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Former UCI Activist Marches No More but Remains True to Ideals

August 03, 1989|HERMAN WONG | Times Staff Writer

Michael Krisman emerged as one of the best-known activists in the UCI class of '69. He organized boycotts, sit-ins and other demonstrations against the Vietnam War and the university's faculty hiring and other policies.

He was a prominent member of the campus chapter of the militant Students for a Democratic Society. He joined in street protests at the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago, and later that year took an unauthorized trip to Cuba.

Even after his graduation as a history major, he remained at the center of controversy.

Off-campus conservative groups demanded that Krisman--just hired as a UCI staff coordinator for academic advising--be fired.

"Oh, I still remember the big headlines and about how the John Birch and other groups made me out as some kind of wild radical--which I wasn't," recalls Krisman, 47, who now lives in Sacramento and is principal consultant to the California Assembly Committee on Housing and Community Development.

But Krisman won that battle, thanks to the backing of then-UCI Chancellor Daniel G. Aldrich Jr., who stressed that the activist was well-qualified.

While he no longer takes part in protest marches, Krisman has remained a dedicated activist. For the past 15 years, he has continued to "work within the system," seeking reforms in such areas as farm labor, low-cost medical care, consumer advocacy and affordable housing. He has worked as administrator, field aide or consultant for various state agencies or commissions.

"That was my way of doing things back at UCI. I was never a hard-core radical; I was always seeking change but not disruption," he says. "I wanted to avoid the excesses and intolerance of people on either side, left or right."

In 1965, he started out as a "pleasant, Young Democrats kind of student." And as a former Army paratrooper, he was a backer of the Vietnam War at first. But the activism at Irvine and within the broader protest movement soon transformed him.

In the late '60s, he "grew up intellectually and socially--a kind of quantum leap in awareness for me and a lot of other people."

Krisman looks forward to attending the coming reunion of the class of '69 with a mixture of curiosity and anticipation. "I still feel close to UC Irvine," he says. "Orange County still fascinates me."

Students today see the '60s as ancient history, he says. "Today, there is no real commitment to the community. It's all self-gratification and greed."

Still, there are some consolations, says Krisman, who is married with three children.

"My older kids do realize they enjoy greater personal freedom," he says. "And that, I tell them, they can thank the '60s for."

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