STRIKE, by Jody A. Forrester. Part 3 of 3.

19 Oct

The following is from Chapter 11 of Jody Forrester’s memoir, Guns Under the Bed: Memories of a Young Revolutionary, published September 1, 2020. It can be purchased at any independent bookstore or online at and you can buy the e-book from Amazon.

Part 3 of 3

I climbed down to the floor and stood at the window on tiptoes. Below me was a swarm of sombrero crowns with wide brims. The men wearing them were illuminated by the candles they held and were singing banderos, love songs, to their wives, mothers, and daughters, singing from their hearts, from the heart of the community. In twos and threes, the women woke up, some comprehending more quickly than others what was happening. Several of the bigger women and I held one, then another, up to the window. They clapped their hands and cried, and I, too, began to cry, caught in the threads of sentiment woven by the music.
Frankincense wafted in, sweetening the stale air. The musicians quieted to allow a priest to lead the Catholic Mass. Next to me heads bent over hands pressed together; rosary beads clicked. Although the rituals contradicted my godless ideology, I felt privileged to be a silent observer. I couldn’t help myself—the chorus of song and guitars touched me beyond the R.U. activist I had become and the atheist my parents had raised me to be.
After the men left, I lay down on the floor and this time fell into a deep sleep when a guard unlocked and opened the cell door. The sun was just filtering in. My eyes, crusty with sleep, peeled open.
“Jody Forrester!” He pointed to me, assured of his choice.
I was frightened and didn’t want to leave alone.
Maria Dolores, already awake, whispered “Será fuerte. Be strong.” I hugged each woman whose name I’d come to know, feeling already the loss of our overnight intimacy.
The guard led me downstairs to the same office where Maria Dolores had been taken the day before and locked me in without a word. The room was small with dark paneled walls and no windows, only a metal card table and a single chair on either side. It was the classic interrogation room of police dramas. Fretting and pacing, I was too restless to sit, just one thought circling: the gun, they must have found the gun. It seemed a very long time before the door swung open. I expected the commanding officer, but instead it was the same guard who locked me in.
“You made bail. A lawyer is here for you,” he said, his English broken with a Spanish accent. “Follow me.”
A man in a navy blue suit and silk tie stood in the lobby—so dressed up he looked as if he’d taken the wrong exit off the freeway. He didn’t introduce himself, only said that he was an attorney sent by a colleague to post the five-hundred-dollar bail bond.
Despite my fears about the VW, I strenuously objected. “We’ll be arraigned soon. I should stay!”
“I’m following orders. The paperwork’s already filled out and your bond’s paid.” His voice was tired. He must have been awakened very early to get there before eight.
The sergeant at the front desk handed me my things. I lit a cigarette, but the lawyer in his new Mercedes asked me to put it out.
Sunlight diffused in the dusty ever-present haze in the Salinas valley. In clotted traffic outside the jail, women were pushing children in strollers, many carrying brightly colored straw shopping bags.
“Who sent you? Do you have a message for me?” I asked.
“Skip called me, reminding me that I owed him a favor.” I recognized the name from the pool of attorneys supportive of the R.U. agenda. Charles must have called him.
“Nothing more?” He shook his head, slowed at a stop sign, and then shot through. The leather seats were slippery. I dug my toes into the plush floor mat.
We drove directly to the parking field. I could see immediately that the VW wasn’t there, although I desperately continued to scan the few cars and trucks still parked.
“My car’s gone!” I turned to him, expectant and hopeful. He must know something.
He shrugged. His lack of concern cautioned me to say no more.
A station wagon full of children drove up, the driver honking its horn. He leaned out the window, waving me over.
“That’s it for me,” the attorney said.
“Wait, what’s happening? Who are they?”
He shook his head and reached over to open the passenger door. I was barely out when he took off, setting off a spray of dirt and stinging pebbles.
Five children were in the middle seat, all staring as I walked towards the car. A girl, maybe four years old, with pink and purple ribbons wound through her long braid, looked through her fingers at me, then ducked when I waved. The passenger door of the car was already open and I slipped in, trying not to cry in front of these people I didn’t yet know.
In a jumble of Spanish and English, the driver introduced himself as Manuel, Maria Dolores’s husband. He had the strong arms of a laborer and a reassuring sweetness to his voice. Seeing that I held a cigarette, he struck a match to light it. This simple courtesy calmed me.
“Are you Jody?” he asked, pronouncing the J like a Y, as native Spanish speakers do.
“Yes. Thank you for picking me up.” I could hear my voice, higher pitched than usual, as I struggled to hold back brimming tears. Manuel began driving, one hand on the wheel, the other stretched across the back of my seat.
“I left my car here yesterday, but it’s gone.” I could feel my face beseeching him.
“Si, I know. I have it, now it’s at my house.” His wide smile revealed the great pleasure he took in my surprise and relief.
“How did you know, how did you do it?” I asked. The tears spilled over—I could no longer contain them.
“It was easy, just a screwdriver. Your friend, the one with the stutter, phoned me last night. He explained the problem.” Manuel didn’t remember his name, but I knew it was Charles and sent a silent thank you to Jack for the message he must have passed on.
The children were giggling and curious. Little fingers touched my matted curls, and one tried to comb through them.
“Maria called just a little while ago. She said the arraignment will be at nine and it’s almost that now. I have to take you.”
“Does she know I’m with you?” Still confused, I was trying to make sense out of what was happening.
“No, señorita. Your friend, he called again, just now, just as I was leaving for the court. He said that somebody would bail you out and I should find you here.”
Manuel turned a corner and stopped to let me out in front of the courthouse next to the jail, saying he would see me soon. After a few wrong turns, my breathing tense, I found my group already lined up in front of the judge’s bench awaiting his entrance. The other women picked up with us sat in wooden seats for their cases to be called. Maria Dolores turned and waved me over with frantic hand gestures.
“Amiga, que pasa? Your name, it was just called. Are you all right? Where did you go?” The bailiff frowned. The judge was coming in; I could only squeeze her hand.
In less than ten minutes, a trial date was set and my cellmates released on their own recognizance. I was embarrassed by my privileged early release, though I realized nobody actually knew why I was called out of the cell earlier. I lost track of Maria Dolores and was not sure what to do next when Manuel, with his eye-crinkling smile, appeared out of the crowd to tell me that I should come home with them for breakfast.
“Then you can take your car.” Had he been more familiar, I surely would have hugged him.
Maria Dolores was already in the front seat, twin toddlers on her lap. I crowded into the back seat with the children. The two daughters pushed their older brother away to sit next to me. Their mother settled the erupting quarrel with one stern look. We drove by deserted fields, the lettuce strike evidently still going on. At every entrance UFW representatives held up picket signs. Manuel honked the horn, I waved, the children cheered.
He soon pulled onto a bricked driveway leading to a low-slung ranch house, its cedar siding whitewashed below the roof’s gray-brown shingles. Manuel shooed away several mongrels barking madly in greeting. Purple morning glory and pink bougainvillea straggled up the front of the house, anchored on nails set into the wood. Manny, their oldest (nine, I thought) pointed out a swing hanging from a heavily laden avocado tree. He told me he and his father had just finished making it for the younger kids. He spoke in accented English, very poised, very proud.
The living room was festive as though dressed up for a party. Paper flowers with floppy petals made of pink and blue tissue paper lay gathered in bunches behind the furniture and in every corner. Manny told me they made them to sell. Finger paintings on school-issued newsprint were taped on brick walls. A zoo of pinatas that included Winnie the Pooh and Wile E. Coyote dangled from crossbeams next to multi-colored God’s-eyes and flaccid balloons. Maria Dolores sighed when she saw the children’s toys left scattered on the floor.
The house soon filled with spicy aromas. Manuel was in the kitchen, cooking huevos rancheros, sausage and breakfast potatoes, all smothered, Manny told me, in his dad’s own tongue-burning salsa. When Manuel offered me a cup of coffee, I was so greedy for the hot caffeine that it was an effort not to just open my mouth and pour it in. We both lit cigarettes, his a hand roll, mine a Marlboro.
Fresh from the shower Maria Dolores joined us, the mess of toys on the floor already cleaned up. The beribboned girl, whispering to me that her name was Monica, stood leaning against my chair until I set her on my lap. This was the family life that I craved. Sitting at their table felt like coming home to a home I’d never known. Until Manuel spoke.
“So, your friend, he said there was a gun in your car?” He sounded more amused than angry. “Yours?”
“Oh my god, no!” How could he even think that? But of course, he didn’t know me.
“Then who?” His tongue curled to ferret out bits of tobacco from his front teeth.
“Just some stupid guy who thinks that every demonstration is a potential call for the revolution!” As soon as the words escaped my mouth, I wished I could take them back. R.U. members were expected to show a united front, our criticisms of each other aired only in meetings, but per usual, my mouth opened of its own accord.
“The revolución, I see.” Manuel flicked his tongue out again to gather the stray pieces of tobacco. His lips still turned up, but whether it was a smirk or a smile, I wasn’t sure. “And what revolución is that?”
Heat crept up my neck. Here was my opening, but I didn’t know what to say, where to start. Monica clasped my hand as though she knew I needed reassuring. My mouth opened, my tongue twisted. Now that I had their attention, the words I hoped to say stuck in my throat.
That was always my problem. I’m passionate about what I believe in and could argue against wrongs catalyzed by imperialism and capitalism but lacked the skill to present an in-depth argument about theory. I was never able to make the language my own. Dialectical materialism. Mass line. Class struggle. How the Maoism of an agrarian revolution pertains to the antagonistic struggle between labor and capital. The words stumbled. I took another deep breath.
“Basta, Manuel,” Maria Dolores said. “Enough! This is a time to celebrate, not to talk politics!”
He laughed and the children laughed with him, eager to move the conversation back to themselves. I hated the relief I felt, knowing that once I returned home, I would be expected to judge my performance and then be judged. What would be most important to my comrades was what I failed to do—I had not aligned the lettuce pickers’ struggle with the proletarian revolution; I had not educated them about Mao Tse-Tung; I had made no contacts to follow up on. It would matter little that the women had liked me and that I had liked them. I could fairly be criticized for making myself more important than the Party line. I didn’t know whether it was immaturity or lack of confidence holding me back—or the certainty that the farm workers would have considered me ridiculous to think that I knew better what was best for them.
An hour later, satiated with food and family love, I followed Manuel outside to the VW parked behind their house. He stood back while I opened the glove compartment.
There it was, still wrapped in the shirt, oblivious of the worry it caused me. Manuel moved forward, took the gun out, and popped open the chamber. A bullet was housed there. He showed me, with a scolding look, that the safety latch was toggled open. Manuel ejected it, then pulled out the 8-bullet clip and put it in his pocket. I hoped he would take the gun too but didn’t stop him when he returned it to the glove compartment. Embarrassed to blushing red, I couldn’t look him in the eye, although I saw that the look he gave me was questioning and concerned.
I took the keys from my pocket, sat in the driver’s seat, and started the car, driving around to the front where the children waited, their arms full of paper flowers.
“For you,” Monica lisped.
They spread the floppy flowers on the back seat and put a few in the passenger seat, the pinks and blues a vibrant testimony to my value in their world. At that moment, I was glad I had been myself, with no agenda, without propaganda. I still remember their warmth and how much their inclusion meant to me. Their hugs cheered me as I left the house to drive north on the road I had taken south only the morning before. Soon enough I was on the highway, the windows open until the stink of rotting lettuce lying dormant in the fields got to be too much. I made sure to honk the horn each time I passed the strikers standing sentinel in front of empty fields.
Reluctantly, my thoughts spun forward. I still wished I could have taken some kind of a leadership role, but I was beginning to feel more confident in the reticence that held me back. Change, I think I had only just learned, depended on need, not dogma. This was the first time it occurred to me that the Revolutionary Union might not have the right answers for everybody.

End of Part 3 of 3. Be sure to read Parts 1 and 2 published earlier in this blog.

Jody A. Forrester
Author of Guns Under the Bed: Memories of a Young Revolutionary


Strike: The United Farm Workers, by Jody Forrester. Part 2 of 3.

25 Sep

Jody A. Forrester’s book (2020) is  Guns under the Bed.




Part 2 of 3.

Their sweaty hands let me slip several times, just to grab a breast or grip between my legs. I writhed and kicked, but they held on until we reached a paddy wagon where I was tossed in with no more regard than for a sack of turnips. The women already inside helped me sit up, clucking with dismay. Once stabilized, I saw them all staring at me.

“We want to know, why are you here?” The young woman who asked had the round face and sloped forehead of her Mayan ancestors. Thick black hair tied back in a braid fell to her waist.

“I’m Jody, a friend, una amiga, of Maria Dolores’s.” That was enough to earn me warm smiles in welcome.

I counted—fifteen women including me filled the van. A Chicana officer not much older than my eighteen years crowded in and slammed the door. She cradled a rifle on her lap but rolled and slipped with the rest of us as the van sped away. Two narrow windows provided little light; the air was dank. Horribly susceptible to carsickness, within blocks I could feel spit thicken in the back of my throat. I kept swallowing, hoping desperately that I wouldn’t throw up. When the van stopped only a few minutes later, the rear door was pulled open, sending those closest to the back tumbling out like dice onto the blacktop parking lot.

More paddy wagons drove up to the back of the Salinas jail. I looked closely and could see that all their passengers were from the same field as myself. I knew then that the cars belonging to the strikers from farther fields would be gone by nightfall, leaving the blue Volkswagen exposed. Miles’s gun was a knot in my stomach.

The young guard led us to the processing office where a harried-looking policewoman’s shoulders visibly tightened as the room filled. After adding my name to a list, I parked myself on the floor between a desk and a filing cabinet, under a poster of President Nixon. There were close to seventy-five women to process, and I knew it would be a long time before my turn came. Without Maria Dolores, I felt timid among the women chattering in Spanish and was relieved when she finally emerged from an adjacent room, her eyes wincing in the fluorescent brightness.

She spoke to a few of the women then slid down the wall to sit beside me.

“Are you okay?” I whispered. “What happened?”

“Nothing really, just bullshit. I’m okay, just very tired, mi amiga, very tired. I think I could sleep for a week.” She closed her eyes and rested her head on her knees.

I stood up to read the wanted posters pinned up on multiple bulletin boards. Men mostly, wanted for drugs, murder, and violent assaults. When I was young and in a post office with my mother, I always studied the pictures trying to memorize features in case one of them might cross my path and the habit remained.

Finally the booking officer yelled “Forrester!” She had to extend the camera’s tripod to its full height before directing me to place my feet on painted footsteps with little of the original outlines remaining. Face forward – flash. Turn to the side – flash. Fingers pressed onto an ink pad, then onto squares on a cardboard form. A routine I’d seen at least a hundred times on television, but this time it was me. I was equal parts fascinated and terrified.

“You’ll see the judge in the morning,” she said.

“Do you know what I’m being charged with?”

She looked at the paperwork. “Uh, let’s see. Unlawful assembly, failure to disperse, and obstructing a peace officer.”

Peace officers? More like pig officers, I thought.

“Morales!” she called.

I was directed to a telephone booth, allowed to make one phone call. Ever mindful of the R.U.’s need for secrecy and security, and given how likely it was the phones were tapped, I called a friend outside but close to the organization.

“Jack, it’s Jody,” I said when he answered on the third ring.

“Hey, I thought you were in Salinas.” His voice, so normal and matter-of-fact, was in marked contrast to my agitation.

“Yeah, well, the line got busted. I’m calling from jail.” I reached in my pocket for a cigarette before remembering they had been confiscated along with my keys and wallet, leaving only loose change.

“You’re okay?” he asked.

“Okay enough. It’s just that nobody knows where I am, so I need you to get in touch with Charles when he gets back. Especially remind him about my roommate’s car. It’s parked with the others. He’ll know.” I hung up quickly. His sympathetic tone aroused self-pity and tears, neither of which I dared indulge.

The women’s jail was housed on the second floor of the station, and was as bleak as I would have imagined it—institutional green walls etched with profanities, stained yellowed linoleum, Venetian blinds hanging crooked from broken strings. Bare fluorescent tubes in the walkway cast a harsh and unforgiving light.

I joined the same women I had been packed with in the van, now packed into a cell with only two metal bunks and less than four feet of floor space between them. There was a barred window high on the wall and a metal toilet seat over a dark hole, hand-woven shawls already lying beside it so the women could drape themselves when they sat down.

My cellmates were immigrant fieldworkers, many of who had been brought into the United Farm Workers Union by Maria Dolores. The mood lifted once she joined us. Right away, she had them laughing so hard that tears spilled down sunbaked faces. She spoke too quickly for me to follow, but I understood from her gestures that she was telling them about an officer whose genitals peeked out of his shorts during her interrogation. I laughed with them, their gaiety my best assurance that everything would turn out all right. They had anticipated the police, Maria Dolores told me, and most of the women had made arrangements for their husbands and children to be cared for.

Over the next few hours, I became more comfortable using my high school Spanish, mostly nouns linked with present tense verbs. A young woman, telling me her name was Theresa, sat next to me on the cold floor sheltering an infant in a muslin wrap. He grasped my finger and I cooed. She asked if I would hold him while she used the toilet.

Si, gracias!” Holding him aroused much emotion in me. He was so precious, so trusting. I tickled his belly with my nose, breathing in his scent of baby oil and cornstarch. The women watching me laughed. Some mocked my silly sounds; others caricatured my awkward pose. They teased, saying I could hold all of their children for as long as I wanted. When Theresa came back, the infant lunged for her breast.

With Maria Dolores translating, she asked if I had children.

I wondered if they knew how young I was or if it would matter. Theresa didn’t look much older. “No, not yet.”

Once she broke the formalities, other women rained questions on me.

Where do you live?”

Do you have a sweetheart? Un novio?”

Where are your parents?”

I was astounded to learn that neither their daughters nor their sons would leave the family home until they married. They were scandalized that I didn’t live with my parents, even when I told them I left only to go to college.

Many of them were old friends, having met early in their youth. I felt too big for the room—most the women hovered around five-two. My feet were like clown shoes next to theirs, and I sat feeling more and more like a party crasher. The conversation shifted. They gossiped and argued about the strike while I tried to think of something to say that might bring the strike in context with my politics, but impaired by language, I could think of nothing.

Any gathering of people, especially when among those in the working class, was considered by the R.U. to be a golden opportunity to educate and guide, but the schism between the strikers’ needs and our dogma troubled me. Now face to face, I couldn’t see them picking up arms against their bosses, let alone the reigning government. What would be their motivation? Many left Mexico illegally in pursuit of a better life and wanted only to return to work protected by a strong union.

My grandparents did the same when they escaped from anti-Semitism in Eastern Europe in the early 1900s, seeking only a living wage for their family, food on the table, and a house of their own. Success to them was a promise that their offspring might flourish.

How could I, a young white college dropout, tell them they would be better off under the dictatorship of the proletariat? In jail, what did that even mean? Still, I was committed to following all the RU dictates and knew I should at least try to bring up the subject of capitalist oppression. I brooded on that but finally was too aware of my outsider status to summon up the nerve to speak out loud, even to Maria Dolores. It was a conundrum.

I thought about Charles, imagining he would know what to say, but would he be right? Not for the first time I worried that I might be more enamored with the ideals and goals of Communism than with the actual ideology.

The rancid odor of a grease fire soon reached our cell, and in a short while a guard came to say that we would have to do without dinner. Maria Dolores told her about Ana, who was diabetic, and Theresa, who must eat to nourish her son. They were allowed to leave but surprised us an hour later when they returned with baskets of food prepared by the family members of those arrested.

The donut and coffee that was my morning meal had long been digested and I was hungry, my stomach growling so loud that the women closest to me giggled. Warm tortillas, roasted chicken, and ears of corn were dispersed among the cells, and for a while all that could be heard were the sounds of women crunching and swallowing. Finally sated, I longed only for a cigarette and a cup of coffee.

In the small cell, our bodies were the only pillows to rest upon. We filled the beds, two and three to a mattress. I settled on a top bunk squeezed next to Maria Dolores and laid my head on her lap while she rested hers on my back. I wanted so badly to tell her about the gun, to not be alone with its secret, but I knew she would not be sympathetic. And why should she be?

Lulled by the heat and cradled by soft murmurs and quiet laughter, my eyes soon shut but I couldn’t fully relax. The RU’s voice continued to haunt me, insisting on the leadership role that I should be assuming, while fear that Miles’s gun would be discovered was multiplied by my worry for my roommate. If the car were impounded, the brunt of the charges would fall on her.

As the light outside greyed, only the low-wattage bulb over the toilet and the buzzing tubes in the hallway allayed the darkness. Hands on the schoolhouse clock,mounted on the wall opposite me ticked by so slowly that at times I wondered if it had stopped. It was past nine, then ten, then eleven.

Most of my cellmates fell asleep, snoring lightly, twitching in their dreams, the scent of unwashed bodies pervasive. I didn’t know I had fallen asleep until indecipherable dreams merged into guitars strumming and men singing so insistently that I jolted awake, sliding Maria Dolores off my back. Something was happening outside.

End of Part 2. Stay tuned for Part 3, coming soon.

Strike: The United Farm Workers, by Jody Forrester. Part 1 of 3.

15 Sep

Jody A. Forrester grew up in Los Angeles during the conflicted 50s and tumultuous 60s. A graduate of the MFA Bennington Writing Seminars, her essays and short stories have appeared in multiple publications. Her debut memoir, Guns Under the Bed: Memories of a Young Revolutionary, revolves around the time when she was a member of the communist Revolutionary Union (R.U.), an organization formed in the late sixties. Their ideology was based on the theories and practices prescribed by Mao Tse-Tung, the chairman of the Chinese Communist Party.

Jody lives in Venice, California, with her husband John Schneider and mini-Australian Shepherd named Charley.

The following is from Chapter 11 of her memoir, Guns Under the Bed: Memories of a Young Revolutionary, published September 1, 2020. It can be purchased at any independent bookstore or online at and the e-book from Amazon.


Part 1 of 3

Maria Dolores Sanchez, a United Farm Workers organizer that I met at an anti-war march the week before, called me early on the morning of August 15, 1970. She was hoping I could bring reinforcements to join the United Farm Workers (UFW) picket lines in Salinas, an hour south of San Jose. Seven thousand lettuce pickers were out on strike against the Teamsters and growers who refused to recognize their newly formed union. She asked me to bring as many supporters as I could round up. In response to my calls, five carloads of local activists soon gathered outside my house. Gerry passed around steaming cups of coffee and donuts that he and his carload picked up from the Winchell’s around the corner.

The sun was slow to show itself through the thinning marine layer, though it would burn through soon enough. I waited in the driver’s seat of my roommate’s Volkswagen, which I promised to return in time for her evening shift at the phone company. Two comrades, Ken and Pamela, sat in back, while Miles, still in high school, was next to me in front. When all was ready, I pumped the sticky clutch into first gear, then let the engine sputter off when I saw Miles open the glove compartment and place a handgun, wrapped in a white tee-shirt, under a stack of maps and box of Kleenex.

Are you kidding? Get that out of here!”

Other cars were idling, waiting for me to take the lead. A horn honked, then another.

Jesus Christ, Miles! We’re going to support the farmers, not start a war!”

Charles, our collective chairman, came to my window. “What’s the problem?” he asked, drumming his fingers on the roof.

Miles put a gun in the glove compartment!”

No big deal. Just leave it there, Miles, okay? C’mon, Jody, let’s get going.” He thumped the roof of my car before walking back to his.

Don’t worry, Jody. You always worry.” Miles’s smile was both endearing and arrogant. He quoted Mao Tse-Tung: “Political power grows out of the barrel of a gun.”

I pulled out, stripping the gears as I shifted into first.

Miles laughed. “Want me to drive?”

I found Maria Dolores in a dirt parking lot already filled with road-worn trucks and cars. She asked me to accompany her to the farm across the road, while my friends were directed to a bus that would take them to more distant fields.

Across the two-lane highway, Maria Dolores and I linked into a tangled chain of migrant and local farm workers who were blocking access to the largest corporate-owned lettuce field in Salinas. Red flags, silk-screened with the stylized black eagle of Cesar Chavez’s United Farm Workers Union, hung limp from hand-held poles in the blooming oppressive heat. Maria Dolores was dressed comfortably in the campesino (farmworker) garb of white cotton pants, a hand-embroidered huichol top, and leather huaraches. I wished I had thought to bring sunglasses and a hat.

We circled the several truckloads of scabs brought in by the growers’ foremen. Dry dirt roiled in the wake of our footsteps, dirtying the air already polluted by exhaust fumes from the trucks. Coffee-colored men and women stood corralled on the railed flatbeds, most of them sullen and staring at their feet, a few tall and belligerent. If not for hunger, they likely would rather be anywhere but there.

Holding hands, Maria Dolores and I walked behind an old man wearing much-laundered cotton pajama pants without a shirt. Scarred pockmarks pitted his back and chest. Exhilarated, I took mental photographs of those walking with us: whole families, big sisters and brothers carrying the youngest, the stooped elderly, babies strapped onto their mother’s chest with wide strips of cloth, little girls and boys on the side chasing each other, some kicking a soccer ball, others competing in a game of stickball. Sweating bottles of soda, free for the taking, sat on blankets shaded by brightly striped beach umbrellas where the youngest and oldest rested.

An old man hanging off the truck rails gave the grandfather the finger, yelling to him, “Mario Vasquez! Chinga tu madre!” (Fuck your mother!) I thought perhaps they had once been friends, but now it was scab vs. striker.

The man ahead of me hawked a gob of phlegm into the road. His aged arms, ropy sinews of muscle bagged in creped skin, wildly gesticulated. Before the fight could escalate, a convoy of black and white vans raced up, barely braking before dozens of cops wearing riot gear swarmed out with rifles drawn,

The strikers’ chants intensified, fists punched the air.

Huelga! Huelga! Huelga! Strike! Strike! Strike!

A police commander, squat and thickly muscled, racked and fired a shotgun over his head, the loud clap making me jump. He announced through a bullhorn that the strikers would be jailed if we didn’t disperse. A few left—those with children and some of the elderly. The querulous grandfather was led away by a young girl I assumed was his granddaughter. I considered my roommate’s car keys in my pocket and the promise I made to return the VW to her early, but what worried me the most was Miles’s pistol in the glove compartment and what might happen if it was left on the field.

I vacillated about what to do, but my decision was made when Maria Dolores gripped my hand and pulled me to the ground beside her. I sat crossed-legged in the dirt amid a babble of Spanish too fast for me to translate in my head and tried to put my fears to rest.

The commander again ordered the strikers to leave. A few more did. He gave the order to arrest us, en masse. Right away, Maria Dolores was plucked from our circle, handcuffed and taken to the backseat of a patrol car. I stood up to protest, but the women on either side of me held me back, one in English telling me it was okay, I shouldn’t worry, Maria Dolores would be all right.

Having grown up together, the rank-and-file policemen were taunted and teased by the local strikers. With jaws clenched below frowning mouths the cops pulled up one person, then another. Most of the strikers went limp, forcing the cops to drag or carry them.

Her?” The men asked their commander, pointing at me. Until then I hadn’t realized that I was the only white girl there. His incoherent response became clear when I was hoisted into the air by two of his men, each at least five inches shorter than my six feet.

[End of Part 1. Stay tuned for Parts 2 and 3, coming soon.]


Fred Hampton Years, by M.S.

20 Aug

M.S. was radicalized at the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago; became editor of a small underground newspaper, lived on a farm commune in rural Indiana, hitch-hiked to Woodstock with the woman in the picture a few weeks after these pictures were taken, and in fall joined the SDS Days of Rage demonstrations in Chicago where this story picks up.






Fred Hampton was killed in Chicago while sleeping at age 21 on Dec. 4, 1969.





Recent events have caused me to reflect back 50 years to the killing of Fred Hampton and its reverberations today. I met Fred Hampton in October 1969 when SDS (Students for a Democratic Society) and others organized a series of demonstrations in Chicago a year after the 1968 Democratic Convention demonstrations, to protest the related ongoing Chicago 8 Conspiracy Trials, and in the words of the Weatherman faction, to Bring the War Home. Fred Hampton was chair of the Illinois Black Panther Party and a charismatic leader.

Nixon was the new Law and Order president. I turned 18 and became fodder for the draft. America seemed to be killing its young idealists. The Conspiracy 8 trial started on September 24, 1969 and was the first use of a new federal anti-riot law passed in 1968 as part of the Civil Rights Act.

After Nixon took office, new Attorney General John Mitchell (later convicted in the Watergate conspiracy) brought federal conspiracy charges against SDS leader Tom Hayden, Black Panther Party leader Bobby Seale, Yippies, Mobilization to End the War in Vietnam, and others who had protested at the 1968 Chicago Democratic Convention. This was seen by many as an attempt to criminalize legitimate protest.

Within a month, the judge had Bobby Seale chained and gagged in court, then charged him with contempt, gave him four years in prison, and removed him from the trial. He was to be tried separately later on the conspiracy and riot charges.

The charges against Seale were eventually dropped after the remaining Conspiracy 7 were found not guilty of conspiracy. Five were convicted, though, of crossing state lines to incite a riot, and they were given five years in prison. Everyone, including their lawyers, already had prison sentences pending for contempt of court during the trial. Two years later an appeals court threw out all the convictions.

Fred Hampton speaking Oct 10, 1969, Mike Klonsky, SDS seated far right and leaders of the Young Lords at the center of the table.


The Black Panther Party’s 10-point program called for the “immediate end to POLICE BRUTALITY and MURDER of Black people” (point 7) and asserted a second amendment right to armed self-protection. It was a very volatile, scary theater. It’s also important to remember the rest of the program. Point 2 was for full employment or a guaranteed annual income. Point 4 was for decent housing. Then prison reform, decent education, food security, end to serving in foreign wars like Vietnam. In 1972 universal health care was added.

Fred Hampton and Mark Clark were the 27th and 28th Black Panthers killed in 1969. The 4 a.m. police raid was organized by State’s Attorney General Edward Hanrahan and involved 14 officers attached to his office. Of course, the police conducted a thorough investigation and found no wrongdoing. The raiders were lauded for their heroism and restraint for not killing everyone in the building.

5000 people attended Fred Hampton’s funeral where Jesse Jackson said, “When Fred was shot in Chicago, black people in particular, and decent people in general, bled everywhere.”

 December 9, 1969. Fred Hampton Funeral

December 31, 1969 Chicago Panthers protest Hampton’s killing


There was a Coroner’s Inquest into the cause of death, and on December 19 US Attorney General John Mitchell called a federal grand jury into action.

January 3, 1970: No Whitewash

On January 21, 1970 the coroner’s inquest ruled that the deaths were justifiable homicide. On May 15, 1970 the federal grand jury, which had indicted Hanrahan and 13 other law-enforcement agents on charges of obstructing justice, issued a 250-page report instead of charges. The report states that the raid was ill-conceived and that there were many errors in the police reconstruction of events. Seven surviving Panthers that had been charged with attempted murder and other crimes related to the raid had their charges dropped. The surviving Panthers did not co-operate with the investigation and would not speak to the FBI investigators.

The New York Times reported that one finding in the grand jury report was: 

That the initial information that the Black Panthers were thought to be stockpiling weapons in Chicago had come to the Chicago officials from the Federal Bureau of Investigation. This disclosure was the first official substantiation of charges by black leaders that Federal officials had played part in the investigation that led to a raid on the apartment and the fatal shooting. According to the grand jury, the two F.B.I. tips were routine transmittals of information obtained from a “confidential source.”

A civil rights lawsuit on behalf of survivors and relatives was filed in 1970. The first case was dismissed but after going to the Supreme Court was eventually settled in 1982 for $1.85 million, the largest settlement ever in a civil rights case. G. Flint Taylor, the Chicago lawyer who represented the families, recently observed:

If the 1969 deaths were meant to stall Black leadership in Chicago, Taylor said the outrage by activists across racial lines over Hampton and Clark’s deaths helped lay the political groundwork that “led in a straight line to the voting out of (State’s Attorney Edward) Hanrahan in 1972 … and of course, that political movement became the underpinnings of the movement” to elect Harold Washington as the city’s first Black leader and later Barack Obama, as the nation’s first Black president.

Bobby Rush, co-founder of the Illinois Black Panther Party, is now a 73-year-old U.S. Congressman representing Illinois’ 1st congressional district. He defeated Obama in the 2000 Democratic primary for the seat, which he has held since 1992. It was Obama’s only election loss but probably good practice campaigning.

It would be convenient to stop here but you wouldn’t know the real story, so come a bit further, down another hidden layer or two. On March 8, 1971 eight activists and mothers—a theologian and a physics professor among them—broke into the FBI office in Media, Pennsylvania and stole over 1000 documents, which they provided to the press. They were never caught. One document mentioned COINTELPRO, a secret (Co)unter (Intel)ligence (Pro)gram run by J. Edgar Hoover and the FBI. Immediately Hoover said he ended the program.

Hoover died in May 1972, and four years later Congress got the spine to look into it. Senator Frank Church and his committee investigated in 1976, and the evidence cast a different light on Fred Hampton’s murder.

The FBI ran a massive illegal operation to spy on, disrupt, decapitate and suppress legitimate dissent and protest. It routinely farmed out the suppression work to friendly local and state police forces in order to keep its illegal operations, illegal phone taps, secret agents, informers, etc. hidden a few layers down, not subject to discovery during court cases.

Sometimes the local police did not know exactly where the information they used to carry out raids came from. Remember that in the Grand Jury findings, the two FBI tips were routine transmittals of information obtained from a “confidential source.”

In May 1968 Fred Hampton was added to the FBI’s Agitator Index, which qualified him for special COINTELPRO treatment. The next year, he was dead.

My FBI files show I was swept up into their Security Index in early 1970. The Security Index was a list of thousands of people to be preemptively arrested and held if the President declared an emergency. Once you were on this list, the FBI wanted to know exactly where you were at all times so they could pick you up within 24 hours of an emergency declaration. You could feel the heat, the surveillance, the phone taps, informers, provocateurs. After the Church Committee hearings, Congress prohibited many of these practices. After 9-11 those protections fell by the wayside.

In those times I had several near death, or jail, experiences and reasonably didn’t expect to live to see 20 years old. One bit of theater that could have gone very wrong occurred in November when two FBI agents approached the farm commune I lived on in Indiana. This was part of their investigation into whether to charge me under the federal anti-riot act for the demonstrations in October in Chicago.

A couple of weeks later, Fred Hampton was murdered. An FBI file dated December 30, 1969 indicates that the US Attorney declined to charge me under the anti-riot laws. On May 4, 1970 four were killed and nine injured at a Kent State anti-war protest, and on it went.

(Another Layer down about drugs)

In 1994 John Erlichman, Nixon’s domestic advisor who went to jail for his role in Watergate, told Harper’s journalist Dan Baum that

the Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar left and black people. You understand what I’m saying? We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.”

(Pictures credit – Chicago Tribune)









The Saint from America, By Gil Roscoe

11 Aug
Gil Roscoe is a graduate of the State University of New York at Cortland. 
The events he describes in this article took place when he was a VISTA Volunteer
in 1973. He has had many occupations, but currently has the best job of his life. 
He's an usher at the Hollywood Bowl. He gets paid to listen to the best music 
in the world. He is a produced playwright, published poet, and novelist. 
Gil has written eight novels, including, "Company of Thieves." He is an avid hiker, 
having hiked in the Himalayas and the mountains of New Zealand. 
He has also walked in and out of the Grand Canyon six times. 
He currently lives in Los Angeles and is working on his ninth novel. 
Gil's books are available on all ebook services.

The idea came to me when I was twenty-four. Why not try to go around the world? I’d do it on my own with a backpack. I’d camp and stay in youth hostels. I’d see if I could find work along the way. It seemed like a quixotic dream, but the possibility possessed me. I began to set about arranging for it. In September of 1974 my mother dropped me off on a highway in southern New York. I stuck my thumb out and headed west.

Over a year later, in December of 1975, I woke up in a cheap hotel in Jodhpur, India. I was living on the money I had saved while juggling two jobs in Perth, Australia for three months. On this day my plan was to walk up the hill north of the city and take a tour of The Old Fort that once defended Jodhpur. I didn’t know that in the hills between the city and the Old Fort lived a community of holy men.

I walked by one of these men as he sat in front of his hut. He called me over. He spoke English and was very interested in who I was and the history of my life. I told him I was attempting to go around the world. The conversation immediately stopped and he just nodded his head for a few seconds. The next thing he did was to ask me to stay with him in his little hut. I thought it might be interesting, so I agreed.

In India people don’t only want to know if you’re having a good time on your trip. They will often ask, “What is the purpose of this journey?” To the holy man my attempt to go around the world was not the whim of a young American with endless wanderlust. To him it was a pilgrimage with huge spiritual implications. The word spread quickly among the community that a man on a holy mission was staying with one of their fellows. The local Saddhu came and paid me a visit. My host translated his questions and my answers. I must have passed the test because I was readily accepted as one of them. My quest to circle the globe had given me instant holy man status. I enjoyed two days of conversations and invitations. I drank a lot of tea. I painfully discovered that a lot of chai can be a bad idea in a location where it’s hard to find a place to pee.

Then everything changed. Word got out down in the city of Jodhpur that there was a Saint from America up in the hills. People started coming to see for themselves. It got kind of crazy. They would tell me about their lives and ask my advice. They would argue over who would get to talk to me next. One man wanted me to assign him a task to perform in order to prove his worthiness to speak with me. The dinner and lunch invitations were hard to keep straight in my head. A French anthropologist happened by while doing some research on local languages. He just shook his head when I explained to him how I had become an instant saint. After a week of this it got to be too much. I made a plan to slip away to the train station. I would head for Jaipur and relax for a few days. I desperately needed to feel like normal, unholy me again. People were making life decisions based on my advice. I couldn’t handle it anymore.

One man had wanted to meet with me the next day to discuss some aspect of his life. He was the only one I told that I would be leaving by train the next morning.

My sneak-away from the hills was quietly successful. But of course, there were a dozen people at the train station. They had flowers for me. They bowed as this world-circling pilgrim retreated from the most attention he’d ever had in his life. I had learned that being a saint is very tricky business. I was done with it.

West Berlin, February 1967 (A Poem), by Kitty Kroger

2 Aug

A wooden spoon

an alarm clock

rumpled sheets

dirty white tennis shoes

water color paints waiting to be used

books on the desk lining the wall waiting to be read

blue-red blaurot

blau rot


French stamps torn from the corners of envelopes to send home to Dad

little black notebooks with French lessons, art history lectures, ideas, lists of books to read, quotes once enjoyed waiting to live again, waiting to breathe again

posters of Austria (Österreich), of art exhibits, of George Gruntz’ “Jazz-Goes-Baroque”

sneezes—two in a row—Gesundheit…Danke schön…Bitte bitte….

apples in a white porcelain dish…an efficient bookend until you eat one too many

striped turtleneck t-shirt, wide green and blue stripes

Color! maroon and orange and deep green and turquoise. Life!

Poems of Yeats nailed to the wall

coke bottles and a quarter bottle of wine and Apfelsaft and milk bottles lining the top of the closet of the Schrank wherein poor dad oh dad is not

dreams of intellectuality and of beauty

letters from Faye full of impressionism, from Christy with exuberance, from Buck with sober hopelessness and nohumorness, from parents with concern and catalog of relatives, from Rolf with “it’s over”-ness, from Donna with Kittyness

Disorder in Order or vice vversa

picture of Rolf with a cigarette drooping fro his sulky upper lip…melting eyes, offering up a Ringo- Tamborine

constant ticking away of the seconds

Allen Ginsberg—Kaddisch

Fontane’s Effi Briest

music from Radio Berlin

Parisian Lafayette gift wrapping paper pinned to the wall: striped elephants and clowns and drummers and paisley monkeys and a big orange lion

and isolation that matters in the best sense

and every range of feeling except boredom

and black light switches and brass door handles and wallpaper; non-offensive stripes of pale-gray-on-cream sea.

white paper in a blue cover

map of Berlin—the Wall down the middle

notes on Vietnam and Bernard Fall books and Senate Hearing books

partially written letter to: dear family

article on “Picasso in Paris,” lying for weeks on the floor by my bed

pop art can go to hell:

it’s antiquated and non-art

Allgemeineversicherungsanstalt und herr schmidt whose eyes flickered up and down me in his unmoving head as I sood impaled on the blackboard in my green cord jeans

luxuries which become necessities

staying in Berlin indefinitely and why not-ing….

Fremdenverkehrswerbung wien…”printed in austria”

the rest is silence but not Hamlet

Kitty Kroger

Letters from West Berlin, Part 5, by Kitty Kroger. January and February, 1967

17 Jul

Berlin, Friday the 13th of January, 1967
Dear Mom and Dad,

I just got this new typewriter so I’ll try it out on you. Since it’s a German machine, it has the keys ß [ss], ä, ü, The y and the z are exchanged. Therefore there may be a few screwy words in this letter. The machine is a Triumph or Adler . It cost DM 158. Very small travel typewriter.
Just saw The Magic Flute (Die Zauberflute) at the Deutsche Oper (opera). Tomorrow night I’m going to see Troilus and Cressida, so I’m reading it first in English. I saw some good French flicks last week: Last Year at Marienbad and Les Cousins.

There is an excellent book on the Vietnam War which you really should buy.  This book is definitely against the war, which of course you should keep in mind as you read it. In fact, I think there are a couple places where the author has not been completely fair. But on the whole it is one of the best sources I’ve read for these reasons: the first three-fourths of the book is a picture history which brings vividly home the reality of this war, which is easy to forget as we go about our own comfortable lives at home. The pictures also facilitate absorption so that you, who don’t have much time at all, can learn easily and efficiently. The last fourth of the book has a compact and thorough coverage of Vietnam from the French occupation from the 19th century onward. This book, although opinionated, is factual and is no more one-sided against the war than Time magazine is for the war. In fact, it is an excellent balance to Time magazine. If you want to understand this war at all, you’ve got to rely on more than one source. The book is called Vietnam! Vietnam! in photographs and text, by Felix Greene. It costs $4 or $5.

Another excellent book is the AFSC’s Peace in Vietnam. It is better even than Green as far as a study of current policy goes.

Howard, the American from Cornell studying architecture, came over, just back from a trip to Paris. So we sat and joyfully reminisced about the fantastic city. Then took a walk to an art museum in a palace near here, then went to the theater where I sold my ticket at the door, then went across the street to a concert hall where he bought a ticket from someone for DM 2, and someone gave me an extra ticket, and we managed to find two seats together and heard the greatest concert, Vivaldi, Tchaikovsky’s Pathetique, and Mozart’s Symphony in G Minor. Then we went to about four different places to drink beer and talk, including a fantastic Wurst stand run by an Italian and packed with young German workers, and you could order a delicious Shish Kabob with rice and ketchup and onions for DM 2.20.
Love, Kitty

February 22, 1967
Dear Mom and Dad,
I went around to seven or eight bookstores, looking for work. One boss talked to me for about half an hour and told me to come back in a week. Another offered me a 30-hour-week-at-DM 200-a-month job as an apprentice. I was pleased at the kindness of the various owners of these places but I finally settled the matter by being accepted at Marga Schoeller’s, an international bookstore that handles international books, especially German, English, American, and French. It’s the best bookstore in Berlin, with a real artsy atmosphere, young employees, many art students. The store has the latest journals in the arts, language books, political writings, novels. The pay is something over DM 500 per month—nothing by American standards, but not bad by German standards, especially if you take into consideration that unlike most German booksellers, I have not done a year to two-year apprenticeship in a bookstore and my German is not yet so fluent. I’ll be working 42 hours a week, with two days off, Sunday and another day. I can probably save DM 100 a month for travel later.I feel a real obligation to help in the U.S. Campaign against the War to try to bring some pressure upon the state department and to give some latitude to the Vietnam doves to work out some kind of viable negotiations in the Vietnam matter.

Next winter I’m going to get a room with central heating. A kachelofen (clay oven) is just not suited to my personality. It’s too much trouble, too filthy ( I blow coal dust out of my nose and squeeze it out of my clothes) and too cold, if you don’t have the right knack. (My landlady does it so well that it keeps the room warm for 24 hours and there’s no coal dust at all. I can’t figure out how she does it despite her trying to teach me.)

I’m developing a political and social conscience, meager to be sure, but at least it’s something. I was shocked today to read in the New York Herald Tribune that Bernard Fall [left], a French professor and author in America, was killed in Vietnam. He’s written many responsible texts about Vietnam. and I almost felt as if I knew him. He was so cool. He was on a fellowship for a year to study Vietnam. Only 41 years old. What a loss to the world and especially to Americans.

Love, Kitty
P.S. Write your congressman, senator, and governor. Ask for their position on a specific question about Vietnam.

March 16, 1967
The work at the bookstore is pure drudgery. All I do is write out bills to the various universities in Germany for books they have ordered from us. I sit at the same table for nine hours every day and type. I thought I would get to do general work of all kinds including selling. I asked the owner Marga Schoeller, and she said there are unfortunately no free jobs in selling. So I gave notice until the end of the month.

I’m beginning now to make more contact with East Berliners through the American girl who has the room next to mine. I met an Austrian boy who lives in East Berlin, who introduced me to a whole slew of people “over there.” They include an Australian and his East Berlin wife and one-year-old daughter. The wife studies physics and is an assistant at Humboldt University. They have a tape recorder loaded with Bob Dylan, African music, blues, jazz, and straight jazz. They live in an old two-story house, which they rent for about DM 50 per month and which they have decorated in a distinctively western collegiate style on the inside. Other people I met that night were a blind student/assistant of English at Humboldt, an American who works in West Berlin under the Quakers at a youth settlement house, a Kenyan who studies in Hungary. This Saturday there’s a big party there and I’ll meet more E. Berliners. Last Saturday we had a great evening discussion. You guessed it—politics. Trying to learn Kenyan native dances, etc. I stayed there all night because it was late.


Last night I went to tutor Marta Mierendorff and ended up staying all night, it was so late. Walter Wicclair is writing an autobiography of his life and I may type it for him. [Von Kreuzburg bis Hollywood: From Kreuzburg to Hollywood]



The Power of One by Gil Roscoe

4 Jul

Gil Roscoe is a graduate of the State University of New York at Cortland. The events he describes in this article took place in 1973 when he was a VISTA Volunteer. He has held many occupations but currently enjoys the best job of his life: an usher at the Hollywood Bowl: he gets paid to listen to the best music in the world. Gil is a produced playwright, published poet, and author of eight novels, including Company of Thieves. He is an avid hiker, having trekked in the Himalayas and in the mountains of New Zealand. He has also hiked six times in and out of the Grand Canyon. He currently lives in Los Angeles and is working on his ninth novel. Gil’s books are available on all e-book services.

I have been part of discussions where people bemoan their inability to change things. When I hear these complaints, I practice my one chance in life to be a conversation stopper. I casually remark that I got a change in the law introduced into the United States Senate all by myself. Of course, after dropping a statement like that, I have to explain it….so here goes.

In 1973, I was twenty-four years old and running a federal disaster center in St. Charles, Missouri. How I came to be in that position at such a young age is a long story. To explain it would require this entire blog. So I’ll skip ahead and get right to the heart of the matter.

In the spring of 1973 the Mississippi River overflowed its banks to the point where there were areas eleven miles from the river that were underwater. The federal government was quite generous in those days when it came to helping people who had lost their homes. Ten thousand dollars were available to flood victims, and one-percent loans to rebuild were available through the Small Business Administration. However, the laws applied only to damaged structures, not to damaged property. People who had houses or summer homes near the river left the disaster center pleased with the results of their visit. The farmers did not. Telling those men in overalls day after day that we could do nothing for them when it came to their ruined crops and eroded fields broke my heart.

A new hospital happened to be opening in St. Charles, and Senator Thomas Eagleton* was in town for the dedication. I got myself up from behind my desk and went over there with the idea of trying to remedy this situation. I know that sounds crazy, but that’s what I was thinking. Because I was persistent, I managed to get a moment alone with the Senator. I didn’t launch into a pitch for a change in the law but instead invited him over to the disaster center to visit some of the flood victims. I figured that first I’d get him on my territory, and then I’d spring my proposal. But Senator Eagleton turned down my invitation. He said he had to go to a dinner in St Louis and didn’t have the time. He quickly walked away. I went back to the disaster center with a dark cloud over my head. How could I have been so naïve?

About forty-five minutes after I returned to my desk, a man carrying an overstuffed briefcase came looking for me. He asked if I were the one who had invited the Senator to visit the disaster center. I replied that I was. He said it was a great idea. The Senator would be there in half an hour. Sure enough, Senator Eagleton and his entourage showed up and toured the disaster center. He got his picture on the front page of the St. Charles newspaper, but it wasn’t a picture of the hospital dedication. It was a picture of him talking with flood victims at the disaster center.

While the Senator was on his tour of the building, his aide sat down with me and asked how things were going. That’s when I explained about the people with summer homes on the river getting access to all that money, and the farmers getting nothing. He paid close attention and took notes.

A little more than a week later, I was reading the St. Louis newspaper. There was an article about Senator Eagleton introducing a bill into the Senate to change the disaster relief laws. The change was exactly as I had pitched it to his assistant. It was one of the proudest days of my life.

This democracy works sometimes. Don’t ever forget that. If you are passionate about an environmental cause—or any cause for that matter—never think you can’t get something done. I did.


*Senator Thomas Eagleton was a United States senator from Missouri from 1968 to 1987. He was also the Democratic vice presidential nominee under George McGovern in 1972.

My 1965 Watts Riot, by Cuauhtémoc Marín (nom de plume)

30 May

Cuauhtémoc Marín majored in British and American Literature, receiving his bachelor’s degree in English from California State University, Northridge, and was accepted into the Northridge English Master’s Program, where he continued his literary studies with an emphasis in linguistics, creative writing, and poetry. Marín continues to write and publish and has lived in North Los Angeles continually since his move from South Central L.A.

On August 11, 1965, I drove my regular route home, coming from my garment district, sweatshop job at 11th and San Pedro on the edge of downtown L.A.

As I steered my way south down San Pedro Street toward 54th, I could see bus after bus of LAPD officers when I looked west at the end of each block. Our routes were paralleling each other, but I could only see their southward-moving vehicles at the end of each block. It was an ominous peek-a-boo vision of the disaster to come. The LAPD were coming from police headquarters at Parker Center and traveling down Los Angeles Street. I got to the next corner and the dark blue buses had changed to black and whites. Car after black and white police car all caravaned from north to south like me. At the next corner, I looked west again and a parade of LAPD motorcycle officers was also streaming south. My car radio was broken so I had no idea what was going on, but I knew it was something big and ugly.

103rd Street. 1965. Watts Riot.

I got to 54th street, hung a right and headed west for home. The stream of various police vehicles continued in a north to south direction, and sometimes I had to stop and wait for them to pass. When I got to 54th and Hoover, I hit a red light. I was in what we called the Ghetto, a large area of Los Angeles that filled out the L.A. Basin and was populated by mostly working-class Blacks, poor Blacks, and a small population of middle-class Blacks with a spattering of various other ethnic groups. I lived there with my wife and three-month-old baby.

I noticed a white driver alone in the car ahead of me. Whites working in downtown L.A. couldn’t get home without traveling through a minority neighborhood. If they traveled west it was a Black neighborhood–east, Mexican.

The white driver couldn’t go anywhere because he was pinned between the car in front of him and my car in the rear. We were waiting for the red light to turn green at a location that was 99% black. I knew the area quite well, had friends in that area, and as far as I knew, no whites lived there.

Suddenly a group of young black men came running from out of nowhere like a pack on a hunt. They ran straight for the white guy’s car and pulled him out, dragging him to the ground, kicking and beating him. I didn’t know what was going on, but I thought whatever it was, it was big and violent and it was spreading. I swung my car out and crossed into oncoming traffic, hit the gas as I passed the young men beating this poor guy, then swerved back to my side of the street as I pushed the door-lock button.

I continued up 54th till I got to Crenshaw Boulevard, made a left, then headed south again until I got to my apartment near 11th Avenue and Hyde Park Boulevard. Once inside, I turned on the TV and there was no need searching for the news; every channel was covering the riots in Watts about five miles southeast of me.

The riots seemed a safe distance away; police were headed there en masse. I didn’t feel threatened; it was too far away to worry. The police would snuff this out—-so many were arriving at the small, declared riot zone of Watts. You could see it on TV, see the cops arriving, swarms of people in the streets, buildings burning.

My wife and I decided to hang out with some friends that evening, and we got in our car with our three-month-old daughter and headed over to Venice Boulevard near Western. That put us about eight to ten miles away from Watts. We felt safer there.

We met up with our friends in an apartment above a storefront on Venice Boulevard. There were five couples. We all had babies less than six months old. I was 19, my wife 17. No one was older than that. Everyone was Black except two of us. We were all children of the Ghetto. That was our commonality, our bond, that and being poor with low paying shit-jobs and being teen parents. We had all spent our lives in the ghetto, held in by an invisible wall of racism that kept us in our place. The Ghetto enculturated us, and although one of the young men that night was Japanese and I Mexican, we were all black culturally, forged by the Ghetto that bound us and united by that unbreakable chain of childhood friendship that exists beyond color and language.

The Ghetto was not a quaint concept or expression. Minorities could only live in certain parts of the L.A. Basin. My wife and I tried to rent outside of the Ghetto many times and were always told, “We don’t rent to colored people,” or sometimes they might say Negro. Sometimes they said worse. I had discovered the curious white phenomenon: that I was Mexican when alone and Black when I was with my wife.

Our ghetto was surrounded by white sundowner cities, Inglewood, Glendale, Burbank, Huntington Park and all the others. We understood what sundowner city meant: make sure your black ass is not in our city after nightfall. That included my ass, too. The ghetto itself was like a huge police state where white police harassed us at will, beat us, kicked down our doors. Fuck warrants, although they used them when they had them-—the police in the Ghetto acted pretty much above the law. As a young man, I was stopped and searched about three times a week for driving while not white. The Ghetto was a police state, brutal, but it was all we knew and somehow we had learned to navigate that jungle as best we could and also love it for its richness of community, family, and friendships.

That night the sun had gone down, and we sat around the apartment on the floor, the young women holding their babies, some breastfeeding, some bottle-feeding. My wife was holding our daughter. We were watching the riots live on TV. Normally at this hour we would watch the Vietnam War. The networks televised it live nightly. It was the first live-televised U.S. war. We watched U.S. soldiers shoot and be shot on TV every night—live. We’d watch the dead and wounded being carried away. What we saw and what the government told us were in conflict. We saw the truth of this war through television, and that prompted the great anti-war demonstrations of the 1960s. The television didn’t lie; the government, it was clear, did.

Armed National Guardsmen march toward smoke on the horizon during the street fires of the Watts riots, Los Angeles, California, August 1965. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Tonight, however, the riots were being broadcast live, not the Vietnam War. We were all glued to the TV. It was hard to believe the riots had spread so far and so fast. It was no longer just in Watts; the whole L.A. Basin was in riot. People were burning buildings. Police were shooting bullets and tear gas at the crowds. In some places, as the TV news cameras captured the riot from above by helicopter, we had aerial views of police and rioters in hand-to-hand combat. By now it wasn’t just LAPD; the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department and the surrounding incorporated cities had all sent their police battalions to join the LAPD in fighting the rioters. It was complete chaos. Rioters were throwing Molotov cocktails; some carried rifles and handguns. Entire streets were burning.

Then it started. The looting. The helicopter cameras showed people breaking store windows, carrying furniture and TV sets down the street, as rioters fought police on adjacent streets. We could see this as the helicopters panned from above and smoke plumed over the city. We watched as the helicopter cameras caught two men carrying a new couch out of a furniture store around the corner and into what must have been their house, then run around the corner back to the store for more. They were looting stores we all knew, but the largest store that went down to looters and arsonists was ironically named White Front. It may be hard to imagine this today, but whites owned almost all of the major businesses in the Ghetto, and White Front was no exception. For the Ghetto, it was the Home Depot of its time and everyone—-everyone in the ghetto shopped there at some time in their lives. I had and so had everyone in that apartment on Venice Boulevard that night.

We were watching the looters go through the windows of White Front and come out with guns, tools, clothes; then the fire started and White Front was burning.

Eddie, the Japanese boy sitting next to me, said, “Man, I gotta get me some of that shit.”

Despite all of us being American citizens, in those days, minorities were not referred to as Americans, and we understood the purpose of that exclusion. So this young American was considered Japanese and I Mexican, and the others colored, Negro, or black—never American. It didn’t matter how many centuries we had been in this nation.

One of the other young men hollered at Eddie. Man, they shoot people. It’s dangerous. What are you thinking, my brother?”

The riot had spread so fast. By now we were getting TV feed of the street below the apartment we were in. We were watching the people on the sidewalk in front of the apartment on TV. They broke the storefront glass. Looking out the window from our elevated second-floor apartment, we could see people running across the sidewalks and streets, and we could see the orange glow of fires burning against the night sky in every direction.

The young Japanese father, Eddie, stood up and said, “I’m gonna get me some of this free stuff before it’s too late, man.”

His wife—-all of us—-we said don’t go, but he was up on his feet, headed toward the door despite his wife, holding their baby girl, pleading for him to stay. The door closed behind him and then he was gone.

The rest of us stayed and watched the riots, waiting for them to stop, but they never did. About 4:00 a.m. the riots seemed to take a lull, and my wife and I went to our car and drove cautiously home through the mostly deserted smoke-scented streets. Eddie hadn’t returned yet, but the police were making massive arrests of just about everyone on the streets, so we knew he must have gotten arrested.

The next morning my wife got the call. Eddie never came home. They found his body not too far from his apartment. A security officer shot him dead as he tried to loot a local store. They shoot looters—-and sometimes they kill them.

The riot had continued nonstop for three days when the National Guard arrived on a late Friday evening. The National Guard had responded by order of the governor and martial law was declared. They set up checkpoints and barricades and kept anyone from leaving the Ghetto for the next ten days or so. No one could be on the streets before 5:00 a.m. or after 8:00 p.m. or they would be arrested or shot. However, even during those allotted hours, you had to have a reason to be out.

The National Guard came in tanks, armored vehicles, military trucks carrying combat troops, and jeeps with machine guns. They set up armed barricades in the streets at the Ghetto boundaries. Young National Guardsmen with automatic weapons patrolled the Ghetto in military vehicles. Machine guns on tripods ornamented the checkpoints at the established boundaries to keep us in what the media and police referred to as the “riot zone.” The whole Ghetto came to a standstill; the whole Ghetto was the riot zone. The National Guard eventually had 22,000 ground troops in and around the 50-square-mile Ghetto. With the addition of the various police departments, the total of troops amounted to about 30,000. People said soldiers standing ten feet apart surrounded the Ghetto along the perimeter.

I had passed through a National Guard checkpoint after they arrived and knew that a post had been set up near the Thrifty’s Store on Crenshaw and 54th Street, not too far away from my apartment. Because of that post, Thrifty’s was now open for business. The food supply at my house had dwindled to almost nothing. Grocery stores had been some of the first stores to be looted, and Thrifty’s was my only chance to get my infant daughter her prescribed Mull Soy baby formula. I decided I would try to drive there. I walked outside to my car, trying to ignore or pretend not to notice the few Black residents walking around with guns in their hands. Once in my car, I drove through the mostly deserted neighborhood and parked across the street from Thrifty’s. As I got to the corner, I stood and stared across that very wide street called 54th. Directly in front of the store, I saw a blond, blue-eyed, rosy-cheeked boy sitting on his butt in a green National Guard uniform behind a machine gun mounted on a tripod. From across that great divide of space, I looked into his eyes and he looked into mine. His finger was on the trigger. Time stopped for a moment while I made my mental calculations. Although different circumstances governed my reason for being outside during the riot, I remembered Eddie, who only four days ago had been alive. With thoughts of Eddie in my head and my opened hands at my side, I turned calmly and deliberately till my back faced this young National Guardsman, then slowly walked away praying silently to myself.

When the Watts Riots were over, Eddie and 33 other people were dead, and one baby girl, half-Japanese and half-black, didn’t have a father.

          Cuauhtémoc Marín continued to live in the Ghetto for seven more years after the riot. The rise of Black gangs in the early 1970s and the increasing violence and crime forced Marín and his wife out of the ghetto after their lives were threatened.They moved to East Hollywood. Marín came to view education as a way of improving his life and subsequently enrolled in college. During his college years, he continued to work full time to support his family.
          The major literary influences of his writing have been William Faulkner, Ernest Hemingway, Jean-Paul Sartre, Kurt Vonnegut,Jack Kerouac, Patricia Highsmith, Walker Percy, Carlos Fuentes, Gabriel Garcia Márquez, and Thomas Pynchon.
Marín remains indebted to his poetry professor Dr. Benjamin Saltman for his three years of patience and guidance in teaching Marín the craft of poetry while in graduate school.

How I Became a Feminist and Learned to Empower Myself, by Laurie Baumgarten

1 Feb
Laurie Baumgarten first became politically active during the Free Speech Movement at Berkeley. She later taught grades K-8 for 35 years in the Berkeley schools. In the past seven years she has been active in the climate movement, working with the Sunflower Alliance in Richmond, CA, a front-line fossil fuel community. She helped develop a basic climate education curriculum for adults based on the dialogic methods of Paulo Freire, which has been used in over 30 local workshops. Her current political concern is how to incorporate a democratic decision-making structure into organizations as they build a mass movement for change.

When I came out to California in 1964 from Connecticut to go to the University of California at Berkeley, there wasn’t yet a second-wave women’s movement on campus, but obviously there were foundational things happening that I was not aware of. Betty Friedan had by then written her book, The Feminine Mystique (1963). The whole environment of growing up in the suburbs—the isolation of women there and their infantilization as wives and mothers in these isolated communities—was already giving rise to a kind of despair that she picked up on and wrote about.

At Cal I got involved in an organization called Students for a Democratic Society (SDS). At that time the Berkeley chapter of SDS was doing a lot of civil-rights organizing on campus, fighting against segregation in various industries in Oakland. Things were pretty segregated in terms of hiring practices at the auto shops and restaurants, so SDS would join with the Black community and picket these establishments on the weekends. While SDS was part of the New Left, and believed in participatory democracy, it was still male-dominated. My feminism grew out of this involvement.

The women in SDS played fairly traditional roles. We were typing the leaflets, getting the refreshments together, and doing a lot of the legwork of running the organization. We would go to meetings, but it seemed that we were essentially there to be playmates for the men. Many of these male leaders were married, and their wives were taking care of the children and putting their husbands through graduate school, but the undergraduate women on campus were being “horizontally organized,” as the joke went. I wouldn’t call it sexual harassment in the way that term is used today, but we were playing a particular role with which we became increasingly uncomfortable; we felt that our own identities were invisible.

I remember one specific meeting at the beginning of a semester, in which it was suggested that the women organize a little auxiliary to bring refreshments to all the meetings. There were a few women, of course, who were not in that mode. There was Bettina Apetheker and some of the women who had played more leadership roles in the Free Speech Movement. But they were kind of masculinized in the sense that they were seen as a little bit oddball up there as women with essentially male leadership.

But I was not coming from that place; I was one of the troops. In SDS, we began realizing that there was something wrong with this picture, that we were not feeling confident in our own abilities to think through political positions within the struggles taking place in SDS. There’d be meetings with votes on various positions and a lot of us didn’t know which way to vote—we would just vote the way our boyfriends did. The roles we played as women were not as full-fledged members of SDS. This unease grew as the struggles within SDS became more intense and the factionalism, which was rampant in the organization on campus, increased.

So a group of us women on the Berkeley campus got together, as was happening all over the country in different contexts, and decided to form a women’s caucus to think through the issues together before the meetings. This was probably in ’65 or ’66. I do remember the first leaflet that we wrote. We decided to go public with it to the students on the Berkeley campus. Its title was: “Do Your Politics Change When Your Boyfriend Changes?” It continued, “If so, join the women’s caucus and let’s talk about the issues.” And so we began meeting regularly in a women’s group; there would be between ten and fifteen of us, mainly women who were active in SDS. We met at my home on what was then Grove Street. We would look at the upcoming agenda and develop our own abilities to think through the issues. We would debate, talk, and try to figure out where we stood on each issue both individually and as a group. That was my first experience with what later became known as consciousness-raising groups. As SDS grew and developed different campaigns such as the SDS Anti-Draft Union, we women stepped up more easily to leadership roles.

These small, informal, local groups were the backbone of the second-wave feminist Women’s Liberation Movement. They spread like wildfires all round the country, and eventually a women’s movement developed. We would meet and get down to the nitty-gritty of supporting each other—first of all, by reading feminist literature that was coming to the fore, and then defining issues in our lives.

After graduating from college, I became a teacher. A group of us teachers in the Bay Area who opposed the Vietnam War formed a collective called Bay Area Radical Teachers Organizing Collective or BARTOC. The group was multi-gender, and we mainly developed anti-war curriculum for our students, but we also formed as a spin-off of a women’s group to address problems we were having as working women.

I remember one meeting where we decided as a group that we were going to go home and ask our boyfriends to do the dishes. We were doing the cooking and the cleaning, and we were working. We felt we shouldn’t have to cook and do dishes at the same time: we had two jobs and they only had one job. So we decided we were going to get up the nerve to go home, sit our men down, and tell them they should do the dishes. Then we were going to report back how it went. At that time I was living with a man named Dennis. I said to him, You’re going to do the dishes from now on, and he agreed! So we all went back to the next meeting two weeks later, and everyone reported in. Some men were more cooperative than others, but at that point that struggle for the division of labor was primary.

Then there were all the issues of how we were feeling about ourselves—the self-hate, the feelings about our bodies never being good enough, no matter how skinny or how big-breasted, or whatever we were; we realized that all of us hated our bodies—they didn’t meet up to the image of what we thought a perfect body should be. So there was a lot of discussion about that, and about birth control, abortion, and other issues of female anatomy.

It took a long time of meeting in small groups for us to understand that the personal is political. That was the deep message that we were trying to get out: that what was going on in our personal lives had this political dimension, that it was a reflection of our own status in society.

There were struggles within these small “consciousness -raising” groups, of course. There were personal things that came down. Women were divided sometimes. I remember I was at one feminist meeting in which the speakers were dressed very sexily and wore high heels, and my friend said to me, Slaves. They’re dressed like slaves. So there was a lot of judgmental stuff going on, like How come you’re not wearing your overalls? There was one very painful split that happened in our BARTOC group. One woman kept suspecting that another woman in the group was having an affair with her live-in boyfriend. Everyone kept denying it: Oh, that couldn’t be, you’re just paranoid, we’re sisters and sisterhood is powerful, and it turned out that the affair was true. That was painful because sisterhood wasn’t so powerful in that group after all!

There were also political differences and struggles amongst us. There were women who wanted to liberate women only from the confines of gender restrictions. These were more liberal, more reformist women, women who identified more within the Democratic Party. And then there were feminists who were more radical and identified themselves as Marxists. They wanted to do away with the capitalist system. We were all women, but first and foremost we were young people trying to sort out our world-views.

Women like myself who were active in the New Left were fighting for equality for others, but we ourselves were not being respected. Men did not want to give us equal speaking time at rallies and would laugh when women stood up and started articulating a feminist position. It was quite a struggle to change men’s consciousness and for them to get it. And as we know from today’s revelations about sexual abuse, there is deep down in the male psyche a tremendous objectification of us as women. I don’t think all men were equally insensitive. There were clearly some who got it, as Frederick Douglas had in the early suffragette movement when he attended the first women’s convention at Seneca Falls. But most men didn’t—then or now. Even ones who were considered “heavies” in the movement—I mean, some of the most respected of the leftist men, building the student movement, building the anti-war movement at the time, building the Black Power Movement—still didn’t grasp the nature of sexism.

In the early ’70s, I was living in San Francisco with a man who was an activist and with whom I had previously worked on The Movement newspaper, a national SNCC/ SDS paper [SNCC was the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee]. I’d been living with him for nine years and had helped raise his child from a previous marriage since the age of two. I began to realize that this relationship was feeling more and more oppressive to me. I was tolerating a lack of closeness and respect that I did not want to live with anymore. I wanted to break free from patriarchal dynamics. My two closest friends in San Francisco, who also lived with well-known movement men (one had actually written a book on the family and became well-known for it), were also breaking up. The men weren’t getting it, they weren’t changing. Maybe they were changing at an intellectual level, but not in their personal lives.

There was progress around some of the division of labor issues, but at a deeper emotional level, the men could not grasp something about our interior landscapes and who we were as full human beings—that was, and still is, very difficult for many males. Even if they agreed to do the dishes or share some of the childcare, we were still objects for their pleasure or their needs. We were still supposed to look and act certain ways, be subservient in certain ways. That was certainly true in my relationship, and I wanted to break free from all that. A huge part of my coming into my own was in leaving this guy, whom I had greatly looked up to as an influential leftist. I had gotten some vicarious kudos from being with him. We’d been in study groups together, and he had a certain gravitas because of the role he’d played in the movement. But it was oppressive. I felt stupid, depressed, and self-hating most of the time.

I think I stayed in the relationship so long because in some basic way it imitated the family I grew up in. My mother had internalized a lot of self-hate, too. She wasn’t allowed to fully express who she was. She was supposed to just take care of those kids and get the food on the table. There was a whole artistic side to her which she never got a chance to develop.

It is always painful to break up, and even though I had made up my mind to do it, I felt like I was losing my family, my home and my security. The day I moved out from the our house into a tiny apartment, I said goodbye in the morning. The Black Muslims had a moving service; they were supposed to come and move me. I wanted to be out before 4 o’clock. (He was working in the steel mills and his shift ended about then.) It was getting later and later and the moving truck had still not arrived so I called my friend and said, What am I going to do? And she said, Call them up and tell them they have to get the truck there because your boyfriend threatened to beat you up if you were still there when he got home. So I called them.

Oh, lady, they said, we’ll be right there. Our truck broke down in Oakland; we’re going to get you another one and have you out of there by 3:30. I guess they didn’t want to be responsible for my getting beat up.

So I moved out. That night I had this dream of moving from a dark room into a room full of light and sun. It was sort of a “power dream” about being liberated from the confines of this traditional relationship. That dream kept me from going back. It was so clear when I woke up in the morning.

That dream set me on the path to emotional independence just as my teaching credential had given me my own paycheck. I had freed myself from this oppressive relationship, and I began putting myself at the center of my own life. I would be alone and without a partner for many years, but I became a committed activist. I started writing poetry and reading more feminist literature. I studied tai chi daily, and I built a social network of friends I hold dear to this day. I felt as if the cellophane I’d been wrapped up in all my life was being peeled off. I could finally breathe.

I started linking up with other feminists in San Francisco. I became a good friend of Judy Brady (Syfers) who had written her famous “Why I Want a Wife,” the iconic piece that was first published by the National Organization for Women (NOW) and then later included in the anthology Sisterhood is Powerful. She realized that even though she was married to a leftist, she was cooking and cleaning and sexing and raising the children and chauffeuring and doing all the things that she wished she had a wife to do for her. I also met and became good friends with a woman named Chude Pam Allen, who had written a book called Free Space in which she advocated the strategy of consciousness- raising in small groups. She was the editor of the newspaper for an organization called Union W.A.G.E. which when I joined the group organized working class women into unions and focused on women in construction trades and on downtown clerical workers.

The group had been around for awhile, and many of the younger women in that group like Chude and me wanted to broaden the issues to bring a feminist consciousness into the organization. We wanted to raise issues about the structure of the family, about parenting and marriage, about the role of teachers and nurses. The organization became very divided over how broad or how narrow its focus should be. For example, the gay and lesbian movement was emerging, and some of the women in the construction trades were lesbians and wanted Union W.A.G.E. to essentially be a single-issue organization which would support them in becoming unionized and gaining equality with the men in the trades.

There were also issues with the African-American women with whom we were becoming connected through an African-American social worker and psychotherapist on the East Coast named Patricia Robinson. She had been a founding member in 1960 of the seminal Mount Vernon/New Rochelle women’s group composed of poor and working class Black women—often single mothers—who had published their important work called Lessons From the Damned about class struggle in the Black Community. Through Pat we began to anonymously share across ethnic and class differences the letters and essays and poems that we were all writing to our fathers and brothers and husbands and sons as we struggled to understand how the patriarchy was coming down in our lives. Chude, as editor, turned over one issue of the newspaper to the Black sisters of New York to have as a voice for themselves. Many of us supported that move. But some of the trade-unionist and narrowly- focused women were furious that Chude would give over the editorial control of our newspaper to a group of outsiders. Eventually Union W.A.G.E. fell apart over these conflicts after decades of a long and reliable history. Lots of things were coming to an end. Organizations come and go.

The group of us in W.A.G.E., who were trying to build a broader base in San Francisco formed a readers’ theatre called Women’s Words. Women’s Words put together readings in coffee houses based on the poems and letters we were all sharing. We would speak the words of women confronting their families about how they felt. We often included excerpts from earlier struggles, from women fighting in the Labor and Suffragist Movements. These readings flowed back and forth from highly personal stories to deeply impassioned, political narratives.

Pat Robinson was an early Marxist feminist and had been connected with Chude through Chude’s first husband, Robert Allen, the editor of The Black Scholar. Pat was helping women, including myself, deal with how we negotiate, how we function in this patriarchal world that we find ourselves in, in terms of being married or not, having children, working for a living, etc. We would talk to her on the phone, visit with her when we were back East and write her letters, and she would respond as a clear-thinking mentor and therapist.

Finally I confronted my father personally. Robinson felt that if your father were still alive, you had the opportunity to confront him directly. To stand up and own yourself to your father was one way to move beyond that internalization of the patriarchy that we had acquired growing up. So I felt the need to confront my father after an incident at work in which I had been intimidated by my boss.

I was a fifth-grade teacher in the Berkeley public schools, and I was being called on the carpet for not using the mandated spelling program. It’s absurd when I think back on that stupid program that they were using for spelling. It just wasn’t right linguistically; it made no sense. It was some kind of fad that had gotten sold to the district. I refused to use this program so I was considered insubordinate. I knew there was another teacher at the school who was highly respected—years earlier she’d been my master teacher—and I said that she wasn’t using it, either, thinking I could gain a little bit of “cred” using her name. Immediately I realized that I had done a terrible thing by mentioning her. I felt horrible and ashamed. I went home and wrote to Pat, saying, Oh my god, what was this about, and how could I do something like that?

And I realized it was my fear of authority, my fear of getting in trouble, and that in some way my intimidation dated back to my fear of my father, who had been an authoritarian, and that I had grown up and still was frightened of him. He was passive-aggressive, but still he was a well-meaning man. He was born in the U.S. to a poor, German-Jewish immigrant family. His father had been a roofer. He grew up in the Bronx, worked his way up by going to night school, and became a lawyer. After marrying my mother, he moved his family to the suburbs because he wanted his children to grow up in fresh air. He worked very hard, was never a wealthy man, but his home in Connecticut was his castle, and he was proud of his upward mobility. I had always been intimidated by him.

Through my work with Pat, I came to believe that my intimidation of the principal had to do with this internalization of the patriarchy through my father. Pat was working with women in the movement who were struggling to stand up to the system, to stand up to the “Man”—the internalized Man and the real Man. How do we find the strength and the power within ourselves? For women that often meant taking on the father figure.

So I wrote a letter to my father. I said I thought he had been fascistic towards me growing up. And he had been in the sense that I was scared, and he used to yell at me and make me feel I didn’t have freedom to be myself or express how I was feeling. He was controlling. He was that way with my older sister, too, but I think I was more of a rebel at home than she was, and so I somehow triggered more of an authoritarian response. I had been the easier scapegoat for his anger, as I did not look like or sound like the successfully and fully assimilated Jew. He disapproved of my friends and the type of bohemian crowd I was drawn to. He tried to keep me from seeing these friends, and there was no way to talk through or negotiate our conflicts. So I wrote him this letter where I told him I’d been frightened of him, he’d been oppressive, that he hadn’t considered my feelings.

My mom was kind of his lieutenant. She went along with his ultimatums and did not defend me. She was a typical housewife. I’ve come to understand her strengths and skills, but she was basically a suburban housewife, and of course her livelihood was through his paycheck. He would dole out an allowance, from which she had to manage the household. She didn’t have her own paycheck, which immediately puts a women at a terrible disadvantage. By the time I confronted my father, I was earning my own living. I didn’t want to “be like my mother” and be dependent on a man, so I was happy when I became a teacher and got my own job. It was such a relief to know I could support myself in the world and would never have to be dependent on my father or on a husband.

My father was furious with my critical letter. For two years he didn’t speak to me. He was hurt that I called him a fascist, which was the worst name you could call someone who was Jewish. I regret it now and realize I could have toned it down a little. Finally he did speak to me again. I went home to visit at one point but the confrontation continued because something I said triggered a furious reaction, and he started screaming at me, and I said, don’t you ever scream at me like that again. Fuck off. He picked up a chair!

He had never hit me—my mother did some of that—but he picked up a chair and came at me. He was so enraged that I’d stand up to him in that way, and I just looked at him. He stopped, and—this was a most embarrassing moment—he got down on the floor and started kicking and screaming like an infant! I couldn’t believe it! My mother came running into the living room and said, What have you done to your father? What have you done to your father?

Now my father was a dignified man, a well-respected lawyer; he was on the school board, he was brilliant, had worked his way up by getting all the awards from the public schools in New York, and now he was down on the floor. A shift occurred in me when I saw that. He was internally dethroned. I began seeing him as a kind of vulnerable human being who’d suffered a lot of anti-Semitism, a lot of pain in his family; he was a traumatized individual, who had worked his butt off for his kids. His masculine power was a bubble that had burst. It was a paper tiger. The next day he was driving me to the airport to return to California, and it was strange but I do remember this kind of opening in my heart toward him, and I think I felt love for him for the first time. I felt a softness toward him that I’d never felt before because I’d been so frightened of him. You can’t love somebody in a deep way if you are scared of them. This confrontation of our parents and confronting the male authority that we had so internalized was part of the process that many of us were going through to become stronger, more liberated, for ourselves and for our children. We had been inculcated with patriarchal and hierarchical power relationships in our childhoods that had left us feeling helpless, and we were determined to overcome them.

I eventually moved back to Berkeley and got involved in the anti-nuclear struggle with the Abalone Alliance. This state-wide network organized a massive civil disobedience of Livermore Lab with 1600 arrestees. It relied on small affinity groups and feminist process. And when I went to jail with my comrades, I never thought for a minute about whether my father would approve or not!


Laurie and her husband Michael today