up the story the medial highlighted the incident with Jay. City Hall contacted me, demanding that the students who appeared on TV come to a hearing at the City Hall building before the traffic planning people. A police officer delivered the "request" and, yes, we were apprehensive of the outcome. It turns out we were reprimanded, but as a result of our action, the traffic light for that location was given immediate priority and was in place in a short time. They bawled us out, but in essence they felt embarrassed about the situation.
I, as leader and head perpetrator of the action, was disciplined by Portland State. At the time I was a candidate for student body president. Because of my involvement and my loud mouth, my name was taken off the ballot. That was okay; I really did not care then, nor do I now.
All of us enjoyed our act of rebellion, and it taught us a great lesson: Sometimes it is better to act and then get permission from the "decision makers." This incident helped me decide to go to law school. I was a trial attorney and advocate for college students and others for 16 years. Today, I am a professor of business law at North Carolina State University.