The Accidental Protest

Triton magazine asked alumni about the defining moments that changed everything for UC San Diego students, and what it means to them today. Chris Canole ’69 shared the following campus memory with Triton magazine:


Revelle College had the non-contiguous minor requirement, so I minored in art. I didn’t have money to afford the welding class or materials like that, so I decided to make stuff out of nature. And I realized if I was going to work with nature, I should really live in nature. So I packed a backpack with basic gear and I moved into the eucalyptus forest—sleeping out beyond Central Library every night for the good part of my senior year. Did I mention I was studying Zen and Taoism at the time?

I started off with public sculptures using logs and rocks that l literally dragged out from the woods. Some of them are still there—the rock garden in Muir, for one—and I did a memorial for George Winne with a fallen tree too. But it was my second or third piece, another sculpture in the Revelle quad—I gathered up the branches and set them together one afternoon, photographed it from the top of Urey Hall, and then went back home to the woods.

The next day when I came back to Revelle Plaza, four armed Marines are standing guard at the corners of my sculpture! I walk up and ask, “What’s going on?” and they said, “We’re guarding this until we can find the guy who set up this bonfire.” I said, “Uh, I think it’s a sculpture.” That’s when the sergeant says, “Wait a second. You’re Canole.” I guess I had earned a reputation by then.

If I hadn’t been in a sleeping bag on eucalyptus leaves that night, I might have known that the U.S. had just invaded Cambodia. That led to a major protest in the undergraduate science building, and the military thought my work was part of the protest. “We called Chancellor York last night at three in the morning,” they said. Lucky for me, the Chancellor’s wife, Sybil, worked out with all of us on the fencing team.

Though amusing to look back, that moment was a real awakening for me—that all of a sudden I could be in serious trouble. I was now classified as a protester. I was truly thrust into everything about the Vietnam War. I thought I was doing all the right things in life: Dean’s list, physics pre-med, fencing captain, research tech for Dr. Nina Braunwald’s landmark heart valve. But that night was an epiphany, an Aha! moment of, “I can’t just walk around and let things happen. I’ve really got to start working with intent.” So when people would ask me about my later sculptures, what was this “Earth Art” all about, I would talk about global environmental issues, remembering my philosophy TA, Angela Davis, quoting Eldridge Cleaver: “You are either part of the solution, or you are part of the problem!”


—Chris Canole ’69  is the alter-ego of Dude Vader, the steampunk Sith Lord who spreads cheer and charity for causes throughout the galaxy.