I was one of the
Baby Boom generation’s first arrivals, born in Salem, Oregon two years before the end of World War II. My parents and my older sister Jackie had moved to Oregon from Nebraska in 1940, looking for a break from tough times in the Midwest of the Great Depression. Before they came west, Dad worked at a gas station six, and every other week seven days a week. Getting by was not easy. Dreadful winters and not always enough food for three.
The times were less precarious when John and Lorene—both of Bohemian forbears as far back as anyone knew—and their nine-year-old daughter started over on the West Coast. The prospect of war was spurring the economy. Hard times were ending in most places. I showed up in 1943; my brother Jim a month after World War II ended, two years later.
Married in 1929 and having endured a decade of Depression, my folks were among many who feared that war’s end would mean another economic downturn. But Cold War military spending precluded the return of lean years, and instead helped kick off the consumer-spending economic expansion of the ‘50s. I grew up in those years, in a fairly typical small-town, Catholic, nuclear family world, within the larger world of new things like TV, the H-bomb, freeways, and a mainly unexamined, triumphalist U.S. world view. I can remember—it must have been 1952—bicycling around the neighborhood with a pack of friends shouting “We Like Ike!” And around that age, maybe ten, fearing and hating “communists.” We had by this time moved from Salem to nearby Woodburn, an even smaller town, quite an unlikely place to have found any Reds.
My first baby step away from the conformist know-nothingism of the rabidly all-American ‘50s was to become a strong Adlai Stevenson-for-President supporter in 1956. In what way, if any, he was different from Eisenhower (who drubbed him in 1952 and 1956) I couldn’t have said. But I think this enthusiasm was a slight stirring, clueless as it was.
By the mid-‘50s both the U.S. and the
U.S.S.R. possessed nuclear weapons, so strategic competition became focused on missile development—the Space Race. The enforced political orthodoxy was buttressed by a major emphasis on science and technology. Boys were encouraged to devote themselves to these pursuits, in the national interest. In 1957 the Soviets launched the first artificial satellite, Sputnik. Their achievement intensified the American focus on math, sciences, engineering, and the like.
Ron, Steve, and I were in the 7th and 8th grades at this time. Caught up in the prevailing atmosphere, we were young science nerds with our own version of competitive experimentation. We’d gone from chemistry sets to the construction of small bombs, thanks to materials ordered from chemical supply companies. A pound of sulphur cost $1.00, easily affordable even with our meager allowances. Magnesium wire was more expensive, and was paid for by our summer work as harvesters in the fields near Woodburn. One of our pastimes was coming up with gunpowder-like compounds. We competed to see whose compound would oxidize fastest while leaving the smallest non-combustible traces. Whoever was least efficient was dubbed that week’s “Residue King.” I recall that Steve was usually the mocked monarch. When we entered high school, we left our interest in explosives behind. Plus the fact that my dad came across the container for our biggest effort yet, and confronted me about it. He wasn’t angry, but rather shaken, grasping how much destruction we could have unleashed.
After eight years at St. Luke’s School I got a further four years at the hands of Benedictines in Mount Angel, just about ten miles from Woodburn. Hands were literally involved at Mt. Angel Prep, where priests frequently resorted to physical punishment. High school at this small, boys-only place next to a monastery was essentially medieval. Along with Latin and Church History, the teachers had the divine right to clock you whenever they lost their tempers, and promoted brutality among the fairly rowdy student body. Juniors and seniors were encouraged to shave the heads of any freshman or sophomores caught smoking on the school grounds, and for greater or repeated infractions there was the “belt line.” This meant that the malcontent had to run a school assembly gauntlet, whipped by the belts of all students. Those who didn’t participate were forced to run the gauntlet in turn.
To gain acceptance, I played football until my senior year. The Friday night games really weren’t bad. I was far from being an accomplished player, but the games were a picnic compared to practices. By my senior year I’d become “one of the guys” and decided to forego a last season of afternoon torture. At that point it wasn’t worth the daily afternoon ordeal of brutal drills.
mainly stayed out of trouble until just before graduating, when a couple of the holy Fathers discovered that their A- student had been less the model character than they’d thought. I got whacked in the face a few times for my minor troublemaking.
Apparently somewhat like another bright little bomb-maker at the time—Ted Kaczynski in Illinois—fitting in was not always easy. I did have some close friends, but generally felt out of place and confused by many prevailing norms. I have a vivid recollection even now of watching the popular late ‘50s sitcom, “The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet.” Certainly there wasn’t anything even slightly adventurous (or funny) about this family of zombies, and the tinny, canned laughter made me feel uneasy and left out. Ricky Nelson, Ozzie and Harriet’s younger son, was the program’s teen heart-throb, while I had no idea at all what to say to girls. Very slow in this area for some time.
Maybe I wasn’t much more confused or estranged than the average adolescent in my vague, uninformed appetite for something different. The Beat Generation, as interpreted in cartoon-like fashion by Life magazine, represented exotic rebellion to me. Dirty beatniks! Not everyone, it seemed, was a smiling, patriotic consumer. Portland, Oregon’s Reed College seemed a pretty beat place when I visited in my senior year, including people sitting on the floor and dogs in the bookstore. The campus exuded a non-conformist, intellectual atmosphere that really grabbed me. But the priests at my school were decidedly appalled at my desire to apply to such a hotbed of godless, bohemian communism. I needed three letters of recommendation from teachers and couldn’t get even one.
I was thrilled, however, to get a scholarship to Stanford, and enrolled Fall, 1961. The Farm, as it has been called since railroad baron Leland Stanford founded it in the 1890s, was beginning its ascendancy, paralleling the rise of adjacent Silicon Valley and the gradual, overall shift of power in the U.S. from the East coast to the Pacific Rim. I was rather awed by its palm-, eucalyptus-, and sports-car-studded 10,000 acres, complete with lake, fire department, stables, golf course, etc. And frankly wondered if I would make the grade, especially against the many incoming freshmen from real prep schools: eighteen-year-olds incomparably more sophisticated than me, familiar with such things as foreign films, folk music, the blues, and Camus (whose name I didn’t even know how to pronounce).
One rich kid I knew very slightly dropped out after only a few weeks, declaring in a letter to the campus Daily that he’d already done his “penance” academically and was bored by required, introductory courses. I recall standing with my mouth open as he packed his bags to go off to Switzerland for the skiing.
I learned fairly quickly that flunking out was unlikely, and from that point on an inchoate disillusionment began to set in. As a would-be beatnik who remained a Catholic, I wasn’t really turned on by college classes. It was exciting to select interesting-sounding courses at the beginning of every term, only to feel later that they were just successive pre-packaged elements in a competitive grind for grades. Stanford was and is a lot of very intelligent people, minus original thinking: a pretty conservative place.
So I went about in my army fatigue jacket with no real friends, the bloom fading from the rose. It was hard to maintain real interest, and my grades began to slip. A sojourn in Europe, at Stanford-in-Italy in Florence, at the end of my sophomore year, helped some. Especially because I made a few very close friends in the Florentine villa that was home for six months. And it was in Italy that I first began to take a critical look at social and political life. To improve my Italian I subscribed to Umanitˆ, the Communist Party daily. I was struck by the stark poverty in Naples when I hitchhiked there. Another watershed during that overseas sojourn in 1963 was the bombing of a Birmingham church, a racist attack that killed four black children. I don’t remember discussing it or thinking about it at length, but it had an impact on me.
Hitchhiking to Naples that summer, I was struck by a tableau in a very poor district. An old man and a teenage boy were studying together in an old building; the former was apparently teaching the lad something, in the neighborhood hall of the Italian Communist Party. I remember coming across them and feeling moved by their connection with each other. This was perhaps the very beginning of my political life, the start of a replacement (or grounding) of values that had before this time been religious.
In the summer of ‘63 I also hitchhiked to Assisi. My Christian faith had all but evaporated; I went there to give it a last shot. St. Francis, with his love for animals and his innocence, appealed to me. But I found no rescusitation of interest in Catholicism. In fact, the church at that historic place was curiously modern, and the priest in charge was actually from Ohio. Not inspiring.
Back on the Farm, my focus on school resumed a tendency to blur. I was Class of ‘65, but by early that year I literally couldn’t concentrate. Upon taking an exam I would find that virtually none of the material I’d read came to mind. Some kind of minor breakdown was happening, so I got a medical leave of absence, returning to Oregon and enrolling at a tiny Willamette Valley college in order to avoid the mounting Vietnam war draft.
Mt. Angel College, another
Benedictine place of learning, was metamorphosing in an interesting “sign of the times” direction in 1965. The liberal arts college had been a safe, Catholic alternative to more worldly schools and was often a place where parents sent wayward kids for moral improvement. Like Sarah, nabbed for selling pot at her California high school.
Well, the ‘60s were already underway in some unlikely places, like totally out-of-the-way Mt. Angel College, in 1965. And of course sending young people there who were already weirdos and discontents only hastened the process by which the inmates overran the asylum. Early hippie students and offbeat teachers (especially in the art department) lured straighter types into this obscure locus of the just-emerging “counter-culture.” By 1968, the institution’s president would be defrocked for siding with students against Benedictine authority. Already, in temporary exile in Oregon, it began to seem to me that a new day was arriving. In any case, it was a generally fun, healing place to be, just when I really needed it.
Meanwhile, starting just before I dropped out in early ‘65, something new was under way in the Bay Area environs near Stanford. It was at this time, in Berkeley, that the first large-scale anti-Vietnam War protest took place. A very dramatic evening march with a sadly anti-climatic ending.
Thousands of us streamed along down
Telegraph Avenue, heading for the Oakland Army depot on San Francisco Bay. The aim was to proceed south through Berkeley, west through Oakland, all the way to the base, and then interfere with its operations. Most of the supplies fueling the war were being shipped from that particular arms depot.
We drew up to Ashby Avenue, next to the Berkeley-Oakland boundary, and stopped. Across the intersection of Telegraph and Ashby were hundreds of Oakland cops, a large phalanx of pigs in riot gear, barring our way.
Various speakers discussed this impasse, stressing the need to move forward anyway. The mood of the crowd grew stronger in response to the challenge we faced. Grew equal to the fear we felt, and then some.
But at this crucial point, Ken Kesey got to the makeshift podium and began playing “Home on the Range” on a harmonica. Slow and plaintive, the tune served to deflate the resolve of the thousands of protestors. And the march was simply called off. There was some announcement about meeting the next day, as I recall, but the evening’s showdown was over. The main thrust of the ensuing commentary was that cooler and wiser heads had prevailed. No one was hurt; common sense and nonviolence had overcome temporary passion.
And within a very few months, the U.S. government had decided on all-out war in Vietnam. An escalating campaign killed upwards of four million Asians over the ensuing ten years.
It didn’t dawn on me until much later that there was very likely a connection between what happened on that night in Berkeley early in 1965 and the course of genocidal war in Southeast Asia. Foreign policy may have hinged on the protest that didn’t happen. Public response to war is generally a key factor to be reckoned with, and what occurred in Berkeley was token resistance, at best. Since no real opposition was expected, the authorities had no political reason to hold back.
If we had gone forward, people would have been hurt, almost certainly. Some might even have been killed. But the government might well have decided that serious resistance could be expected if it moved forward with a greatly intensified war.
In other words, we failed that night, and millions died. All the ritual peacenik demos of the ‘60s and early ‘70s failed. The war ended in 1975 because Vietnamese kept fighting and because American troops began refusing to fight. The route of serious resistance at home was ruled out very early on.
After my time off in Oregon, at Mt. Angel College (it felt mainly like time off, in that relaxed, small-town bohemia), I returned to Stanford in the fall of ‘65 to do my last two terms. “The Farm” was the same stodgy, isolated place it had always been, but by this time something was definitely in the air. Stanford was catching up with Mt. Angel, and the Haight Ashbury and Berkeley were now in high gear, if you’ll pardon the pun.
The one outrageous scene wasn’t on campus—big surprise—but in adjacent Palo Alto and East Palo Alto. Ken Kesey and fellow partyers including Neal Cassidy (soon to be called the Merry Pranksters), the Grateful Dead (a local band that had been known until recently as the Warlocks), and LSD, a new, defenses-melting drug, combined in all-night phenomena advertised as Acid Tests. (“Can You Pass the Acid Test?”)
With a couple of friends who were more in the know, I attended an Acid Test in a vintage ex-roller rink. We opened some swinging doors and the first thing I saw was Neal Cassidy, standing nearby with a microphone in his mouth, having several simultaneous conversations with people who weren’t there. I backed out of the doors in a hurry, having stumbled onto full-out insanity. After a few short look-ins, coming inside briefly but staying near the front entrance, I got used to the prevailing madness. I wasn’t ready yet to sample the acid Kool-Aid, but enjoyed the daring zone of anti-normality, including a slide show by Kesey, “America Needs Indians.”
A few months later I went to L.A. for an Acid Test in a large pornography film studio on Pico street. In the morning we drove out to the beach, and I saw snowmen on all the lawns and an aircraft carrier up ahead of us on the freeway. We collapsed on the sand and woke up many hours later, badly sunburned.
I even had a course or two that I actually enjoyed, with the finish line coming into view. A degree in political science is surely a monument to wasted time, but I remember a substantial seminar on marxism, and I began to delve more into history, which should have been my major all along—a better chance to learn some content.
In my final term I lucked into a colloquium on the Russian Revolution, taught by none other than the head of the provisional government in 1917, Alexander Kerensky. Premier between the fall of the Czar in March and the Bolshevik takeover in October, he was now an elderly gentleman, his white hair crew-cut. He was also, not too surprisingly, quite passionate about his fall from power and the “unprincipled” tactics of his successful rival Lenin. Sitting next to him at a screening of Eisenstein’s classic silent film, “Ten Days That Shook the World,” I watched him in profile as much as I watched the film. In a pivotal scene, the crowd breaks into the palace; the actor playing Kerensky appears on a grand staircase, first running up and then running down, a symbol of his political vacillation in the face of contending social forces. Sitting in the dark in early 1966, almost 40 years after that momentous day, Kerensky watched, agitated and upset, reliving his own history.
I graduated at the end of winter term and the April 1 date on my A.B. degree was not completely lost on me. By then, the ‘50s were finally at an end and things were beginning to get crazy, especially in the Bay Area. I recall an episode one evening in nearby Menlo Park before I left Stanford. In a car with Neal Cassidy and a classmate who was a friend of his, we pulled into a gas station, where Neal jumped out to deal with the high-school-age attendant. He popped the hood, went around checking the tires, climbed in and out of the car, while feverishly bombarding the kid with comments and questions, including a complicated query about green stamps (a promotional giveaway of the day). The attendant’s mouth was agape and he was probably as freaked as I had been upon my first encounter with Cassidy. He moved slowly backward, broke into a run, and fled into the night down a side street. Our mad driver concluded that green stamps would not be forthcoming and drove off, gasoline on the house.
I returned to Oregon and got a job washing dishes in a big retirement complex near Portland. With the troop buildup in Vietnam heading toward half a million, the draft was nailing everyone in sight. Without my student deferment, it was clear that official greetings would be in the mail within a month or two.
No thanks to Stanford, I’d become increasingly aware of the repressive and destructive nature of the reigning system, and was by now totally opposed to the Vietnam war. Two friends and I pledged that we’d go to Mexico together should we pass the draft board physical.
At the Selective Service center in Portland that spring of 1966, the three of us were more than a little worked up. In fact, I’d gotten drunk and overturned my VW into a ditch a few nights before. Luckily, the passengers and myself were not injured.
John and I played the physical as a kind of psychodrama, with emphasis on the psycho. John as a crazed, manic weirdo, me as a virtually catatonic weirdo. (In less than a year the induction centers would be a lot more wised up to such fakery.) Ken, who’d had a tree fall on his foot, breaking most of its bones, was fairly quickly sent home. “You can’t march on that. Just have your doctor send us the x-rays,” the Army examiner said. Guess who, some months later and unbeknownst to John and me, ended up in Vietnam.
With a permanent deferment, I promptly returned to California and got a job at the Shell Oil refinery in Martinez, just north of Berkeley. But the work ranged from generally boring to occasionally dangerous, and in a few months I headed for the Haight-Ashbury.
At this point I need to explicitly restrict the scope of this mini-memoir, because I can’t see another way forward with it. In the interest of protecting the privacy of others, this account will avoid most personal relationships. I’ll skirt the pitfalls of saying too little or too much about others—and, I must admit, the pitfall of how to honestly acquit myself in an area of great importance. Certain people have meant a lot to me personally, and still do.
1966 was the banner year for the fabled Haight-Ashbury neighborhood of San Francisco. On block after square block, suddenly there were hippies everywhere. LSD, free rock music, instant camaraderie…. A new scene was booming, change was definitely in the air. People were partying and laughing at the old world. Kesey and the Pranksters had moved up the Peninsula from the Stanford environs; Kesey had been busted twice for pot and failed to appear in court. Conforming to the spirit of the Haight, he would appear in adjacent Golden Gate Park in outrageous disguises to thumb his nose at the many cops—including FBI—who were after him. So many knew it was him, but the heat was in the dark; quite hilarious, even though he was caught fairly soon, driving in a car on a Bay Area freeway.
Dropouts were arriving from all over and the place was becoming quite the exotic tourist attraction. A showdown of sorts came on Easter weekend, 1967. City Hall decided that bus service was to be diverted from Haight Street to the streets on either side of it, apparently to better accommodate the almost bumper-to-bumper traffic of “straights” driving through to gawk at the colorful inhabitants. It was pretty clear that the choice was to acquiesce to this policy or to defend the Haight as a liberated zone.
Only a handful of us showed up to block traffic and oppose the increased-traffic plan. Hippies, then as now, proved passive rather than resistant, and the fate of the ‘hood was sealed. The heyday of Haight-Ashbury was over, and in rather short order a joyful, expansive spirit was replaced by a large-scale “back to the land” retreat and a sharp rise in the use of non-psychedelic hard drugs among those remaining. Berkeley, on the other hand, was still coming on, as a very politicized center of anti-war organizing and other increasingly militant directions. In late summer ‘66 I got arrested at a big, stupid “civil disobedience” anti-war demo and spent 15 days in the Contra Costa County jail. This was the first and last time I was lame enough to present myself to be arrested.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. Before the end of the year, I’d run out of money and taken a job as a public welfare caseworker for the City and County of San Francisco. At age 23, I was still just beginning to think about how the world ran and what I could do about it. The four years I spent at the Department of Social Services were to prove, as they say, a learning experience.
In fact, an experience of some consequence happened soon after I took the job. I happened to work in the vicinity of a guy who was about to retire—a quiet old lifer named Donnelly who’d never uttered a peep against the workings of the welfare system. At ten minutes to 5:00 p.m. on his very last day, he was given the boot. Incredible as it sounds, the downtown brass fired him at the last moment, so as to avoid paying his retirement pension.
Not too surprisingly, there was an enormous uproar. It was an unbelievable outrage, especially now that “the Sixties”—that part of the decade that tried to count for something—was now showing up. The union, a local of the Services Employees International (SEIU), always beloved by liberals, said that nothing could be done, and refused to make any effort on Donnelly’s behalf. This was a classic instance of the collusion and corruption of unions in general.
Virtually overnight, an independent union was formed. A militant, do-it-yourself outfit, hated by Organized Labor as much as by City Hall. It was exciting and instructive to be a part of this wide-open experiment in radical democracy. We decided against having any paid organizers or officers, and rejected signing any contract with the City and County. Membership would be strictly voluntary, ruling out the possibility of a “closed shop” arrangement in which union dues become an automatic paycheck deduction. I served as vice-president in 1967 and president in 1968. Our union—sedately named the Social Services Employees Union—came to encourage members to invent positions according to their agitational interests and then “run” for election to the new positions as a kind of ratifying process. Dues were whatever amount an individual chose to contribute. SSEU militants drew up an organizers’ manual intended to encourage a prairie fire of constant challenges to the authority of the welfare bureaucracy. Workers—caseworkers, clerks, public hospital employees—were invited, for example, to file endless grievances, through a process designed to spread participation with unlimited assistance and open testimony. All negotiations were designed to be transparent, with every concession merely an opening to further demands. We constantly exposed the logic of public policy as repressive control of poor people, and the police role of Organized Labor in its parallel control of employees.
Early on, we held a public meeting with Emmet Grogan and the Diggers, to explore possible common round in the area of radically-based social services. But we found very little commonality. Our organizing-on-the-job approach didn’t appeal to the Diggers, who were free-wheeling drop-outs.
The ultimate goal was to destabilize the system from the inside and to achieve an alliance between welfare workers and welfare recipients. We failed, misreading our possibilities for spontaneous action in general and our role as paid agents of government in particular. A rare example of connection occurred when the bureaucracy tried to fire a very active union militant. Scores of public assistance clients showed up at City Hall and turned the tide, saving Charley’s job. But without an explicit critique of the overall setup, SSEU was fated to play a reformist, if noisy part; similarly, there was no convincing reason why our welfare clients should find themselves working with us.
But for a time, we felt we’d discovered a liberating “third way,” steering between an inherently complicit unionism and the various groupings of authoritarian marxism, so prevalent in the ‘60s. Journalists would get the word and excitedly write feature stories about our experimental effort. Not a single story was published, however, demonstrating what we saw as a kind of contemporary fascism. Government, unions, and business united against this kind of independent activity. We tried to spread our little contagion to other, mainly white-collar workplaces, and did get asked for organizing advice. A couple of times, the Black Panthers sought our help in terms of members who drove buses and cable cars. For all the Panthers’ militant courage in the streets, they were at a loss in terms of protecting themselves on the job. All these experiences tended to encourage our workerist illusions.
SSEU was what I mainly did from late 1966 to early 1971, with occasional weekend rioting across the Bay in Berkeley during ‘68 and ‘69. As time went on in the Department of Social Services, my (unpaid, of course) union role more and more outstripped my caseworker role, and organizing began to feel problematic in itself. I was increasingly bothered by what seemed like a fatal flaw inherent in the organizing mode. I still feel that organizing entails trying to get people to do things without fully revealing the program, vision, or agenda that’s behind the organizing. Of course, if there’s no transcendent radical orientation and goal behind the effort, then it’s just reform, pure and simple. But if there is a radical goal, more or less hidden, then how can the organizing activity not be seen as inherently manipulative?
During most of this period, it had seemed to me that unless one had a job there could be no leverage on society. Action in the streets, however militant and dangerous, was misplaced, could not have much effect. But this outlook was losing its appeal for me. Transparency was becoming a more important factor, as I thought about ways to try to overturn the dominant order. In this sense, some of the ideas of the Situationists had a big effect on my thinking, from the time I first learned about them, around 1970. Their no-holds-barred critiques of the many varieties of leftism appealed to me in a big way. I was never in full accord with all their theses, but the non-manipulative, up-front quality of the Sits was instantly refreshing.
The radical, often visionary outlook of the Situationist International did not, alas, reach the U.S. (and the West coast in particular) in time to influence “The Movement” much at all. Similarly, the radical women’s movement didn’t arrive until 1969, too late to have a chance to deepen and enlighten the ‘60s. As for the anarchists, I’m not aware that they played more than a very slight role. Anarchists seemed pretty invisible, their activities usually confined to the archaic, mini-bureaucratic realm of the IWW. These anarcho-syndicalists were characteristically uncritical of unionism, the prevailing leftism, and other impediments to revolution. They seemed virtually unaware of the global wave of opposition during the ‘60s.
In the early 1970s I took notice of how much organizing I’d been doing and also, how much writing. The writing was mostly about the deeply collaborationist nature of unions, their key role in a state/business/organized labor system that is designed to freeze out independent, potentially radical modes of activitiy. Mainly via their legally binding labor-management contracts and strictly bureaucratic structures, unions enforce and legitimate the conditions and the very existence of wage labor. Coinciding with the height of my interest in this subject arose a much-publicized “revolt against work” phenomenon. Suddenly a spate of articles appeared that acknowledged widespread absenteeism, employee turnover, sabotage, drug use on the job, wildcat strikes, etc. A kind of non-political or underground resistance seemed to have replaced the public radicalism of the ‘60s. A more explicit kind of underground opposition was also present at this time, exemplified by groups like the Black Liberation Army and Weather Underground.
In early 1971 I began graduate studies in U.S. history at San Francisco State, earning an M.A. degree the following year. This was chiefly a way to pursue my research/ writing interests and to indulge my own aversion to work. “Organized Labor and the Revolt Against Work” was published in a 1973 issue of the radical theory journal Telos.
After a month or so in Europe, I enrolled at the University of Southern California in the fall of ‘72. This mediocre place was adequate for my purposes, and it was primarily my own labor studies/social control topics that I pursued there until 1975. Approaching the completion of a Ph.D. program and having never intended to become a professor, it was time to move on. During the last two years at USC I had been a teaching assistant, a job whose light duties offered free tuition and office space. In fact, my failure to be properly obsequious in the feudal game of prostrating oneself before an all-powerful doctoral committee of “superiors” had placed me increasingly on their shit list, as I discovered. Just before I took the two weeks of written qualifying exams required for Ph.D. candidacy, I was told that my assistantship would not be renewed for the following year. Every professor I’d worked for had allegedly had problems with me. Since none of them had every expressed dissatisfaction to me personally, I concluded that this move was simply intended to mess me up during the exams that were to commence the next day. I passed the exams and resigned, expressing my contempt in a flippant postcard to the chairman of my committee.
There was a little problem of about $13,000 (mainly in student loans), but at that time debt could be disposed of easily. With the help of some kind of “people’s law services” in Echo Park, I filed for bankruptcy on the entire amount. Redfaced with anger, the judge demanded to know what would happen if everyone were to do the same, what of the deserving poor, etc. We both knew he had no choice but to sign away what I owed. In the elevator going downstairs from the courtroom, my people’s lawyer expressed some agreement with the judge’s attitude. If there had been any doubt, that remark made it a certainty that he wasn’t going to be paid either.
So ended three years in L.A. Returning to San Francisco in 1975, it was clear that the days of contestation were not only gone, but were unlikely to return anytime soon. I continued to publish in Telos off an on during the ‘70s, and thanks to Fredy Perlman I discovered and began a relationship with Fifth Estate of Detroit before the end of ‘75. Writing, drinking a lot, getting by on short-term jobs, unemployment benefits, a few small-time scams.
I was also thinking about what the ‘60s meant—how far the movement did and didn’t go, why it ended—questions along those lines. My work had become more history- and theory-oriented, as can happen when contemporary reality becomes less promising. Exploring the roots of unionism, I discovered the luddite revolts and delved into early industrial capitalism. The idea that the factory system arose in large part to corral and subdue a dispersed and autonomous population was a big revelation, and led to further questions about technology. If a mode of production initiated in the late 18th century had, built-in, a social control intentionality, where else was this kind of dimension also present? I began to consider that perhaps technology is never neutral, that it expresses or embodies the values desired by a dominant group.
1977 was the year of the original punk rock explosion in San Francisco, imported from its birth in the U.K. about a year earlier. No one thought its vehemence was the rebirth of the ‘60s, but it occasioned an exciting outburst of nihilist energy. Punk might be thought of as a kind of aftershock of the ‘60s quake, although many punkers were explicitly contemptuous of that earlier scene (especially of hippies). The first blast of raw, angry punk was bracing as hell, and some went further than music performance. For instance, a small bunch went up to Pacific Heights more than once to bash new Mercedes, BMWs, and the like with chains and metal bars. More characteristic, of course, were the drug O.D.s that occurred all along, even during the 1977 heyday, as well as later.
By early ‘78 the initial rush was over, particularly for the more political types like myself who secretly hoped that punk might actually re-ignite significant resistance. Sixties illusions and groundless idealism were effectively dead and the new defiance of punk went deeper, even with its cynical overlay. Or so it seemed for a season.
By this time alcohol had become a serious problem for me, adversely affecting my relationships (that’s putting it euphemistically) and bringing the writing pretty much to a stop. At the end of the decade I’d been kicked out of a group household for stupid, drunken behavior and was living with some illegals in a Mission district flat furnished with broken castoffs. I suppose the latter was appropriate, given that I’d helped burn the furniture where I lived before, for no known reason. During the next couple of years I routinely drank myself into blackout states, with killer hangovers and zero memory of the nights before. My only steady income came from selling my plasma twice a week.
Meanwhile, San Francisco was becoming less and less tolerable. Both the rents and the number of insane people wandering the streets were on the rise. So many people in the Bay Area, but no-one, apparently, fighting the ugly, lying system. My friend Joe was doing a life term at Folsom, and I was never far from feelings of impotent rage over that. In an evasive effort to curb my drinking I ended up completely hooked on tranquilizers, needing more and more of them and still not drinking less. In short, I was a mess.
March 1981, I moved back to Oregon. In the Portland Greyhound station I saw a crowd gathering around a black man who was holding a very small portable TV and chuckling. The news was coming in that Reagan had been shot. Nearby, a contingent of Oregon State University students were preparing to board their bus to Corvallis. I could hear outright laughter and joking about the shooting among members this group. They were bound for a campus known as fairly conservative, at a moment when it wasn’t clear whether Reagan was dead or alive.
That spring and summer I worked in Newport, on Oregon’s central coast, first at a shrimp cannery and then as a waiter. One weekend some friends from Seattle visited me and a stray comment, not pursued at the time, registered and got under my skin. As we drove to a lake to go swimming, someone said, “I don’t think the term revolution has meaning anymore.” My unspoken reaction was twofold: I didn’t like hearing that, and I knew for some reason that it was true.
As noted above, I’d already been doing some historical exploring of the role of technology in society. My friend’s comment deepened the questioning and also brought contemporary radical practice into my research. His remark implied that the efforts of the ‘60s just weren’t deeply oriented enough to have qualified as liberatory. “Revolution” now seemed inadequate, and I was challenged by the question of what would go far enough.
Back in Los Angeles, in the mid-‘70s, I had put out flyers that sported the name “Upshot” and an Echo Park P.O. box address. This was influenced by our SSEU habit of daily agitational leaflets, and by critiques that the Situationists embodied in their pamphlets. Sometimes one or two other people helped with the Upshot flyers, and the practice had persisted in San Francisco during the second half of the decade. I resumed creating flyers on my own after moving to Eugene in the fall of 1981.
Library facilities at the University of
Oregon constituted the main reason for the move, the better to pursue answers to various questions about the depth of alienated society and what a dis-alienated world might consist of. On a more prosaic level, my main source of income continued to be twice-weekly visits to the local plasma center. My own alienation was underlined as I stood in line early one morning waiting for the center to open. A woman in an expensive car, stopped at a traffic light, looked at our disreputable ranks with evident disgust. I remember feeling pleased to be standing where I was, not part of the terrorized-by-consumer-goods class.
The early ‘80s were a take-off point for high-tech developments, especially computerization in general, and the appearance of personal computers in particular. New and grandiose predictions from the Artificial Intelligence people seemed emblematic of a new stage of estrangement and dehumanization, succinctly expressed by AI pioneer Marvin Minsky’s pronouncement that “the brain is a three-pound computer made of meat.” It was hard not to notice that social existence was being rapidly technified as a key part of growing estrangement. We were becoming more and more separated from the natural world, each other, and even our own experience.
It began to occur to me that the sense of time, and time as a cultural dimension, were fundamental to the development of this massive alienation. I spent most of 1982 exploring time as a fairly exact measure of alienation, appearing and developing in tandem with it. According to anthropologists, humans once lived in the present, with little or no consciousness of that very elusive thing we call time. How is it that we are now so ruled by time, as some kind of external, almost palpable presence over our consciousness? Time seems to be the first form of estrangement. The separation from the now that has grown so markedly that our lives are much more past and future than present to us.
When I didn’t have to work, the U of O library was my haunt, seven days a week at times. At this time I began to see what a paradigm shift had occurred, during the past couple of decades, in how anthropologists and archaeologists viewed the state of humankind before agriculture. Though Homo species had been around for more than two million years, the “breakthrough” had happened only 10,000 years ago, with the domestication of animals and plants. And the overall picture of humans before agriculture had long portrayed a precarious, violent, benighted existence. Outside of civilization (which quickly followed once we had achieved domestication), life had been, in Hobbes’ famous dictum, “nasty, brutish, and short.”
The new view is a virtual reversal of that general outlook. The literature and its supporting evidence have established gatherer-hunter human life—99 percent of our span as Homo—as one of ample leisure time, no organized violence, a strong degree of gender autonomy and equality, and healthy, varied, robust lives. In broadest overview, this is what is taught now in Anthropology 101. Scholars who used to ask, “Why did it take our ancestors so long to adopt agriculture?” now wonder, “Why did they ever do it?”
We’ve always known what followed the trading in of a foraging lifeway for that of farming: war, private property, subjugation of women, ecological destruction, and the state, to name a few results. Now we see what preceded it and what a horrible bargain it was, and continues to be. The logic of domestication is ever clearer, as civilization demonstrates its destructive impacts on every level from the personal to the biospheric.
Five years of the 1980s were taken up with essays on time, language, number, art, and agriculture, published in Fifth Estate. They all deal with origins of our present imprisonment, whose foundation may be traced to the intertwined advance of division of labor and symbolic culture, leading to and extending domestication. These explorations were published in Elements of Refusal (Seattle: Left Bank Books, 1988) and are much of the basis for Future Primitive (Brooklyn: Autonomedia, 1994).
In the mid-‘80s “Upshot” became
“Anti-Authoritarians Anonymous,” flyers and posters by Dan and myself. In that era of retrenchment and reaction, almost no radical activity could be found. We had to content ourselves with cultural critique, often employing the detourning of ads and other public images, and ridiculing the pious nonsense of the local pacifists. We didn’t exactly rouse the populace to insurrection, but it was nice to find out that our broadsides came to adorn a few folks’ walls.
Quiet times, but in addition to writing projects and the AAA flyers I enjoyed a growing and far-flung correspondence. Thanks to wonderful Alice, I was able to stop the alcohol abuse. It was also good to come to have a closer tie with my family, beginning about this time. Not only just the moving back to Oregon in 1981, but especially a rapprochement with my conservative father. He’d been burned by Nixon’s Watergate debacle and more or less concluded that the political system—including Social Security—didn’t have much of a future. He was now less inclined to condemn my shirker, non-commercially-viable ways. Some do “mellow with age,” and it was apparent that he enjoyed my visits. In the ‘90s it would also be evident, to dust off another clicheé, that the child becomes parent to the parents. My sister, living next door to them, a hundred miles closer, shouldered far more of the responsibility for them in their last years. But a basically close family drew closer, and after our parents’ deaths my sister and I have drawn still nearer each other.
If the first half of the
1960s are more properly thought of as part of the dreaded Fifties, the first half of the ‘90s belonged to the dead zone of the preceding decade. These were the years of Milli Vanilli, the Waco inferno, Kurt Cobain’s suicide, the O.J. Simpson trial, and the high-water mark of postmodern cynicism and collaboration. There was also the L.A. rising in 1992, and the end of Apartheid in South Africa the year before, but overall American life seemed to embody the continuing stasis of a too-slowly rotting culture. The fall of the state capitalist Soviet Union in 1990 gave market capitalism a boost toward a more global, closed system. The penetration of capital into new spheres of daily life paralleled a colonization that was being speeded up all over the world with technology, as ever, its close partner. Not only do Cyberspace and Virtual Reality express avoidance and denial in terms of what was and is being obliterated of nature and direct experience. They also represent new realms for domination itself. A growing misogyny is perhaps the ugliest, worsening aspect of a society that is becoming increasingly separated from the authenticity of direct accountability.
In the mid-‘90s the wind began to turn and instances of resistance cropped up, including the dramatic appearance of the Zapatista movement in southern Mexico and the seemingly unstoppable “Unabomber” attacks on various people bringing on the Brave New World.
I’d moved across town in ‘83 from the
University area to the Whiteaker, Eugene’s oldest and only diverse neighborhood. In fact, I’ve lived on or within a half block of 4th and Adams, and have been part of a 22-household housing co-op there since late 1987. The fact that it is essentially run by women is such a big plus in terms of meetings and other interactions—the main reason, it occurs to me, why I’ve stayed involved for so long.
Nearby, Icky’s Tea House (1993-97) was the site of the first stirrings of resistance in the ‘hood. Aside from some of the frequent punk music shows there, virtually everything was free, including a bike repair corral, lending library, and weekly film evenings. Copwatch was born there, and a benefit for Ted Kaczynski was held in May, 1996. Icky’s was an anti-commercial haven for various folks who didn’t feel at home in the prevailing work-pay-die ethos. The cops increasingly harassed the place, aided decisively by a local liberal columnist and the liberal owner of a neighborhood natural food grocery. The latter campaigned furtively to pressure the building’s owner to sever Icky’s lease and to cause the last-minute veto of a grant from a church. Good ol’ Icky’s went under after four years, victim of the surrounding pig culture and some of its enforcers.
The Unabomber became very big news in 1995, following his last fatal parcel. It had been sent to Gilbert Murray of Sacramento, head of public relations for the clear-cutting of the remaining forests in the Western states. The New York Times determined that my writings were quite similar to the critique of technology ideas being expressed in Unabomber public statements. I agreed to talk with a reporter about the nature of technology, its deeply negative logic, etc. The result was a longish, early May piece in the Times that ended the obscurity in which I’d operated.
The authorities’ futile efforts to end the by-then seventeen-year stretch of bombings by the Unabomber (a name jointly conferred by the FBI and the media) made headlines in the summer of ‘95. I got the impression that I was among the suspects that season when my mail was interfered with for some weeks, and my house was burglarized. Several letters that I knew were sent to me never arrived, and the break-in resulted in the removal of only two items: my address book and a pair of fairly old sneakers.
In the fall the
Washington Post published “Industrial Society and its Future,” the so-called “Unabomber Manifesto.” In essence, the essay demonstrates that the progress of technological society means less and less freedom and fulfillment for the individual. Federal authorities recommended the release of this extremely cogent 30,000-word treatise, following its author’s promise to suspend his bombing campaign if it was made widely available. Ted Kaczynski’s brother David snitched on him to the FBI after noting strong similarities between Ted’s writings and “Industrial Society”; he was arrested in April ‘96 at his tiny Montana cabin.
Our correspondence soon commenced and I first visited him, at the Sacramento County Jail, one year later. There were no fewer than three members of his legal team present at our visit, and enroute I was asked to try to persuade him to accept their version of an insanity defense. Amazed at such a request, I ignored it. Between April ‘97 and Ted’s sentencing in May 1998, we had four encounters. I would take the overnight AMTRAK and go to his Federal Defenders’ offices for a legal escort to the jail. Ted’s lawyers, headed by Quinn Denvir and Judy Clarke, told me that a lawyer’s presence was necessary to secure the privacy of visits. Only later it became clear that the primary consideration wasn’t so much to make sure that we couldn’t be overheard by the authorities as it was for the lawyers to monitor and police our interactions.
I found Kaczynski very sharp and unassuming, with a sense of humor. His comments and questions always seemed appropriate and spontaneous, though at times he could be a bit formal. Facing the death penalty and always with legal accompaniment, the situation in terms of visits wasn’t ideal for free and relaxed communication. But it wasn’t only our similar ideas about technology that made for some pre-established rapport. Although we discussed very little about our family histories, we shared some personal background that probably contributed to our speaking a common language. Of Slavic heritage, we’d both grown up in the pro-math and science Sputnik era and as kids made bombs with our chemistry sets. We were bright achievers who later turned our backs on academe, pursuing “independent study.” In fact, we each had younger brothers who were social workers, and fathers who succumbed to cancer.
During the summer of ‘97, with Ted’s trial set to begin in the fall, I began to feel some of the mounting pressure. More than obviously, the real heat was on him; but quite willingly, I’d gotten pulled into the pre-trial drama—without benefit of being really included. With a stroke, it seemed, the Unabomber critique had opened a new era of possibility, and this was and is of enormous importance to me. More to the point, there was a specific life on the line, a person I was getting to know, involving a heavy emotional identification. My problem was that I was in the dark as to what role I really had in his defense. At times it seemed that he was relying on me for something, but weeks of silence might follow an intense letter, with occasional, but sometimes cryptic phone calls from his lawyers, which never clarified things.
A related frustration had to do with the desire a few of us had to try to campaign on his behalf, mainly by drawing attention to the cogent ideas of “Industrial Society and its Future.” Lydia in Boston had used a semi-serious “Unabomber for President” effort in ‘96 to draw attention to critical Unabomber theses, and a scattered handful of us were in touch, wanting to expand pro-Ted efforts. The defense attorneys had made it clear that they were opposed to politicizing the case, as if that dimension of it wasn’t already entirely obvious. So I saw Ted in August and made the pitch for his permission to go ahead in that direction. His response, not what we’d hoped to hear, echoed the larger dilemma of the case. He said something like, “Wow, that sounds good. I hope you can persuade my lawyers!”
Jury selection began in November, and when Ted entered the courtroom for the first time he nodded to me, precipitating a minor stampede of reporters my way during morning recess. “Who are you?” “Do you know Kaczynski?” etc. I said nothing and was shielded by a junior member of the legal team, my anonymity remaining intact. Through the second floor window of the Sacramento federal courthouse, I looked out on a block-long row of press tents and satellite dishes of the national and international press corps.
A flurry of expected motions and counter-motions next brought the trial itself into view as the end of 1997 loomed. December revealed the essence of what had been going on behind the scenes for some time, ably told, by the way, in Bill Finnegan’s March 16, 1998 New Yorker article, “Defending the Unabomber.” Ted’s federal defender lawyers were anti-death penalty liberals, whose entire focus was saving his life. It seems that the feds had promptly reneged on the FBI promise of a year and a half earlier to David Kaczynski (dubbed “the Unasquealer” by David Letterman), to not seek the death penalty if he would betray his brother. In pursuit of their objective the lawyers finessed Kaczynski along, keeping him in the dark by controlling all access to outside reality and denying that they were really fashioning an insanity defense. That they were lying to him began to become quite apparent when their almost daily comments to the press belied this entirely, while he was doing everything he could to prove his sanity and thus the meaning or necessity of the Unabomber actions. Ted’s lawyers, by this point, were constantly portraying their client to the reporters as delusional and paranoid schizophrenic.
Into January the defense strategy was rather openly a race to the wire, the lawyers’ effort to hold onto an insanity orientation up to the decisive point in the trial before Kaczynski figured out what they were really doing in his name. By this time, various media types could see what was happening. Before each day’s proceedings some of them would even call out cynical taunts to Denvir and Clarke: “Got control of him?” One could see their anger, as illusions faded away. Judge Burrell made it clear that he saw Ted as quite sane, offering his judgment on one occasion, in camera, that the attorney’s client had a better grasp of the case than they did.
Finally it began to dawn on
Kaczynski that the lawyers had not been truthful, and he started to rethink his trusting reliance on them. I had been loathe to volunteer my impressions and doubts, which admittedly had been slow in forming. And mail to Ted was always routed through his lawyers’ office; by this time I suspected that they were keeping some letters from him. As with visits, the mail needed the legal transit for “security reasons”; this guaranteed the lawyers’ control over what Ted could discuss or read.
He now phoned me on occasion, mainly to ask me to help him connect with radical San Francisco lawyer Tony Serra, though he was hesitant about firing the lawyers he’d depended upon for so long. Serra told me to let Ted know that it was urgent for him to fire the lawyers; the time to make such a move was running out. Serra’s office set up a 24-hour phone line to receive word from me about what Ted decided, in case he couldn’t communicate directly.
In mid-January 1998, the clock did indeed run out for Ted. He tried to sack his lawyers in favor of Serra, and when that was denied asked to be permitted to represent himself. The judge ruled that it was too late for either course, and further decreed that the trial would go forth not only with his present representation, but also with their insanity argument as his defense.
What Ted most feared had come to pass: he and his thinking would be portrayed to the world as crazy. After a failed suicide attempt, he accepted a plea agreement of life in prison for an admission of guilt. Further humiliation was avoided and his life was spared, at the cost of not being allowed to establish that he was not a madman.
In terms of my own minor role in all this, something happened about a month earlier that “outed” me a good deal more than the May ‘95 New York Times article had done. At the beginning of December, Ted asked me to arrange for Christine Craft to visit him. She was a writer for the Sacramento Weekly who had been in court every day and whose accounts, often critical of the way the defendant was being treated, impressed him.
called and got her excited assent to the prospect of a visit. I told her to contact the Federal Defenders office if her name wasn’t on his visitors’ list at the jail, and that they would assist her. She got a runaround for days going into weeks and finally received the word that the lawyers weren’t going to permit her to see Ted. Of course, this was transpiring as the attorneys focused on holding in place their deception concerning the insanity plea, at a critical juncture in the proceedings. They weren’t about to let her possibly blow their control over him via his direct access to media.
Christine was phoning me several nights a week to recount her frustration, while at the same time the lawyers were working hard to poison Ted’s opinion of her. They portrayed her as a scheming, publicity-seeking snoop with no legitimate interest in him.
Late in the month when it had been made clear that no visit was going to happen, Ms. Craft decided to do a story anyway and tell, among other things, her tale of being denied the chance to speak with Ted Kaczynski. I felt, as Ted had initially, that she was a very fair-minded, responsible individual and that she was obviously entitled to do a piece on what had been going on. But she needed to be able to include the part about being invited to see him, how that came about. This included me, and meant that her end-of-December Sacramento Weekly article brought a deluge of media attention my way. Having really very few other connections to Kaczynski, journalists flocked to my house and phoned at all hours for a while. I didn’t talk to any of them until the plea agreement was reached a month later.
Several months previously I had arranged, through the Cultural Forum of the Associated Students of the University of Oregon, to give a talk on campus in late January 1998. It turned out that the event took place just a few days after the front page news of the plea agreement. During those few days I’d talked with media folks locally, which brought major free publicity to the talk and necessitated two successive changes to larger-capacity campus venues.
More than 500 people showed up for my comments on the nature and direction of technology. It’s possible that some were disappointed by my avoidance of any “What’s the Unabomber really like?”-type material. However, I ended the speech with the suggestion that there might be a parallel between Kaczynski and John Brown. Brown made an anti-slavery attack on the federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry, West Virginia in 1859. Like Kaczynski, Brown was considered deranged, but he was tried and hung. Not long afterward he became a kind of American saint of the abolitionist movement. I offered the hope, if not the prediction, that T.K. might at some point also be considered in a more positive light for his resistance to industrial civilization. During the question-and-answer period, a Native American woman and a teenage boy each expressed their respect and admiration for Kaczynski.
The best thing about this campus presentation was that it prompted two young anarchists to visit me some time later. Icky’s was no more, but a new, militant presence was soon at work. Overall, 1998 would see an awakening that continues to grow, and has seemed especially pronounced in Eugene and the Whiteaker neighborhood in particular.
Various repressive responses were soon felt. In fact, they had begun in the neighborhood the preceding fall, when the City closed Scobert Park, ignoring a rough consensus that the community had arrived at through a series of open meetings. The little park was entirely fenced off, but opposition swiftly appeared. Along with signs and banners and folks doing a sleep-in, the fence disappeared during its first night on duty around the park. In the morning it was replaced, and the next night it was once again removed. This went on for a few days until the City gave up. Victory for the neighborhood!
Summer of ‘98 saw local government attempt to cut down about 30 old maple trees along three blocks in the heart of the Whiteaker. This decimation of the area’s loveliest feature would have been a demoralizing blow. At the same time, in a series of secret meetings, a move was underway to bring the federal “Weed and Seed” program to our hotbed of emerging resistance and alternative ways. “Weed and Seed” offers federal money to poor locales in return for permission to crack down on any and all “law-breakers”: weed out the bad elements and get seed funds for, say, a community center. Both of these challenges to the integrity of the neighborhood were loudly rebuffed in no uncertain terms by the solidarity of the residents who would have been affected.
In other words, the resurfacing of opposition to business as usual was met early on by various efforts at counter-attack. But a renewed social movement was quickly developing, and in its militancy was adopting radically new tactics.
In October ‘98 an anti-Nike demonstration crossed the line from respectful symbolic protest to a real, non-legal act. To draw attention to Nike’s already notorious use of sweatshop labor, a standard march and picket at the local outlet proceeded as usual, but the event soon took on a different character. Several people, masked up and wearing black, entered the store and trashed it by breaking a few items and throwing apparel out the door into a fountain below. A bold departure from the old gestures that never seem to show contempt for basics of the work/consume/destroy nature treadmill.
In fact, night-time property damage was fast asserting itself and raising the ante of discussion in Eugene. Targets of political vandalism in the Whiteaker included a natural foods store whose owner worked overtime to close Icky’s Teahouse, the van owned by a cop residing in the neighborhood, and a yuppie restaurant, which to many represented an opening wedge to gentrification (higher rent for poor people). The last place closed after a steady pattern of graphic, hostile acts.
Property destruction, mainly broken windows and spray-painted graffiti, was hotly debated at first but has become more widely accepted and even espoused as a necessary tactic. The same shift has occurred in terms of increasingly militant tactics, seen as a needed escalation against an all-destructive global system of capital and technology. Those of us who know that the reigning setup must be stopped and dismantled have for some time pushed for substantive resistance, and it has certainly grown. From Seattle ‘99 to Prague 2000, Quebec City 2001 and beyond, a strong resolve is in evidence, with “black bloc” and like-minded militancy.
The new level or stage of contestation began to be noticed outside of Eugene. The winter of ‘98-‘99 was marked by continued radical efforts, including the birth of the Black-Clad Messenger, an enduring publication dedicated to indicting the whole trajectory of domination, including its technological and civilization-based logic, and pushing for even stronger responses. A June ‘99 Wall Street Journal article called “Disaffected Youth Dust off a Combustible Philosophy” was a lengthy and scurrilous smear-job, full of inaccuracies, that sought to put the heat on us.
But before the month was out, the spirit of anarchy in Eugene delivered a counter-blow that significantly exceeded what had already gone on. “Reclaim the Streets” on June 18 was a day of worldwide anti-capitalist demonstrations, whose high point occurred in London as thousands occupied part of the city center and disrupted the stock exchange for a few hours. The Eugene edition of RTS began (like the smaller Nike affair eight months earlier) as a rather standard-issue protest gathering, and took a surprising turn. To sum up, about 200 people conducted a roaming riot that went on for almost five hours, with banks and other businesses damaged and the cops repeatedly in retreat. It was a glorious outburst of energy against the Megamachine, although anarchist Rob Thaxton (aka Rob los Ricos), among 18 arrested, was later sentenced to seven years in prison for hitting a heavily armored cop with a rock in defense of himself and a comrade. The anti-World Trade Organization “Battle of Seattle” that got the world’s attention five months later had been prefigured in the streets of little old Eugene, Oregon.
Meanwhile, of course, a movement that is more and more anarchist in orientation goes forward all over the world. And the anarchy scene has itself changed rather fundamentally in recent years, away from the traditional, production/progress-embracing outlook, toward the primitivist critique or vision and its luddite/feminist/ decentralization/anti-civilization aspects.
Certainly no one knows if the side of life, health, and freedom can prevail against a system that has already produced an unprecedented assault on all living beings. The global war on outer nature is matched only by the assault, day after day, upon inner nature; but resistance is waxing in strength and I am extremely hopeful. Increasingly, people see what is at stake and how basic and far-reaching our alternatives need to be. How wonderful it is that after several decades, people are rising to the challenge. Nothing is more excellent than to have the opportunity to be alive in these days and be a part of a marvelous and necessary effort.
These remarks, by the way, are in no way comprehensive. They only skim the surface, mentioning some highlights and leaving out so much, perhaps especially in terms of the richness, diversity, and the conflicts, too, here in the Eugene anarchist community. I will leave it to others to fill in the rest, and correct my judgment or emphasis. Our very future depends, similarly, upon everyone playing their part and making the difference. In closing, I want to express my love to my two daughters. The one I gave so little to but who has never cut me off, and the one who adopted me, as undeserving as I am. The healed world awaits us all.
868 W. 4th
Eugene, Oregon 97402