Our radical, ourselves

THE smart scholarship girl from a sheltered environment whose self-image goes south in the polyglot and high-pressure world of college is a staple, of modern fiction and of life. I know her. I was her.

And that is why I recognized Katherine Ann Power when she turned herself in and was sent to jail, understood how it was possible in four years to go from the valedictorian of a Catholic girls school to a campus radical who drove the getaway car in a 1970 bank robbery.


Some of us in our 40s have to strain to remember the self we were 23 years ago -- the convictions, the ideals, the sex, the drugs, even some of the rock 'n' roll. Good things grew in that environment: a healthy skepticism about foreign wars and government pronouncements, the erosion of authoritarianism in institutions and in family life as well.

But in retrospect so much of it was facile flash, posturing as politics. Onetime anti-war demonstrators acquired mortgages and slid quietly into neoconservatism. Jane Fonda's name became synonymous with aerobic exercise. Jerry Rubin went into networking and Bobby Seale into barbecue.


Katherine Power's life on the lam was almost a parody of how the fire-in-the-belly '60s transmogrified into the home-and-hearth cocooning of the '90s. She taught cooking classes, brought polenta to potluck suppers, jogged. She came in from the cold after she went into therapy.

It was a classist movement, the campus anti-war movement, and it was classist all over again as magazines and newspapers waxed poetic about the pain of Katherine Ann Power, surrendering after a lifetime on the run.

And then last week a woman stood up in a courtroom in Boston and provided a reality check. The oldest child in a large Catholic family -- I recognized her, too. I could almost see her in her uniform when they came to the school, a school probably not much different from the one Katherine Ann Power attended, to deliver the bad news. Her name was Clare Schroeder, and her father, Walter, was the cop who was shot in the back during the bank robbery, the year Clare was 17.

Sergeant Schroeder, now a police officer herself, had come to Katherine Power's sentencing to bear witness to the victim, the kind of working man who was as strange to campus activism as a wing-tip shoe, the kind once called a pig.

"The press and the public seem far more interested in the difficulties that Katherine Power has inflicted upon herself than in the very real and horrible suffering she inflicted upon my family," she said.

Katherine Power's social conscience was not transitory; when she sold her interest in an Oregon restaurant, she gave the money to a charity that fights world hunger, just as she had planned to give the money away after the bank robbery. She was confused and unhappy at college, her therapist has said, with a powerful yen to improve the world.

Had she been born 10 years later, the valedictorian of Marycrest High School, once transplanted to Brandeis, might have joined a cult, or become bulimic, or tutored poor kids, or worked at a soup kitchen.

But hers were more incendiary times, and instead there was Walter Schroeder, his widow, nine children without a father.


Oh, do I recognize Katherine Power. She is the embodiment of the chasm between the '60s and the '90s, like someone with a multiple personality disorder. It is almost as though a different Kathy drove three ex-cons and her roommate to the scene of the crime. The other personalities, the cook, the mother, the middle-aged woman, perhaps feel as if they scarcely know her, as we scarcely know our younger selves.

But our sympathy has to be for the family of Walter Schroeder, dead these long transformative, tumultuous years. His daughter remembered how she once saw a picture of him in the paper, giving a child CPR, and how, at her father's wake, a woman introduced herself as that child's mother.

I know the importance of that now -- the child, the mother, the man. There are many things to contemplate in the odyssey of Katherine Power. But the most important is this: A man died; his wife was left alone; his children grew up without him. If the last 23 years have given us a sense of proportion, then surely we all understand that they are the point of the story.

Anna Quindlen is a columnist for the New York Times.