Tuesday, October 23, 2007

# 54

Met with subject near his Fayetteville home. Born 1949, Michigan

My sister bulldozed the way for me into the 60’s. She is six years older than I. After transferring from Oberlin, a well respected liberal arts college in Ohio., my sister was attending the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, MI., U of M. She got somewhat involved with the civil rights movement while there. My parents, specifically my father, really didn’t like that. Their most discussed fear was the possibility of her getting arrested and what their friends and neighbors would think if they found out about it. My father wanted her to transfer again to a different school. She agreed and decided upon the University of California, Berkeley campus and would pursue an advanced degree in marine biology. At that point in time, Berkeley didn’t have the student activist reputation it was about to develop as the Free Speech Movement (FSM) got going soon after my sister transferred there. She became very involved with the FSM and was arrested several times.

She and I stayed in touch, as best we could. There was a point at which she was banned from coming home or having any communication with any of us -- mostly my father’s doing. She was very intelligent, had worked several summers at Ford Motor Co. where my father had worked for 20+ years and she had received a Ford scholarship to college. Consequently, a lot of my father’s co-workers knew my sister. Through a series of events it had become general knowledge that his daughter had “gone off the deep end”. Much of the details were also general knowledge, i.e. getting arrested, involvement with the FSM, and dating a black man.

One of my last conversations with my father before he had a heart attack and died, we got into a pretty big argument after he admitted to me that he had recently voted for George Wallace for President.

I didn’t see my sister for several years while she lived in California and we were not supposed to be in any communication. She wrote me birthday cards and sent other communication to me via a friend. It is unfortunate that this huge schism in our family was not resolved until after his death.. He died very suddenly of a heart attack in 1968.

As I graduated from high school, I was planning to go into the Air Force. My girlfriend and I were going to get engaged as soon as we were a couple of years into school. I had chosen entering the Air Force because I wanted to learn to fly. It hadn’t occurred to me, when you’re up in those planes, what you drop on the people on the ground. I went to the U of M. too. As I got there, some lights started going on pretty quickly. I had started having conversations with, first, my dad, that quickly got very conflicted and then he died. My mother tried to pick up his torch, but she didn’t feel the same as he did.

When I graduated from high school in 1967, there were two kids in high school that had ever smoked marijuana. Where I was in suburban Detroit, it wasn’t happening yet. That summer the black communities in Detroit and all over the US burst into flames. John Sinclair and the White Panther Party were just moving from their commune in downtown Detroit to Ann Arbor. The Black Panthers and the Black Muslims were just beginning to organize in Detroit and I knew nothing about either of them at that time. My sister told me I should look into a CO [conscientious objector] status -- don’t just register. I remember talking to my high school counselor, and he said, “Oh, CO’s are just for Quakers and other ‘unusual’ religious people -- that’s not for you, you can’t do that -- just get your 2-S deferment”. A 2-S was a deferment to go to school -- and initially, that’s what I did. Then as I got to know people who were involved with setting up a draft counseling center I got interested in helping. They needed people to act as counselors and I went to a training program offered by the American Friends, Quakers. That’s the point when things started to add up very differently for me.

At the same time, I had a lot of good profs and people I got to know personally at the University who were showing me things I’d never seen before. New ideas. Pretty quickly it seemed pretty clear to me that “we”, the US, were making some major mistakes and that we shouldn’t be doing what we were doing. Soon before his death my father had shown me plans of the assembly plant that FoMoCo had planned to put in what was then Saigon. He made it very clear.

He said, “The reason we’re over there is so Ford Motor Company and other people can go over there and exploit cheap labor.”

He didn’t think that was ok -- it was complicated. He wasn’t just this totally crazy right-wing racist. He grew up in a small town in the Upper Peninsula (UP) of Michigan, as did my mother. He had no exposure to blacks, some exposure to Native Americans, who were mostly people who had real serious drinking problems in the UP. He came down to Detroit, this wide-eyed kid, and the guys -- the blacks and the other people that were around Ford’s headquarter’s in Dearborn, MI, Rouge plant, were a rough bunch, common laborers making good money. It was a real rough and tumble environment. He didn’t come into contact with blacks who made the best citizen role model. He got an impression -- and it was hard -- as I got older I started to see. He had just wanted the best for his daughter and saw his daughter doing things that could possibly create problems for her in the future. He didn’t know how to express that very well. He and I actually had had a very good relationship. And most of the time, my sister and he did too. All through school while she lived at home she had toed the line, had been a good little daughter, pulling straight A’s, was popular at school. Earlier I had always heard, ”Why can’t you be more like your sister?” And then all of sudden, “OK, if you want to work on drag race cars and hang out with these motor-head kids -- just don’t get involved with politics or racial issues and civil rights.” So she really broke the ice for me.

I was working at Ford Motor Company during the summers. I was still drag racing. I’d never identified with hippies. Summer of ‘68, after the Summer of Love, my sister was at Golden Gate park -- I didn’t have a clue. I was a motorhead.

But next year as the Vietnam War was raging on, I did get involved with draft counseling as I mentioned earlier. Because I was living in Ann Arbor near Detroit and Canada just across the Detroit River, I soon found myself helping to get AWOL’s out of the country. Helping young fellows my age leave military service and move to Toronto. There was a huge community of people who were deserting the armed forces. I made several runs over there with people. People stayed with me who were AWOL, people who had joined or had been drafted. I heard several young guys say, “Oh my god, what am I doing in this army uniform.” Large numbers of these guys wanted out regardless of the difficulties it would mean for them in the future. We were draft counseling mostly in Detroit and Ann Arbor with AWOLs. The volunteers were committed people working loosely within the American Friend’s service -- networking all over the United States -- a big operation getting people out of the country. We shuttled hundreds into Canada, people, friends, wives.

As I got more involved, I began to change and became more involved with other political activities as well. Students for a Democratic Society, SDS, got started on the U of M campus and I got involved. During this whole period, I was still in school. I transferred into the veterinarian program at Michigan State University, MSU.

I ran into some big problems there -- we were demonstrating to abolish ROTC, working with a small group. We had regular weekly demonstrations at the ROTC building -- maybe a dozen or two people at most -- it was a much less active campus than Ann Arbor. We’d go on radio and do talk shows about why the military should not be allowed to recruit on campus. Then Nixon invaded Cambodia. There was going to be a huge increase in the draft. Then some of these disinterested students on campus got more concerned since now it might be THEIR asses out their in the jungles of Southeast Asia.

By then I had come to the conclusion that I should not continue taking a 2-S deferment and was 1-A. I was really just waiting for my draft notice when I would be leaving school and immigrating to Canada myself

My girlfriend’s mother forbad her from getting on my motorcycle -- I was just a troublemaker -- I was going to wind up in jail or in Canada or both -- a lot of things were changing very quickly.

Then we had another one of our weekly demonstrations at the ROTC building and 1800 people showed up. Two of us had bullhorns as usual -- we hadn’t anticipated so many people -- we saw a parked car, people taking something out of their trunk -- walking toward us – a bullhorn with a BIG amp. Another one of these guys had a box full of stuff -- their bullhorn was massive and they were much louder than we were.

The guy with the bullhorn told us to “Shut up!” They said, “We’ve come from Detroit, we’re from the Hole in the Wall Gang -- it’s time for you to have an option -- instead of being involved with these rinky-dink demonstrations, it’s time to ‘seize the time’ and change the basic operating rules of how demonstrations are going on. Those of you who want to participate in ending the ROTC program, we’re prepared to do that right now.” They then uncovered this box with dozens of Coke bottles filled with gasoline and rags hanging out the tops.

We tried to speak but they were much louder and ignored us. They had obviously decided what to do. This was one of the first “actions” of the Weather Underground -- the ROTC building was badly burned but not destroyed.

The next morning I got called into the dean’s office and he said, “Young man, you’d better transfer from this school, right now. And -- pick a new career, because I’m going to see to it that you never get into another vet school here or in Canada or Europe.”

I did not see it coming but my career plans had been interrupted that afternoon during that demonstration. My life had been permanently altered in a matter of minutes. It was a very radicalizing experience. I tried to explain, “Wait a minute…”

Ignoring me, he went on, “Well, you called the demonstration and you couldn’t control it -- you’re responsible as I see it.” We got called into the police department, the FBI -- the whole thing. His message had been pretty clear so at the end of that semester I transferred, ending back at U of M finally.

I saw people I’d been working with politically burn out. When I finished school, some friends and I started a garage in downtown Detroit to help people learn how to work on cars. I had also helped start the Ann Arbor food coop when I made some major dietary changes and decided to become vegan. What started making sense to me was setting up alternatives to the mainstream. I got involved with the cooperative community and doing things in groups. I lived in a communal situation in Detroit. We taught classes in auto repair. I did engine rebuilding. I was making good money, actually. And I was having a really good time. I grew up a lot in three years from being a sheltered college kid to living in inner city Detroit learning to work with a lot of different kinds of people, different races, gaining respect for people who were able to survive in that kind of environment.

My politics matured. I saw it wasn’t as simple as the black and white issues I might have looked at in college. My mother’s mother had lived with us part of the time and she had introduced me to cooking and baking. As a little kid, I loved it. I had a great time making pizza, making cinnamon rolls -- she had lived in the upper peninsula and worked as the scratch baker and cook in a lumber camp for about forty lumberjacks, cooking all the meals. She taught me a lot. So while I was working at the garage, some friends said they wanted to start a collective bakery. I got into whole grain baking, trained with some people in Lansing I’d had known -- when I left I decided I didn’t want to keep working on cars -- it was like, god, what a backward way to move around -- we had switched over to just working on Volkswagens -- I had completely forsaken my Ford heritage.

I thought it was very likely there would be a severe economic shakeup -- which hasn’t happened yet -- and I also wanted a warmer environment. I was really tired of working on cars with slush dropping on me, my hands cold. This lady I was with was a finish carpenter, and I was a mechanic wanting to get into baking, and we traveled around the country looking at different places, and it came down to flipping a coin between Ashland, Oregon and Fayetteville, Arkansas. That was in ‘74.

I had a friend from Detroit who was teaching chemistry at Kingston High School. He’d been in the Peace Corps and had bought land near Ozark. We came to visit and met some of the people he knew, one old woman who made rugs and I hit it off with all the people. They were friendly, straight forward -- I never liked being in the -- what would you call it -- I’d go to Boulder and be like, oh god -- too much affectation -- and Berkeley was much the same. I felt more comfortable in the backwoods areas like the Ozarks than I did in these chic cities. I continue to feel comfortable with country people. I go down around the Gulf to play around -- this same friend now lives on a sailboat near Biloxi. I run down there with a catamaran I have and going into towns in Alabama or Mississippi I have a good time. And I realize that my being a white boy gives me a lot of privilege that if I were black or a woman could make my experiences very different here in the South -- but there is nothing gained by my beating myself up about that either.

I seem to hit it off fine with people that others would go, oh god, you know -- weren’t you worried they’d hit you with a monkey wrench or something? It was working in Detroit that I learned to be comfortable with the working class. A lot of it comes from what I’ve done because even though I’ve been to school, I’ve ended up working with my hands and doing work that’s blue collar. I’ve done welding, worked as a journeyman electrician -- I’m glad I went to college -- if I hadn’t gone -- I went back to my high school reunion a couple of years ago, and it was scary. Some of these people were like -- same mentality as high school -- most of them very unhappy -- I’m glad I got out of there.

I wanted to buy property. I got involved with several others in a farm near Cane Hill, AR. We built a home out there -- but the property never was properly deeded and while it was supposedly collectively owned, it actually stayed deeded to this one couple, who ended up having marital trouble and the whole thing blew up in my face. I ended up losing my house and getting only a fraction of what I had invested. It was my own stupidity, to build a beautiful three story solar home without assuring my ownership before hand.

I had started my business then, baking regularly. Initially, a lot of my time was spent learning more about gardening and making my business succeed. It was set up as a worker owned business -- it was pretty helter-skelter for several years. The garage and bakery stuff in Detroit had been set up that way -- the only other business that was run that way around here then was the Ozark Food Coop and soon after the Ozark Coop Warehouse.

By the early 80s I had a partner with whom I had been living for several years and we had begun a family. We both were working with people who didn’t want to see the bypass cut through beautiful farmland near Springdale. And I got to know a woman who was working around Gore, OK, named Jesse Deer in Water -- I really respected her and what she was doing, working with the Cherokee against the nuclear processing facility there. And I got to know Carrie Dickerson, who was instrumental in the fight against the proposed nuclear power plant at Claremore, Okla. She raised thousands of dollars and was inspirational to me. Then Ben Spock appeared on the scene wanting to help in anyway he could. Both Ben and his wife, Mary, got really involved. We saw that we could raise money making jams that helped pay for legal intervention to stop the Black Fox Nuclear plant..

From that, my interests went to looking at nuclear power and nuclear weapons. We did a bunch of surveying around Gore, and it was scary, the number of cancers and other things that were obviously a result of that plant’s existence. Then we started looking at the plant at Russellville -- and some other people -- we started making trips to the public documents room at the Russellville, researching the plant -- then Three Mile Island happened, and we started really pushing to get the plant closed. We continued to go down to research operating history which we then publicized.

My partner was very supportive. By then we had two children. Both of us were burning our candles at both ends. Very busy.

I knew a little about what the United States was doing in Central America but. I’d never been involved with public political actions concerning it. OxFam contacted me –my partner and I had been steady contributors -- I don’t know why they did this but they contacted me and asked if I would be interested in going to Nicaragua with a Tools for Peace program they were doing throughout Nicaragua to appraise how they should spend $300,000 that they had earmarked. They asked me to look at irrigation equipment, tractors, farm buildings, etc. As I considered this OxFam offer, Duncan Murphy came on the scene with people who had been involved with exposing the US intervention there. Before I actually spent nearly two months in Nicaragua and saw the horrible effects of US intervention there, I got swept into that work.

I went to Nicaragua for six weeks. I saw schools bombed, hospitals bombed by terrorists the US supported, with bombs we had supplied. I kept asking myself, “What is going on here?” I looked at it more, studied it, got engrossed in it, came to see we were making a terrible mistake there. I was involved in that for four years.

There were some reporters at the Gazette who alerted me that they would pay for an FOI if they could use part of it for articles. People had said we were being watched by the FBI. I didn’t know what might have been in my file but was curious enough to agree to their offer. I got this large stack of primarily blocked out pages back. More pages than I had assumed would be there but no real surprise. It was clear that my phone had been tapped, I’d been followed, and my public Nicaragua presentations in various cities had been recorded by what was undoubtedly very expensive taxpayer financed, undercover federal employees. This was while Reagan wanted especially to silence people who were involved with a major anti-US intervention public political organization, Citizens In Support of the People of El Salvador (CISPES). I wasn’t really surprised the federal investigation had greatly expanded the group of dissidents they had under illegal surveillance. Pretty much standard operating procedure for our intelligence community in the US. The stuff I was doing, exposing US support and arming terrorists and brutal military regimes throughout south and central America -- they didn’t want us to do. I had been aware that I was possibly, no, likely, being watched.

Earlier I had not felt like I quite fit in with the “counterculture”. I had considered myself working class. Going to Ann Arbor, being in the college environment did something to me. My first year of school I was in a dorm, and my roommate was this party-going fraternity pledge. He just on my own as far as I was concerned. I didn’t want that. All they were interested in doing was getting drunk and seeing how many girls they could lay. I met this guy from England who lived in the dorm. One night he said, “ Here listen to these guys with these earphones.”-- it was the first time I ever heard a group called The Cream. I went, wow -- they’re really good. He goes over to his dorm room door, rolls up a towel and shoves it under the door and says, “If you’ll smoke a little of this and then listen, you’ll REALLY like them.”

I knew what it was, and I was a little frightened maybe. He said, “It’ll be fine…just try it once.” And he was right, I really did like the Crème afterwards. Then he brought out this album with a picture of a dirigible blowing up -- the Hindenburg -- Led Zeppelin’s first album, before they had released it in the US-- I listened to it and thought this is REALLY good.

So several Friday nights after that while most of our dormmates were partying, getting drunk and throwing up 3.2 Budweiser beer, we’d have a towel under his door, listening to music that friends of his were sending from England. Definitely opened my eyes to some new ideas -- That is how I got to know people involved with draft counseling because they came over to visit him. One of their dads had been to Togo, Africa with the World Health Organization and brought back some green contraband. Seems the doctor father had given some of it to his son -- so we tried it too. I remember not being able to find my dorm room down the hall. This was just prior to the citywide legalization of the public recreational use of marijuana in Ann Arbor and the John Lennon and Yoko Ono concert there to raise money to win the release of John Sinclair from prison for giving a narcotics officer a free marijuana cigarette at the White Panther commune.

I could see things getting a whole lot better or things could go to hell in a handbasket. I want to continue to work in a positive vein. I’m going to be going to Cuba. Their major trading partner is no longer exists since the fall of the Soviet Union and there’s been terrible poverty and malnutrition under the decades long US embargo. I’ve always been interested in this little country so close to the US, thumbing its nose at the US for the last thirty years. And as I’ve learned from others about what we’ve done to some of our neighbors in Central America, I feel almost as if I have something of a personal responsibility to undo some of the damage. I stumbled onto several thousands of dollars worth of food processing equipment for soy foods -- and the Cuban agriculture department is working with OxFam and others -- so I’ve been getting this equipment moved down from Missouri, cleaning it up, getting it ready to go, shipping it to Cuba -- I hope to go down and help assemble it and set up a good sized soy operation in rural Cuba. They’re trying to pull as much land as they can out of sugar production and grow more soybeans. There’s a lot of mental retardation among the young kids in Cuba because of lack of protein. They’re pushing hard to educate people about soy beans.

We are also involved with monitoring Nuclear One at Russellville. We’ve involved the Arkansas Public Policy Panel in getting a few VISTA volunteers to watchdog at the plant. They’re now storing high level waste on a parking lot -- and they’re still operating these old Babcock-Wilcox reactors like the ones that failed at Three Mile Island.

I’m more drawn to do things on an international scale than I am local politics, although I realize local stuff is also really important. My personal interest seem to point me more toward international projects.

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