In the 1960s and '70s, this midwestern college town gave the rest of the country the $5 marijuana fine, the socialist Human Rights Party and Tom Hayden's radical Students for a Democratic Society (SDS).
But since the Vietnam war, this city's left-leaning University of Michigan community has been reduced to protesting issues without much sex appeal -- like university investments in South Africa.
Then along came President Carter's draft registration plan, slightly modified by Congress, but a godsend nonetheless. Out came the dusty old 'Hell No, We Won't Go" placards, and the antiwar folk singers got their vocal cords back in tune.
Today, the first day of registration for 19- and 20-year-old men, Ann Arbor proved it still knows how to turn out an old-fashioned '60s-style antiwar protest, complete with protest songs, someone in a red, white and blue Uncle Sam outfit, and rabblerousing members of the Revolutionary Communist Youth Brigade.
About 800 people showed up for the antidraft registration rally at noon on the steps of Ann Arbor's federal building. The antidraft speakers and draft resisters from the '60s far outnumbered young men actually eligible for draft registration, but that didn't seem to matter. It was a cause to protest, and to Ann Arbor, that was all that mattered.
Scott Aungst, a 19-year-old Ann Arbor native, was easy prey with his freckled face and wide-eyed innocence. As he walked up the steps of the federal building to register at the post office inside, he was surrounded by at least a dozen registration opponents.
"You do have an alternative," one registration opponent. Bob Chatters, exhorted. "You can wait until you're forced to register. By not registering, you can register a protest against fighting for Jimmy Carter, Exxon and the CIA."
But Aungst would not be dissuaded. He went inside, filled out the small white three-by-five-inch card, and came out officially registered for the draft. "It was a task I dreaded and they [the protesters outside] made it kind of worse," he said.
"This was just filling out a simple form -- I'll cross the next step when I come to it," Aungst said. "I can still change my mind whether I go to war. Canada's right across the street."
Most young people who did register today felt, like Aungst, that registration was just a first step. Each of the registrants interviewed said they would decide whether to respond to the draft if and when the time comes.
"I feel a little angry that I can be manipulated," said Mark Brokaw, 20. "I considered getting all radical, wearing torn-off blue jeans and going to Canada and all that. But war is something you just have to accept."
"I had to do some soul-searching as to whether or not to do it," said 20-year-old Keith Forrester. "I'll register, but I wouldn't fight to defend our economic interests over someone else's human rights. I wouldn't fight just to protect our standard of living."
Those who came to the federal building to register were undaunted by the protest outside. Those who came looking for an excuse not to register hardly needed any arm-twisting.
Gerald Barnes was walking sluggishly up the steps to register when someone shouted after him. "Hey, you know you don't have to register if you don't want!"
Barnes spun around, beaming. "I don't? That's cool, then. I'll see you later," he said, charging hastily away.
"It's not fair," Barnes said, explaining his sudden turnaround. "We're going over to fight for this country and I don't know what we're fighting for. gI'm scared. I'm going to hold off as long as I can.
"I don't want to shoot anybody."
No Ann Arbor protest would be complete without a song, provided today by local Ann Arborite Paula Amann. She sang to the crowd, to the tune of an old spiritual: "I'm going to lay down that Trident sub, down by the riverside. I'm going to lay down MX tracks, down by the riverside. I ain't going to study war no more."
"This is great," someone in the crowd, said, clapping along to the music. "There haven't been this many people out for a rally since the war. I'm going to New York next month for the Democratic convention and try to join in a protest there."