I read recently that many people have a generally negative view of "peace." Kids never want to play "peace." The common conception is that peace is a state of boring, non-action. I think this has more than a little truth in it. Very few people are actually planning for a future peacetime. As a friend pointed out recently, all the prophesies end in our lifetime...
I think there's still healing needed. Truth IS a great healer. I'm not sure most people are ready yet for the truth about Viet Nam, Korea, WWII, nuclear energy or several other myths our government has perpetuated.
No one's ever asked for an account of my experiences. I find that as I'm writing this, I still feel pain and sadness (as well as a memory of the incredible energy and elation felt as so many people from a complete cross-section of the country started joining the opposition to the war).
I may not be able to answer all the questions you ask without writing a book! I'll start and also add some random memories that just occur to me. My time is somewhat limited so you'll probably get bits and pieces...
Your activism spanned the peace/nuclear disarmament/civil rights movements. I think the movements evolved from each other. Do you agree? How would you compare them?
I became aware of civil rights issues when I was about 7 or 8 years old. My father was called before the HUAC (House Un-American Activities Committee). I remember that one of his friends killed himself because he couldn't get a job to support his family after being called before the committee.
I began going to demonstrations against the hearings when I was about 13. Dad was also a member of SANE. In 1959 I walked from Livermore to San Francisco on the Easter Peace Walk.
I never articulated in my mind a separation between the peace/disarmament and civil rights movements. Some of my friends went to the South for the Freedom Rides, we organized picket lines at Woolworths, took part in prayer vigils during executions at San Quentin, and worked for the Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty. (I still have my SNCC button from 1962.) It seemed at the time that if we didn't DO SOMETHING, the hate/distrust/fear would destroy the world.
In 1960 I witnessed an above-ground [nuclear] test. I was devastated and completely astounded (words can't convey). How could anybody who had EVER seen this say that nuclear power was a good thing for the world?!?
I didn't know about the Vietnam War until my first year in college ('64). My first objection was on the grounds that any war is immoral. I met a Vietnam vet (my first). He was in a Marine recon unit and he was very damaged. He had been given a medical discharge but he had serious post-traumatic stress symptoms that weren't being recognized or addressed.
So many memories...I had friends who loaded ammunition onto ships because it was a good paying job for students. I remember sometimes crying as the C-5s flew over my house out of Travis AFB filled with soldiers and came back filled with coffins. I also remember my mother telling me... that the government wouldn't get involved in the war if it wasn't necessary and that it would never lie to the people.
A couple years later, I was at the airport and saw a kid in dirty while, I asked him what he was doing. He said he had been sent home on family emergency leave because someone had died. He said that he couldn't remember where he lived, what plane he was supposed to catch or who had died. He had been in a muddy foxhole the day before with people dying all around him. They had picked him up by helicopter, transferred him to a plane and expected him to be able to adjust. It was surreal. He was going home for 3 days to bury someone and then fly back into the jungle and just continue the war. Anyway, a couple friends and I contacted the Red Cross and started a small group of volunteers who would meet soldiers at the airport, make sure they knew why they were coming home, talk with them a bit, make sure thay got some clean clothes and try to give them some space to go through changes.
Some people still think that the government was unaware of the dangers of agent orange in 1965. A friend of mine brought back poloroid snapshots of beautiful jungle before and after the planes came over spraying. After the spraying, there would be bare dirt with dead tree trunks standing. They would spray villages they knew were full of only women, children and old people. The people in those villages would die horribly. My friend got sent home and discharged because he had leukemia. The government wouldn't pay his medical expenses. It ruled that he had "undiagnosed leukemia" when he joined the military. He was a pilot. Tom died in 1966. I watched his father, a WWII fighter pilot, have a change in view of the government from flag-waving pride and patriotism, to disbelief, to anger, to despair.
It's evident to me that you came from a pretty special family. Have I understood this correctly?
(About your comment on the the courage needed for activism, many times I've felt that it requires more stubbornness than courage.)What did the unfolding of your brother's difficult decision to emigrate instead of being drafted look like to you? I consider emigres to be casualties of a kind from the war. How did his decision to go off to Canada make you feel?
I don't consider my family "special", but out-of-the-ordinary, yes. My mother is a community, grassroots activist. She organizes in her neighborhood, town, county. Her focus has been individual empowerment. She's one of the first (all of my life) in the "think globally-act locally" movement. Dad made public stands for human rights, world peace, unions, nuclear non-proliferation. He died at age sixty. Three of their six children are "activists."
It didn't seem like a difficult decision on my brother's part. (Perhaps made easier by the fact that he could relatively easily go to Canada without being hassled.) There was never any question that he was against that war and war in general. He had the support of our father. (Dad trained B-17 navigators and never went overseas during WWII. He got a casualty list every week.) There were a couple very heated go-rounds with our stepfather but he had no real influence. I was very thankful that he didn't join the military. (But then I was very thankful for any of my friends who didn't have to go) I was glad he was safe.
The sixties seemed like a decade of madness to me. How did it look to you? If it got unstuck, when did it do so for you?
The craziness started really becoming apparent to me with the Cuban Missile Crisis. I felt that Kennedey was forced into a situation and that the survival of the world was dependent on Khrushchev and some crazy generals. A very close friend was in the Air Force and he arrived on my doorstep the night after the stand-down. He had been on the flight line in Florida for the entire time. Our soldiers were killing each other because they were so freaked out. [In 1960 we had been in Youth for Kennedy together. Bobby came one day and sat at a table stuffing envelopes with us. We were so hopeful that we could turn things around. Bobby was an incredible person - much more easy going, more dedicated to social change than his brother. I remember that he was kind of amazed that we were working so hard on the campaign and we couldn't even vote.] My friend, my dad and I sat up talking late that night and kind of came to the conclusion that it was the beginning of the end of whatever good may have come from the Kennedey administration. JFK's assassination was a shock (we knew people wanted him dead but didn't really think they'd do it) but Bobby's assassination really hit me very hard.
Krishnamurti and his words had much more influence on me than Thoreau, Kafka or Sartre. [see Think On These Things listed below]
You said you were "hit very hard" by Bobby Kennedy's assassination. Can you remember any specifics about those days? What did it feel like when you heard Bobby had been shot?
I met Bobby in 1960 so there was a feeling of personal loss. He was more of a doer than Jack and more courageous. I don't think that Jack would've taken the stands that Bobby did on civil rights, the FBI, etc. We who were working for the issues of human rights, peace, disarmament never felt the support from Jack that we did from Bobby. When he decided to run for President, I sometimes felt that he didn't have a chance to make it to the Whitehouse alive and sometimes felt that he would be elected, end the war and heal the country. The night he was killed, I went to Denny's across the street from where I lived because they had a TV. Everyone in the place was a Kennedy backer. I watched the assassination and went into shock. Some friends found me, took me home, put me to sleep and I don't really remember the next several days. I felt the country was perhaps wounded beyond repair. I felt that revolution was a strong possibility. I felt there had been too much killing. But I also saw no focus or much thought being given to what changes people wanted or what future they envisioned.The sixties (the whole decade, not just the last half) was a time of polarization and superficial judgement. People were judged "good" or "bad" depending upon the length of their hair, the uniforms or the clothing they wore, the color of their skin, and whether they supported or opposed the war. When you attended public rallies for justice and peace at that time, how did you perceive the police and the National Guard? How did they perceive you?
I perceived much of the sixties not so much of a time of "superficial judgement" but a time when we could drop the superficial, the uniforms, the masks, and just be people. >From my point of view, we asked all people to do so. We were saying to people, "here's your chance to remember that before you were a cop, a politician, a KKK member, a soldier, you were someone's child who loved the whole world."
In 1959, on the Easter Peace Walk, people threw a lot of garbage and yelled abusive things. The police (I especially remember San Bruno) didn't stop them and a couple policemen felt we deserved the abuse. That year we were "commies." We were spending nights at churches, mostly sleeping on floors or lawns in sleeping bags, and I remember the SF Examiner making a big deal out of "coed sleeping arrangements." I felt scared and sorry for the people who hated us so much. (I kept a low profile because I was a runaway.)
In 1962 (I think, or early '63), Rockwell, then head of the US Nazi Party, came to speak at the Univ. of Minnesota. There was a large movement to bar him from speaking. A group of us felt that he should be allowed to speak. (1st, you can't disallow freedom of speech to ANYONE; 2nd, it's better to know what the enemy's agenda is) We were on the steps of a building and the people who didn't want Rockwell to speak started throwing rocks and things. We were pushed up against the glass doors, I turned around and campus police were holding the doors shut and wouldn't let us in. The glass broke. We were pretty bruised but no one was seriously injured. I was terrified. I couldn't believe that so many people were screaming, and full of hate over what seemed to me to be a quite simple freedom. They acted like Nazis!
It appeared to me that later in the sixties, the "peace" movement became more violent. Many of my friends from SNCC, Ad Hoc etc., joined the Panthers. Devisiveness started within the "peace and justice/anti-war/civil rights" movement. I stopped going to rallies and demonstrations (except the Easter Peace Walk). The movement was "against" too many things. It was hard for me to have friends I had known for many years feel torn between our friendship and their loyalty to the black movement. The "peace movement" started being anti-government, anti-establishment, etc, but not FOR very much that seemed productive to me.
I started doing community work, with AFSC's CO program, SF State Free University, migrant workers, high school dropouts and gang members in SF. In early '67, I burned out. I went to live on a Quaker communal farm for a year.
Were you tired and discouraged by the resistance which you ran up against as you promoted issues that could have led to a better society?
I was discouraged by how few people wanted to work. I worked with a project that advocated juvenile justice. We worked to get courts to give representation to minors. We visited families at risk (the kids had been arrested) to assess the family situation. We attempted to establish communal-type group homes for teenagers at risk. I also worked part-time with the Haight-Ashbury Free Clinic. There I encountered so many people who were destroying themselves, who didn't see that there was work to be done, etc. With Reagan as governor, a lot of really good programs were being cut off and a lot of people's lives were seriously affected. Violence and advocating violence was becoming more prevalent in the movement.You left college in '67 because "SF State went crazy." Can you tell me any more about it?
SF State went crazy and closed (I was in my last semester) and I quit. One of the kids I had been working with (I was close to him and his family) was killed in jail (trying to stop a fight). It seemed like the whole country could explode in violence and more and more people were going off to war. A lot of my friends were coming back from the war and they were all wounded. The final reason for me leaving the Bay Area for the farm was personal. A person asked me to keep a briefcase for him for a couple days. (My house was somewhat of a safe house as I worked closely with a couple lawyers and the police knew about it.) The owner of the briefcase was found killed and a couple men with guns showed up at my door for the briefcase. I left everything I owned and got on a Greyhound bus. This probably sounds pretty tame in light of the current situation in most cities. I, however, had never had my front door broken open with a very large shotgun. The person who gave me the briefcase was a truly loving, non-violent beautiful man.
In '67, there were demonstrations on campus all the time, the Black Panthers held people hostage in the cafeteria, going to class was trivial. I was mainly working with the "free university", off campus. The school was closed during finals week. I still don't know if I graduated. I think that my professors may have passed me without the finals. One of the best actions taken that year (IMHO) was that the student council voted to cut, by 100%, the athletic budget, and to put the money into relevant community-service-for-credit programs. (Of course, the regents and the state quickly reversed the council...) Shortly after the end of the term I left San Francisco.When you say "work," I assume you are referring to "work" [for the cause of promoting a better world]. Am I correct?
Yes, I mean getting up every day and doing the boring stuff. Cooking for the homeless, teaching highschool dropouts, cleaning up neighborhoods, keeping your scene together are all mostly just day-to-day work. There are too few people who think that carrying out the garbage is one of the "important jobs." My grandmother worked for the Red Cross with homeless kids at the Chicago stockyards in the 1920's. My son is working with homeless kids in downtown Denver. I was downtown with him last evening, The kids were the same kids that I knew in the Mission in 1966-7. Everyday, all day the kids played Aretha Franklin's 'Respect' on the record player. We walked up the stairs into the Center's main room last night and the entire back wall was covered with 'RESPECT' in graffiti. If my grandmother had been there, I know she would've known those kids too. There's no way these kids should still be on the street.
[How does one reach enlightenment?
Chop wood, carry water.
What does one do after reaching enlightenment?
Chop more wood, carry more water.]
I worked organizing the 1967 Easter Peace Walk that went from Livermore Laboratories to San Francisco. I did some housing organization but because I rode a motorcycle, I was a "route monitor." This meant that I rode my bike to deliver messages, monitor "hot spots" of hecklers, alert first-aid workers where needed, make sure that marchers weren't trespassing, stopped traffic at intersections, etc. The police worked with us much more than in 1959. Many were openly in favor of disarmament and against war. There was much, much more of a cross section of people in 1967. There were people in suits, congress people, veterans, all minorities. In San Francisco, the walk started at the bay (the Ferry Building) and ended in Golden Gate Park. There was a moment when I was going to the front of the walkers, at the top of a hill about halfway to the park, I stopped and looked back toward the bay. The people (about 150,000) were stretched from the bay all the way up Market Street and everyone was singing. It was SOOO loud! I knew at that moment, that we HAD made a difference, that we had changed America and the world.
(This is bringing tears.)
For me, the 60's was not just a social affair....