Life-on-the-Co-op-Plan

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Life on the Co-op Plan

by Bill Newman

Foreword by Tom Manley, President, Antioch College

It was 1968. Promises of freedom were being crushed by the reality of overflowing, grungy jail cells, and Utopian visions of America were being gunned down in the jungles of Vietnam. The country was at war with itself.

In that same year Bill Newman, who now has been an ACLU lawyer for many decades and is the author and voice of the Civil Liberties Minute podcast, a newspaper columnist, and a talk radio show host, entered Antioch College, which is famous for its work-study program known as cooperative education (or co-ops).

Newman’s life on a co-op plan began because his college guidance counselor said to him, “a place like Antioch might want you.” Bill thought any number of colleges probably would accept him. It hadn’t occurred to him that any affirmatively would want him. Antioch did.

And the political activism and the principles that animated the college and its students changed his life.

The book begins, “in September 1968 I learned that I hated seeing people locked up in cages. I still do.” That sentence summarizes Bill’s experience at his first co-op job from Antioch—working in the New York City criminal courts for an experimental diversion and rehabilitation program of the Vera Institute of Justice. Other equally meaningful Antioch co-ops would follow.

After graduating Antioch and spending three more years on another co-op plan—at Northeastern University School of Law—Bill went on to represent clients on death row and in the Guantanamo Bay prison. He was counsel for the mom in the first gay custody case to go before any state’s highest court. He has defended the Bill of Rights for over forty years. Those stories fill these pages.

Noam Chomsky calls this book “enlightening, inspiring, and often shocking.” ACLU President Susan Herman describes it as “nothing less than an expertly guided tour of recent American history and timeless American values.” The founder of The Massachusetts Review, Jules Chametzsky, says, “what distinguishes this book is its literary grace [and] love of language...”

Ultimately, the stories and reflections in this book, poignant and often funny (especially the parts about raising two daughters) lead back to the ethos instilled by and lessons learned at that unique small college in southwestern Ohio—Antioch—whose first president, Horace Mann, put it succinctly: “Be ashamed to die until you have won some victory for humanity.” Bill Newman has done his part, and this book may well inspire future generations to do theirs.