Tag Archives: anti-war

Long-time Activist by Anonymous

10 Nov

I was born and grew up in Los Angeles, more precisely, in the South Bay, a post-WWII suburb of mainly aerospace workers—the “white collar” of the “blue collar” workers who strongly identified with the patriotically conservative, non-political, hysterically anti-communist 1950’s “Leave It to Beaver” image of a white picket fence, two-car garage America.  My parents were the absolute antithesis: children of Communists who grew up in the depression and the radical ‘30s.  Although my schools were racially mixed, my little neighborhood was Caucasian, except for the family of a Mexican-American doctor who, at any rate, lived in the adjacent area of the cheaper, “flat-roof” slab houses.

Because my parents were very involved in the anti-war and civil rights movements, I had a number of African-American (at that time, the politically-correct terminology was “Negro”) friends.  I had to walk over to their neighborhood to play with them—they did not feel comfortable coming to my house as it meant being stared at as they walked through the streets of my White neighborhood.

I felt more at ease with my non-Caucasian friends because I felt I could be more myself with them – I didn’t have to hide my parent’s political views like I had to with my (White) neighbors who lived closer to me – although I still didn’t feel that I could acknowledge my parents Marxist beliefs with my non-Caucasian friends—that I had to hold in check until the weekends, when we either went to visit my relatives (and their friends) in the bohemian (and by my era, hippie) neighborhood of Venice, or to visit the children of friends of my parents who lived in the city of Los Angeles and who were also “fellow travelers”.

The racial disparity became even more apparent starting in middle school—what was then termed Junior High School.  The classes were divided according to IQ test, and in my grade, there was only one Black/African-American in the “smart” class. Due to this, and  because her mother, who ran the local Head Start program. was an acquaintance of my mother’s, she became one of my closest friends.

In June 1967, there was a large protest in Century City against the war in Vietnam.  My mother, who was involved in Women Strike for Peace, took me and my siblings.  At some point, the police started to break up the demonstration.  They yelled through megaphones to disperse—but nobody could understand what they were saying because the sound was so distorted.  They had their billy clubs out and were indiscriminately swinging them at anyone in their path.  They almost hit my gentle, diminutive, grey-haired mother, and they did get one of my brothers, although he wasn’t seriously hurt.  I was so incensed by this—even more so than not allowing a legitimate, legal demonstration to take place—because the police were so stupid that they were shouting dispersal instructions which no one could understand through these ridiculous bullhorns.

By the time I got to high school, I was totally alienated from all but one or two of my neighbors and longed to go to an LAUSD high school where there were identifiable groups of student anti-Vietnam war activists.  So I got out of there as soon as I could, skipping my last year of high school and going to Cuba on the Venceremos Brigade in the fall of 1970.  We traveled in a cross-county bus, headed to Saint John, New Brunswick, Canada, where we would sail to Cuba. This was at the time that Angela Davis had gone underground, when she was on the FBI’s most-wanted list.  Angela’s sister Fania was with us, which gave the police an excuse to continually harass us and stop the bus to haul her out—each time insisting that she was actually Angela in disguise.  The FBI disseminated all sorts of rumors and negative publicity to the local population in the towns we went/traveled through, stoking McCarthy-like panic.  By the time we got to Bangor, Maine, the hysteria was so frenzied that our bus was attacked—shades of Peekskill!

We boarded an old Cuban cargo ship that had been specially retro-fitted for us by slinging hammocks down in the bottom deck for us to sleep—separated into women’s and men’s sections.  It was hurricane season and we sailed through some rough seas—everyone, i.e., the Brigadistas (not the Cuban  sailors), got seasick and for a few days, the only food we could hold down was a few bites of hardtack.  The only relief was from a Brigidista, a gay guy from New York, who led us in mindful meditation.  Lying stretched out on the battered deck, his hypnotic voice led us–or at least me–into a euphoric state in which I actually felt that I was floating above it all.  It was such a soothing feeling which I continue to replay in my mind even now.

We were supposed to help in the Cuban campaign for the “Zafra de Los Diez Milliones”, but by the time we arrived, sugar cane season was over, so we were sent to the Isla de Juventud to pick citrus.  When we were done, Fidel Castro came to personally shake each of our hands in thanks for our solidarity against the blockade. In addition, we were toured all over the country, and as it was also the anniversary of “El Camino del Che”, we hiked through the mountains in the footsteps of that long march.

On the cross-country bus trip back from Canada, I decided to not return to Southern California, so had the bus drop me off in San Francisco.  I had the address of an acquaintance of my parents, a nurse who had gone to Spain to drive an ambulance in the fight in their civil war against fascism.  She lived at the very top of Portreo Hill.  I didn’t have any money so I trudged all the way up those steep streets, dragging my heavy duffle bag, only to find out when I finally got up there that she wasn’t home, but out on Alcatraz, as a nurse volunteer in the Native American occupation of the Island.  I hitchhiked back over the Bay Bridge and found a place to stay in a communal-living house on Channing Avenue in Berkeley, a few blocks from the water.  It was not a particularly safe neighborhood in general for a naïve teenage girl, but I quickly found out that I didn’t have to worry because it was around the corner from the West Berkeley Black Panther headquarters, which had the neighborhood kids marching around military-style, patrolling the streets.  I liked to watch them, dressed in army fatigues with their red-capped berets covering their Afro-styled hair, shouting out their revolutionary slogans as they paraded by in formation.

I needed to find work, but there was a recession on, so after days of systematically walking down the commercial streets, one after the other, knocking on the door of each and every establishment asking for a job, I finally managed to get hired at the MacDonald’s in East Oakland, on Hegenberger Road.  Also not a safe neighborhood, but I had become very friendly with a Venceremos Brigade member from New York, a Borrinqueno leader of the Young Lords—it turned out that his cousin, quite co-incidentally, was one of my customers, and as he was in the local gang, he looked out for my welfare.  The supervisor at McDonalds was intrigued because I had gone to Cuba illegally, and he tried to recruit me into training for their management program—go figure!  I barely made enough money to get by but the manager let me take home the food that was left over at closing.  As my roommates were vegetarians, we usually fed the hamburger meat to the dog.

One day, I was with a roommate at the Berkeley Co-Op (Consumers’ Cooperative of Berkeley) supermarket, and she took a piece of fruit while we were in the store and offered me a bite.  The store had two-way mirrors all around, up at the top of the walls, to catch shop-lifters.  They saw this happen, accused us of stealing, and called the police.  They let my friend go but because I was underage, they arrested me and I was sent to juvenile detention.  I was in jail two days. There were some pretty rough girls in there and at the beginning I had some trepidation. But after hearing how I had had the bad luck to be so stupidly arrested and was being shipped back to my parents against my wishes, they became sympathetic and friendly and we passed the time chatting. My parents had to pay the $10 it cost to fly me back–that was a day’s wage for me—but as a consequence of my sudden departure, all my things were left behind, including my most prized possession: a bust of Marx carved by a comrade from a bar of Ivory soap.

Now being back in L.A at my parent’s house, I was visited regularly by the FBI as a result of going on the Brigade.  My bedroom was adjacent to the front porch, so whenever there was an early Saturday morning knock—which was always when they came–I peered through the curtains of my window to see who it was before answering the door.  If I saw two young men dressed in suits, I knew it was agents and not Jehovah Witnesses –who always came with at least one woman–so I’d yell at them to go away.  For years after I moved out, they continued to hassle my parents about me, although more sporadically.

Although I consorted with various political groups, my favorite was the Young Workers Liberation League (YWLL, or “the League”).  I thought they had the best “revolutionary line” because not only were they affiliated with the CPUSA and therefore multi-national and determinedly anti-racist, but a number of the members were also in the Black Panthers, which gave them considerable cachet to my way of thinking.  Most importantly, besides the serious stuff like classes on Marxism, the League knew how to go out and have fun—plus, they held the best Soul Train-style dance parties!  I still remember how to do the Funky Chicken!!

The local YWLL organizer had a contact in a factory near my parent’s house that made “Hot Pants” for New York’s haute couture fashion industry.  Me and three other YWLLers got a job there.  Most of the workers were undocumented women from Thailand.  They didn’t speak much English, so I ended up learning some basic Thai.  They were very concerned that I wasn’t married, and were constantly trying to get me to come to their cultural events so that I could meet an “eligible” man. They even taught me some of the traditional arm and hand movements of traditional Thai dance.  Occasionally there wasn’t a lot of work coming in, so the company owner, wanting to save on labor costs, would announce that the INS was going to make a raid, which scared those workers who were undocumented, so they would not come in for a few days.  It would always be a lie!  The International Ladies Garment Workers Union (ILGWU or “the ILG”) was trying to organize the shop, so we were supposedly helping with that.  However, I didn’t like some of the ways the ILG was conducting its campaign.  The female workers had the lowest-paying, menial jobs, while the male workers had the higher-paying jobs as “pressers” and “cutters”.  The Union officials were all men and this disparity didn’t concern them.  It was what they were used to in the industry and they didn’t want to hear my complaints about it.  As the union struggle intensified, the four of us were eventually “outed” and subsequently fired.  I remained in touch with a few of the women for many years, so I was able to practice the Thai phrases that I had learned.

I worked in various other factory jobs after that–assembling disc brake pad kits (until the manger’s sexual harassment got too much to bear, so I quit), at the Papermate factory in Santa Monica doing quality control of Bic pens on the midnight shift, and then, finally, a better-paying union job as an International “O” Operator for Ma Bell (AT&T).  I worked a split shift, which I really liked because I could do political work in between.  But the union, the Communication Workers of America (CWA) was not a very progressive organization—at least not in Los Angeles at that time.  The supervisors were all men, and we had to raise our hands and wait to be acknowledged if we needed to take a bathroom break.  It was not the most exciting work, so I would take “Black Beauties” to help me focus.  I’d arrange my switchboard so that the telephone cords were all nicely positioned, precise and straight, which the supervisor would praise me for–clueless that it was only due to the effect of the speed pills!  I took pride in being able to get a call through in an emergency, such as a hurricane—even routing the calls through other countries if necessary.  Because I worked near the city of Gardena, at that time a predominantly Japanese community, I learned rudimentary Japanese in order to place my calls more effectively.  I remember one intriguing co-worker who lived in South Central but was originally from New Orleans.  She had a side business raising rabbits in her backyard, peddling the meat out of her house but would occasionally bring some to work to sell out of an ice chest.  She would cook the rabbit southern-style and share with me at lunch.

At this time I was living near Banning Park–in Wilmas13 territory, so the rent was lower than in other areas—but it was still 50% of my salary.  I would hear occasional gunshots, and to get home I’d have to walk by a bunch of young men hanging out along my back fence, but they pretty much left me alone.  I had an open dirt space in the backyard, where I tried to plant vegetables, although the only thing that grew was corn, but it was delicious and sweet–it could be eaten raw, right off the cob. It also attracted mice; I’d see them sticking their noses up out of the gas rings in my stove top.  The landlord just told me to buy traps, but I wouldn’t.

I was volunteering at what is now the Southern California Library for Social Studies and Research but strongly disliked the way that the proprietor treated his spouse, so I decided I wanted a change. Having been awarded $100 because an elderly man rear-ended my car, it was enough to buy a ticket to fly overseas. I didn’t return to Los Angeles for some years.

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Seminal Events of the 60s Revisited–New York Style, by Steve Fine.

15 Mar

Steve-Fine_Me_and_Junior

Originally from New York, Steve Fine has been living in Los Angeles since the mid-seventies with his wife, Jocelyne.  They have a son, Matthew, and now two backyard cats. He became active here in L.A. in the vigil movement, which sprang up in opposition to the Iraq War. For years he “vigiled” weekly in Silverlake and then in Studio City. Currently he has a book in progress.  Photography is his other passion.

 

Photographs from the Spring of ’67, and
A Walk Through the Wall Street Demolition Zone, circa ’69.

The five series of vintage photos you will find displayed at my site are resurrected from the deep archives, the years 1967 and 1969. Somehow the original negatives survived all these years. One sample is here for each of the five series you can view at:

steveposts.wordpress.com

pudkwwhApril ’67 Mobilization Against the War in Vietnam

The four galleries in the “Spring ‘67” series reflect the spirit of the times and the activism in the streets just as the antiwar movement was shifting into high gear and the counter-culture aborning.  I was eighteen and living with my mom at her West Side apartment right off Central Park in the high 90s, so it was literally a walk in the park to cover the antiwar march, draft card burning, and ‘be-ins’.  The ‘sweep-in’ was a subway ride down to the Village; I brought my camera along with a broom and bucket.

Steve-Fine_Sweep-In67_firehydrantSpring ’67 Sweep-In on the Lower East Side

My approach is to tell the story of the event rather than just select a few of the very best photos to highlight, so overall there is an unedited street-photography feel, a mix of my favorites with markers to guide you along the way.

By the expressions of some of the people in the photos you can see that for them this journey is entirely new and surprising, not the historical clichés of today.  Enter and you will be moving through a time of possibility, defiance and hope with enormous creative potential. It was all suddenly and unexpectedly happening that spring. For example, the look on the face of the sandy-haired, sport-jacketed draft resister as he burns his card. The year before, or even a few months before, he would not have been emboldened to take this step.

Steve-Fine_Draft67_resister1April ’67 Draft Resistance

 On a lighter note, there are the faces of the gawkers at the first “Be-In,” the opening shots in the series where the trees are bare in the background and the people are wearing jackets.  They are trying to fathom what exactly this is that is happening here.

Steve-Fine_Be-In67_peaceflag Spring ’67, Central Park Be-In 

The joke is, most of the people grooving in front of them on the cold cold ground were not certain either.  “Hippie”, “flower power”, “psychedelic” and even the phrase “counter-culture” have yet to enter common usage. That would come a few months when Time and Newsweek put out their big “summer of love” issues to explain it all and sell merchandise.  As a matter of fact, although I went to the park with my friends and we acted as if we knew, obviously, since we were eighteen and very cool, the truth is I had absolutely no idea what was happening. But like Ringo, I knew it was mine.  

Steve-Fine_WallStreet69_WTC-1

 

Moving on. Circa ’69, the Wall Street area of lower Manhattan was in the midst of a major period of demolition to make way for the World Trade Center and other new buildings. One Sunday morning I went down with my camera because I’d heard that on the weekends the place was deserted, like a ghost town. I was not expecting to find entire blocks razed and more slated for the same fate.

 

Another Bozo on the Bus, by R.F. Part 4 of 4

30 Jan

R.F. lives in L.A. with a deaf, but talkative, elderly female cat. He is retired, meditates daily, practices tai chi and yoga, and loves his friends (including Kitty Kroger).

Part 4 of 4

Back Home Briefly

A day or so after a beautifully sensuous reunion with my girlfriend, I got into my car and drove back to Fort Ord because I knew I still had to process out. When asked where I’d been I said, “At the beach I got so tired and disoriented, I just wandered off, and–I don’t know–pretty soon I wound up in the back of a pickup truck.” Then I embellished the story, “These guys found me there, took me to a house. A woman gave me some soup. They were so nice and friendly, I stayed there a couple of days. Eventually I told them where I was from. They said, ‘You really need to go back to Fort Ord because they can help you.’ So they brought me back here.” As it turned out the Army never found out that I went to L.A. or that I had my car parked on the base.

Smooth Moves, Not!

Sometime after I’d returned, we had another outing, this time to a bowling alley. We were eating burgers and fries. Across the table from me was a nurse from the psych ward whom I found attractive. (Had I forgotten about my girlfriend at home?) I thought I’d impress this woman by disclosing the truth about my phony CIA story. I was so naïve. She went right to the senior staff! In hindsight I realize that by that time I had grown weary of my charade and what I desperately wanted was to make a normal human connection. Risking all that I was attempting to accomplish, however, with a lame attempt to score some points with a female who had shown me nothing but indifference seems totally irresponsible and bit crazy to this day!

My Fate

I later found out that when my fate was being determined, the staff were of two minds. One faction wanted to throw me back into the court-martial process. The other apparently saw something in my personality that would legitimately make me eligible for a medical discharge. The latter faction won out and I was discharged.  It seems that I came within a gnat’s eyelash of landing in the brig and receiving an undesirable discharge which would have followed me throughout my life and wouldn’t have been convertible to the general discharge which I did receive.

Years later I found out that a general discharge could be converted to an honorable discharge by filing for the process. (Later still, I applied for and received my entire military file from the Army, through the Freedom of Information Act, though much of it had been redacted. I felt I needed to get that file in order to reclaim a bit of my life and see what, if anything, the government had on me). That I did end up getting an honorable discharge is ironic because what I went through is so contrary to what some Americans think “honorable” service people should do. Nevertheless, I’m grateful that I was able to take advantage of that form of amnesty. It probably made it easier to get some of the jobs I applied for, and, with my history of emotional instability, I needed every break I could get.

Finally Free!

Three of us who were to be released the same day were headed in the same general direction. A mumbling, apparently psychotic guy, whom a staff member told me heard voices, indicated that he wanted to return to the Santa Barbara area. The other needed to go south too, and since I had my car on base, I offered to take them with me. On the way back, I asked the guy with the voices, “Where do the voices come from?” In a monotone he said, “They come from an illusion-making machine in outer space.” We were on our way home–free from the Army–he didn’t have to make up a story for me. He really was psychotic. I don’t know where I let him off—at his sister’s or something–I was just focused on getting home. I dropped the other guy off near L.A.

Back in town, I ended up at my mom’s house again. Soon after, my long-term girlfriend and I moved in together. She had found a house in Woodland Hills where the owner was willing to sublet the two downstairs bedrooms and a bath. The woman needed help to pay her mortgage after a recent divorce. She (along with the occasional boyfriend) and her two young children slept in the upstairs bedrooms.

My girlfriend’s mother was livid because we were unmarried and living together. The woman was from the old country (Which one…? No, not that one), and she threatened  never to speak to her daughter again unless we got married. Within a couple of months we began to plan our wedding. After a mutual friend started to take over all of the planning without being asked to–even choosing what dress my bride-to-be would wear–we decided to elope to Monterey, CA, and be married by the Justice of the Peace. We agreed that a honeymoon in nearby Carmel would be divine. The wedding ring hadn’t been picked out yet, but we didn’t tell the staff that. We just had no ring. And the coat my bride was wearing (because she was cold) made her look about five months pregnant. (A shotgun wedding?) I  saw that those officiating noticed this too. It’s another irony (in a story rife with them) because she wasn’t pregnant. In fact, we never had children during our ten year marriage because she wanted to stay focused on her teaching job.

United Parcel Service and the Teamsters

Although I didn’t follow the path my father had prescribed for me I never did have to become “a soda jerk.” In 1967, the same friend who would later almost kill me with that Nembutal overdose, insisted that I do whatever I could to get a job where he worked: at United Parcel Service loading semi-trucks with packages. At that time it was a part-time student job, and since I was a student, I qualified. I managed to get hired as Christmas help and worked at the maximum of my physical ability so that they might ask me back. They did! Later I studied hard for and passed the sorter’s test. Sorters were paid more than loaders. I wound up working for UPS (they including my time with the Army in my total time with them) for over nine years. I was given a plaque for nine years of accident free service to the company when I left at the end of 1977.

This part-time job came with a full wage and benefits package, including a health plan and a retirement fund, under the Teamsters Union contract. I owe a great debt to the union movement which had been organized mostly by Jewish-Americans whose parents and grandparents had been decimated in the ghettos and shtetels of Eastern Europe by pogroms. These labor organizers were determined to create a new world here in the States where working people could make decent wages and provide themselves and their families with a better life. It worked. Their efforts helped to build the American middle class. In the 70s, my wife and I, both working part-time jobs, were able to facilitate a comfortable middle class life together, which included buying new cars and a home in La Crescenta. Nevertheless, I was still unhappy.

We moved to Seattle, WA, in 1978, and I divorced her two years later. Once again I had concluded that she would be better off if we split up. This time I believed that I would be too.

Conclusion

Near the end of his life my father told me that I was “accomplished.” That may have meant something to him, but I think that the stuff I’ve been through, much of it described above, tells a different story. Now I look back on what I’ve done as something that amounts to, to borrow the title of a Joni Mitchell album, a chalk mark in a rainstorm–nothing more. As a dedicated Zen Buddhist meditator I have no thought that it should have been otherwise. I’m just grateful for being here.

Om tara tutare ture soha

End of Part 4 of 4

Another Bozo on the Bus, by R.F. Part 3 of 4

15 Jan

R.F. lives in L.A. with a deaf, but talkative, elderly female cat. He is retired, meditates daily, practices tai chi and yoga, and loves his friends (including Kitty Kroger).

Part 3 of 4

Conscientious Objector?

In spite of all that had happened, with the police coming to the door and all, I didn’t worry that much, but I knew I couldn’t go on with my life this way and had to deal with being AWOL. I had heard that you could apply for conscientious objector status and possibly obtain a discharge, so I wrote an appeal*  [editor’s note: see the addendum for excerpts from the original draft].  A couple of older people read it and said they were impressed with how articulate and well thought-out it was. However, someone else told me to take it to the National Lawyers Guild before submitting it. I did, and a lawyer told me that my appeal wouldn’t go anywhere because it was based on philosophy, not religion. He said that the government investigators would look at my life and know whether I’d been religious or not. Well, I wasn’t going to pretend I was religious, because I certainly was not. I’d been an atheist since age eight. So that was that.

I wasn’t sure what to do. There were thousands of us who were AWOL. By now it was 1970, and the Viet Nam war was still raging. I had heard about Canada: Big country, no work, illegal, knowing no one. I wasn’t very accomplished at managing my life in Los Angeles, so the thought of what I’d have to do to make it in another country was just too scary. Finally, I realized that I needed to deal with the Army, so I turned myself in and expected to be court-martialed.

On a whim, before presenting myself to the Army brig at San Pedro, I decided to smuggle some LSD in with me. I had a vague notion it might come in handy somehow. In the cell the second night I took one whole dose and got very high, a feeling that I enjoyed. As it happened, it was the night of an inspection, and before long an officer in full regalia came walking through the cell block with his entourage. You might think that because I was high on acid, I imagined all of this, but it’s clear to me that it really happened. I was an experienced LSD user, so I knew what was real and what was fantasy. I was feeling somewhat exposed on the top bunk at about his eye level. It was all I could do to watch him through the corner of one slightly opened eye without revealing that I was awake, especially since I was blazing on acid. (Keeping one’s cool like this was known among street drug users as “maintaining”). If discovered, I probably would have gotten into big trouble. They don’t take too kindly to people smuggling drugs in body cavities.

And so it was on that same night, while still high, that I hatched my plan for getting out of the Army: I would tell the authorities at the appropriate time that I was very afraid and wanted their protection against the CIA, which was after me because I had discovered the Secret of Life! While coming up with that, I had idly twisted a common paperclip into a spiral shape and later realized that I could tell the interrogators that it was the working model of the Secret of Life. Of course, I knew this was silly, but it seemed crazy enough that it just might work, and besides, after having my conscientious objector appeal deemed inappropriate, I didn’t have a lot of other options. Soon I would be out-shipped to Fort Ord, along with all the other lucky bastards (we weren’t killing and dying in Vietnam), to be processed for a court-martial.

Also While At The Brig

One day I observed a guy bragging he was a kung fu expert. He seemed quite disturbed, saying to no one in particular, “They can come at me. They can try to make me go back into the Army, but they’ll never do it. I’m a black belt!” Right there in the cell he was demonstrating all kinds of moves and acting like he could fight off a whole army. Delusional. I heard later that the MPs restrained him, took him away, and put him in isolation.  It seemed to me the only difference between him and the gung-ho guys in ‘Nam I’d heard about was who each was willing to use violence against.

There was another soldier there who, like me, was trying to get out of the Army (I heard about him second-hand). Story goes that when the psychologist interviewed him in his office, the young man started whistling for his dog which, of course, wasn’t there. He’d say, “Here, Rover. Here, boy.” and whistle some more. The psychologist responded, “Oh, I see that you have a dog.” What could the fellow do now? Crazy people don’t act that way anyway. That’s how naive he was. The shrink then said, “I understand that you’ve engaged in some behaviors with a female that could get you charged with statutory rape.” This was the old ploy used to determine if the young soldier was gay, which at the time was a justifiable reason for a discharge. I don’t remember hearing what his response to that was. Of course, if he’d had his wits about him (not likely with this particular individual) he’d have done his best Johnny Ray impersonation and in a lilting, impassioned voice declared, “Oh no, I don’t think of girls in that way.” He’d have been out on the street in no time.

Back To Ft. Ord

A couple of days after processing into the Ft. Ord holding company for drug-addicted soldiers from Vietnam and other “undesirables,” I started chewing my fingernails and cuticles until they bled. I was shaking and acting out as if I were having a nervous breakdown. Some actors chew the scenery, I chewed my fingers. Anyway, a section leader in the billet noticed and said, “We’ve got to get this man some help. Send him to the Commanding Officer (CO) to see what can be done.” The MPs were called. At the CO’s office, I refused a chair and sat in the corner on the floor. I was shaking and chewing on the bleeding fingers of my right hand. In the other hand I had my little spiral paperclip. He asked me, “What’s going on with you?” With a deliberately flat affect I told him, “The CIA is after me. I was in the mess hall. They were coming to get me. They called my name. I looked, but they weren’t there. I know they’re closing in.” I did this whole schtick. Intently he asked, “But why do they want you?” With no emotion I said, “Because I have the Secret of Life.” He said, “What’s that in your hand? Let me see it.” I handed it over. He said, “OK, now I have the Secret of Life.” Again flatly I said, “No, that’s the working model. You don’t know how it works.” He blanched and after a long pause said, “OK, we’re going to send you to a safe place where you can have a good long rest.” And that’s when they took me to the psych ward in the military hospital at Ft. Ord.

From Day 1, I had to line up with the other patients to receive medication. I thought I was being clever by putting the pills under my tongue and spitting them out in the toilet, as I then observed that others were doing too. But the docs found out, and we were all made to take the drugs (mostly anti-psychotics like Thorazine and Stelazine) in liquid form and swallow them in front of the med station.

The Psychotic Reaction

After a while, I befriended a fellow patient, about my age and seemingly very intelligent. One day when he and I went to the mess hall for a meal, there was a guard at the door. As we approached him, I could tell by his demeanor that he was another of those barely mentally sufficient guys commonly found in the military because they can’t do anything else. He grabbed my buddy by the shoulder and in a belligerent tone said, “You’ve got a button undone. Button that up!” The blood drained from my friend’s face. He became unresponsive to questions and apparently unable to move. The guys in the white coats had to come to take him back to the ward on a gurney. I found out the next day that he’d had a psychotic reaction and that the docs had loaded him up with meds to try to bring him back to normal. A week later I learned that he’d suffered a another breakdown. When I finally saw him, I asked, “What happened to you in the mess hall doorway that day?” He said, “I was captured by the North Vietnamese.” He thought the asshole at the door was speaking Vietnamese to him and that the white-coat guys were also his captors! Can you imagine? So I said, “Have you taken a lot of psychedelic drugs in the past?” He said, “I’ve never taken drugs. I’ve always been afraid of them because I thought this could happen to me if I did.” Here’s a guy who was always clean and sober, and yet he had two psychotic reactions. When I first got to know him, he’d spoken glowingly about his wife. Everything about his gentle, relaxed manner and engaging conversation had suggested that here was a man firmly in control of his life, and yet…. I came away from the experience of witnessing that sudden mental collapse with the feeling that we are all so vulnerable, no one really has it all together, and any semblance of sanity we each possess is precious

Psst!

One time a patient whispered, “Wanna get high? Come with us.” The hospital was like a rabbit’s warren. It was a one-story building spread out with many long corridors set at right angles to each other. So I went with this group and smoked some pot. I didn’t think of it at the time, but since it was likely there was at least one staff member among those smokers, the incident probably added to my cred with the medical authorities that I was a paranoid doper.

AWOL Again!

One day we were put on an Army bus and taken to nearby Monterey to a ball field near the beach. Looking back on this incident, I think the docs figured that since we were so loaded on meds, we wouldn’t try anything and would be under their control. After we stumbled around for a while trying to play softball, we took a lunch break on the beach. I got my food on a paper plate and started walking, eating as I went, out to the edge of the strand. I soon realized the hospital staff didn’t know where I was, so I just kept walking. I was free—AWOL from the psych ward!

I wandered into town and saw a small pickup truck with an unlocked canopy parked by the curb. By then I was getting pretty drowsy from the meds and food, so I crawled  into the back of the truck, which seemed like a safe place to hide, and quickly dropped off to sleep. All of a sudden a couple of guys hopped into the cab and the pickup started moving through town. When the driver stopped at a light, I jumped out, ran around to his window and yelled, “I was in the back of your truck, and I need your help.” I was in my blue psych ward pajamas, by the way. I said, “I need to borrow some street clothes and get out of here.” The driver said, “I know someone with clothes you can have. We’ll take you there.” I got the change of clothes (just my size too), thanked my benefactors, and started hitchhiking back to L.A., “pumped” at the prospect that I would soon see my girlfriend, whom I’d started seeing again before I turned myself in to the Army. About half the way home I spent the night sleeping under a HWY 1 overpass, along with about twelve other itinerants. No one asked what I was doing there.

*Addendum: Appeal for C.O. Discharge, by R. F.  September 1969

As a person believing in non-violence and the dignity of Man, I sincerely believe that I cannot, in good conscience, remain in the military because its main function is, and always has been, to destroy lives and property. I believe that the destruction of lives (or property) cannot be justified for any reason. I cannot, without being treasonous to my own conscience, contribute in any way to the military because of its intimate relationship with destruction and the willful commission of violence. One can see that my intention is honorable. It is my duty to my country and my conscience to stand up as an objector to war and be recognized. I do not want America to become like Hitler Germany, where the people neglected to challenge the build-up of militarism, or like the Soviet Union, where the people do not have that right at all. If there is to be peace in the world, I believe that it is up to the people who believe in non-violence to affirm their belief in it by saying no to death; by refusing to participate in the military.

Any man who is forced against his convictions to participate in an armed conflict or war or to contribute in any way to the military, is being compelled to commit treason against his own conscience. I am no better than any other man regardless of the color of his skin or the part of the world he lives in. I believe that any man may cherish his life just as much as I cherish my own. Life is the most important possession we have. Without life we are nothing. I do not believe in a hereafter. What is important is what we can do with our lives. Salvation is having led a constructive life. There is no reward for fighting and dying violently in the defense of some arbitrary ideal. Religious groups, such as the Christians and Shintos, have killed and been killed because of their belief in a hereafter. This is the basis of heroism in our society. The Christians, who fought in the Crusades and other “holy” wars, missed the point of Christ’s teachings. He practiced and taught non-violence; the turning of the other cheek. He taught that love is the only satisfactory answer to the question of human existence; that men must learn to live as brothers.

I do not claim to know of the existence of a god, as some do. However, to me all that we are conscious of is but a part of the unique omnipresence of being, which encompasses everything. This universal wholeness is the dynamic and omnipotent force to which we owe our existence. In the face of the beautiful unity of the universe, it seems strange indeed that men kill one another and commit other acts of violence. Actions which destroy life and property and bring trauma to human beings are counter to the will of the cosmos, which is to maintain order and harmony. Albert Einstein held a similar view. This is why he repeatedly appealed to Presidents Roosevelt and Truman not to develop and deploy nuclear bombs, which his theories accidentally made possible.

Dr. Rollo May states in his book Love and Will that hope is born out of love for one’s destiny. This is why most people living in ghettos, for example, have no hope. By the same token, because most of the conditioning of the Army was counter to my beliefs, my hope for the future was destroyed. In desperation, I did the only thing I felt that was left for me to do, I went AWOL. In an attempt to overcome these feelings of desperation, I went to a psychiatrist. Dr. Fabian impressed upon me the fact that the way to counter hopelessness is for one to become receptive to one’s inner feelings and then to take positive action by doing that which he feels he must do. The encouragement and help I received from Dr. Fabian have led me to make this appeal for a C.O. Discharge. I believe that I can contribute to the welfare of my country and my fellow man by spending the next several years in college; studying to become a doctor. It is my hope that as a doctor I can disseminate a positive attitude toward living and help others just as Dr. Fabian helped me.

One day before I was to enter the Army as a draftee, I enlisted. At the time, I was confused about what the Army represented and uncertain about what my role could be as a contributing citizen of this country. Had I felt then as I feel now, I would have started my pre-med in college and been exempted from the draft. I signed up for medic because my convictions about war and killing had been somewhat formulated, but I became more disenchanted with the Medical Corps the longer I was exposed to it. First, I learned that corpsmen are expected to function as infantrymen, as they are assigned to infantry units. Then, I learned that the corpsman’s function is to patch up and evacuate casualties so that they can be “returned to battle as soon as possible.” To me this meant that as a corpsman I would be required to contribute to the perpetuation of violence. I became further disenchanted when some of the medical personnel at Fort Sam Houston expressed their disgust at the fact that captured Vietcong, human beings like myself, were being used as guinea pigs for practice operations and other “medical” procedures, which often resulted in their deaths. As a matter of conscience, I cannot function as a corpsman in the Army because it perpetrates such inhuman practices. (The Vietcong are notorious for their atrocities, of course, but because they are wrong does not make us right.) All war breeds such atrocities, and I am, for that reason, against all war. The military’s primary function is to engage in war; therefore, I cannot, in good conscience, engage in the activities of the military.

End of part 3 of 4

Another Bozo on the Bus, by R.F. Part 2 of 4

4 Jan

R.F. lives in L.A. with a deaf, but talkative, elderly female cat. He is retired, meditates daily, practices tai chi and yoga, and loves his friends (including Kitty Kroger).

Part 2 of 4

LSD

One day a friend invited me to his house near the beach. He wasn’t home and his door was unlocked (common at the time) so I let myself in. While looking for something to eat, I found a small capsule in the freezer. I didn’t know what it was but, being game for anything, swallowed it. After about 30 minutes I began to feel a high I had never experienced before. I felt one with the Universe. The drug I’d taken was LSD.

Soon I walked to the ocean and waded in. Bobbing weightless there in the water, it felt like the ocean was making love to every cell of my body, enveloping me in a state of oneness and bliss. I had no idea you could experience things like that; it was a complete surprise–very positive, very cosmic–and I’m grateful for having experienced LSD that way the first time. Not everyone does.

A happy coincidence was that I first heard Jimi Hendrix’s Are You Experienced? that same day. It changed my life. I had never heard of Hendrix but knew then that I’d never forget him. Here was the most amazing guitar playing I’d ever heard. People still talk about him as being the greatest electric guitarist in history. What a privilege it was to first hear him in that altered state of consciousness. Yes, Jimi, now I am experienced! Like they say, “The Universe provides.”

In the next couple of years I would take a lot of acid. It gently reminded me that all of the hard, judgmental things I’d been told since childhood weren’t necessarily true and that life can be much more expansive, inclusive, vibrant, joyful. Getting high was a kind of homecoming, in much the same way that meditation is for me now. With LSD I could see that there was a whole universe out there, and within me, to embrace–the unity of all existence. The Beatles’ Within You Without You, written by George Harrison, is about this. I had the revelation that there was so much more to think about and to explore beyond what I’d been told, more than the narrow, detached establishment way with everything seemingly so black and white, separate, cold and calculating–my father’s world, the one I was never quite comfortable in.

Getting Ready To Hang Up The Phone

In 1968 a movie came out starring Cliff Robertson called Charly. It cinematically told the story of a developmentally challenged man, who is administered an experimental drug which renders him a genius. The climax of this fine movie comes when we learn that the effects of the drug are temporary, and that Charly reverts back to the way he was before. This movie impressed me as a morality tale for users of drugs like LSD. I’ve written above how acid changed my brain and my outlook. That was well and good; however, the effects were always temporary. When the drug wore off, I would find myself back in the flat, restrictive, black and white world, where my fellow humans showed no interest in the insights I’d gained while high. Worse, the mellowness of my acid-infused brain didn’t transfer over either. I was always back to being my self-conscious, disillusioned, cynical, angry self again. I could see that the self-medicating wasn’t working in the long run.

When drug-taking becomes a chronic behavior, everything can become distorted; a person can get lost to herself and become dysfunctional. The harder the drugs, the deeper the trap. The Beatles’ Everybody’s Got Something To Hide, ‘Cept For Me And My Monkey, written by John Lennon (who used heroin), is about this.  A couple of years later, while high on acid, I realized that I needed to remember what I’d learned from the drugs and stop taking them. LSD taught me something that stayed with me. After using, on and off, for about five years, I stopped taking drugs. Timothy Leary said taking drugs is like being on the phone, and when you finally get the message, you have to hang up. I got the message and–click. That was around 1972, but way before that I experienced the following:

Bobby

Robert Kennedy made a campaign speech at Cal State Northridge in March 1968 that I attended. It was estimated that over 12,000 people were there. Following his speech he was enthusiastically mobbed by maybe ten thousand of them. The quad was full of people, shoulder to shoulder. His handlers completely lost control of the situation, and he was carried along by this sea of human beings over shrubs, curbs and anything else in the swarm’s path. I knew immediately that there was a security problem with that man. I waded through the crowd to shake his hand and then waded out again. I’ll never forget it. I was a big fan of him and his agenda. Three months later, during another breakdown in security, he was shot dead.

U.S. Army, 1969

I was 20 when I entered the U.S Army early in 1969. By this time I had knocked around in several different colleges, dabbled in drugs and wasn’t focused. I had no sense that college graduation would mean anything to my life. I would just re-enroll because I thought I was supposed to. Due to poor academic performance, I wound up losing my student deferment. The day before I was to be drafted I enlisted so that I could choose my MOS. [Editor’s note: a Military Occupational Specialty code (MOS code), is a nine character code used in the United States Army and United States Marines to identify a specific job.] I chose 91alpha10 (aka combat medic) to do something positive rather than contribute to the violence of the war. I thought I could patch people up and get them off the battlefield, save lives–I had all that idealism going on. Besides, I didn’t even know these people we were fighting on the other side of the world. Why should I kill them? I thought. Maybe the old white guys who run this country have something against them because they’re Asian, much like some older guys who still talk about the “dirty Japs” of WWII. I hoped I’d be assigned to duty in the States.

I completed basic at Fort Ord, California and was one of five nominees for Outstanding Trainee of the Cycle. By this time the idea of being the best I could be appealed to me, and the disciplined environment of army training seemed to make that goal much easier to accomplish. I had taken the training very seriously, much like in H.S. football: Keep your head down, don’t complain, do the work. For example, on daily jogs with the platoon, I was focused and I never rested. At the end of basic we all had to take a Physical Training (PT) test. I was one of three to receive 500, the top score, in a company of about 250 soldiers. (And one of the other two guys was a Major League Baseball player who’d been drafted.) One of the tests consisted of running a quarter mile in fatigues and combat boots. I won that race. In another we had to carry a guy on our backs for 50 yards within a certain time. Yet another was to run an obstacle course, again in combat boots and fatigues, and also timed. I got the maximum scores on all of them.

I excelled at firing the weapons they gave us to train with: the M14 carbine and the M16 assault rifle. I easily qualified “Expert” on both. I had never even touched a firearm prior to going into the Army. Someone suggested that maybe I just didn’t have any old bad habits to have to unlearn.

On the other hand, in Advanced Individual Training (AIT), where soldiers were trained to do the jobs they’d be assigned, I learned that when your patrol is going through the jungle, the Viet Cong shoot the point man (the one at the head of the line). Then they shoot the medic (easily identified by his specialized field gear) because that eliminates the potential for an immediate medical response for the rest of the squad. I would have been a main target if I were in the field. Another thing I learned was that when patching people up, the idea was to get them back to the battlefield as quickly as possible so they could kill more Viet Cong. My idea was to get them out of harm’s way and maybe back to the States with their loved ones. Instead, all my idealism about doing the humanitarian thing could be undone by the armies’ agendas, both theirs and ours.

AWOL and The Family

Having learned the truth about being a combat medic, I felt betrayed but still duty-bound. A lot of people were confused at the time about the war. I certainly didn’t have enough knowledge and experience to have a cogent perspective. When I was ordered to Vietnam after AIT, my father said, “Son, you’re not going to Vietnam. That’s a stupid, disgusting war, not like the just war I fought in (WWII). This time our government is lying to us.” Still wanting approval for being the “good son” I said, “Dad, Uncle Sam is saying I need to go. It’s my duty to my country, and I love my country.” He said, “No, you’re not going.” I had to choose between Uncle Sam and my dad, so I chose to go AWOL, a status I was to have for 11 months.

I’m glad that my father was willing to speak his mind. In retrospect, I think it was one of the most important things he did for me. And, of course, he was right about the war.

At first, while AWOL, I lived with my mom—my parents were divorced—but I couldn’t stand staying with her. She had more emotional problems than I did, so I moved out. I had been hanging out with some guys, smoking pot, and dropping acid, as I had before joining the Army. Needing a place to live, I finally talked them into letting me move into the rental house they shared on Cerro Gordo in Echo Park, and it turned out that the only available space was the crawlspace under the house. All the rooms inside, including the closets, were filled at various times with ten to fifteen people. Mattresses were strewn wherever there was space. It was the classic crash-pad. The regulars that lived there called themselves The Family. One day the police knocked on the front door and reported that they were looking for the Manson Family. There I was, AWOL, and the main dudes that ran the place were using it to deal lots of drugs. When the person at the door said that we weren’t the Manson Family, the cops just left. When I learned of this, I thought, Wow, this is amazing. In another country they’d probably make some excuse to barge in, search the place, and question each of us. We’d all be in big trouble. I was so relieved.

Strange Days

At this time, I was working for an acquaintance helping him clean carpets for the Red Lobster Restaurants in the L.A. area. A little pickup job, not steady work, but I didn’t need much. The drugs being re-sold at the house on Cerro Gordo paid the rent. The landlord didn’t seem to know, or didn’t care, what was going on, which was typical of those times. Also typical was the fact that most of the cleaning up was done by the women who lived there full-time, so the place stayed pretty clean. I recall there were four women attached to three of the four main guys (The fourth one’s girlfriend lived elsewhere). One of these guys had long, straight blond hair and had a face like Errol Flynn. An (outside) woman we knew, who would show up with her boyfriend to buy drugs, would occasionally come over alone and present herself to “Errol” for sex (His own live-in girlfriend was not home, and how the visitor knew this I’ll never know). He told us that she wouldn’t say a word, just show up, get it on, and leave. Another of the main dudes had a woman (whom he called his wife and who was clearly psychotic), their child of about two years and mute like her mother (not a good sign), and his pregnant mistress (pregnant by another man) all living with him in one of the bedrooms. Signs of the times.

It was the summer of ’69, a time of free concerts known as love-Ins. In Elysian Park I saw Janice Joplin on stage fronting Big Brother and the Holding Company. At another concert I saw The Jefferson Airplane. Their most recent album was called “Volunteers.” I told a friend that I didn’t get the title. “Well, maybe they’re going to join the Peace Corps.” I was out of it enough to think he actually meant it. Wow, they must be really dedicated to peace and justice! So when I saw them later that month I approached the stage and asked Grace Slick, “Are you guys going to join the Peace Corps?” She said, “What? You mean the band?” Clearly, she didn’t know what the hell I was talking about.

I stayed at the Cerro Gordo house two or three months, sleeping in that crawl space. We were smoking pot, hashish, and dropping acid. Visiting dealers would treat us to some cocaine, MDMA and other recreational drugs, but none of the regular residents had a hard-drug habit. I was really into the psychedelics, and like many people, was actually self-medicating. I had suffered from depression since childhood due to family issues, bio-chemistry, genetics, whatever. Interestingly, researchers are now telling us that some of these substances actually do have therapeutic value.

It was at about this time that I had a near-death experience from an unintended drug overdose. I was at an after-concert party in Hollywood when my “friend” offered me a heaping spoonful of some drug. At first I refused it. He persisted until I took the spoonful and swallowed it. It turned out to be 100% pure pharmaceutical Nembutal, a powerful barbiturate, and the amount I took was an overdose. I went out like a palooka who’s just been hit with a haymaker. Someone there must have noticed that we were both slumped over. Reportedly when they first found me I had no detectable pulse or respiration. Later, my first realizations were that I was in big trouble–completely out of it–and that I was being “walked” around–almost carried really–by a couple of guys. This was standard practice at such parties where ODs were common. The idea was to keep the body moving so that respiratory collapse or cardiac failure was less likely. After walking us around until they were satisfied that we might survive, they left us crashed-out on the sidewalk and went back inside. They did save my life, however, and my friend’s too. I never got the chance to thank them. Sign of the times.

Today pharmaceutical Nembutal is approved for assisted suicide in the state of Oregon.

End of Part 2 of 4

A Political Turnaround by David Drum, Part 2 of 2

17 Dec

Part 2 of 2

David Drum 007

 

David Drum is the author of eight nonfiction books in the health area, as well as one book of poetry and many magazine and newspaper articles. He is also the author of the satirical novel, Introducing the Richest Family in America.

 

 

Somewhere along the line I lost my belief in Ayn Rand’s objectivist philosophy. Acting selfishly helped me get what I wanted, but it didn’t take other people’s feelings into account. I didn’t like what came with selfish actions — the guilt feelings, disappointments, and broken hearts.

I was accepted into the Iowa City Writers Workshop. When I arrived in Iowa City, I got some financial help from the school, and earned additional money through the university’s work study program. My second wife and I moved into a metal Quonset hut in married student housing. One of my fiction instructors, the novelist Robert Coover, was particularly encouraging my first semester of grad school. When he asked me to help him work on a film he was shooting, I leaped at the chance.

By the winter of 1967, campus sentiment was shifting heavily against the war. The University of Iowa campus was in turmoil. Every male student could be sent to Vietnam after he graduated, and TV news was revealing the Vietnam War to be a horrible quagmire. Students for the Democratic Society and other groups organized opposition to the war. The idea of revolution lingered in the air. Revolution could be heard in our music and our long-haired, restless, cooperative, love-making, pot-smoking campus culture.

Robert Coover wanted to make a documentary about a particular campus demonstration against the Dow Chemical Company. Dow made napalm, an insidious substance that our military was dropping onto Vietnamese civilians. Napalm burned all the way through the flesh and bones everywhere it touched the skin. And Dow was recruiting on campus. Students objected to Dow’s recruiters since their presence implied university support for the war and products like napalm. My role in the documentary was to carry a tape recorder and get some authentic crowd noise during the demonstration.

I remember that the winter air was cold on the morning of December 7, 1967. The sky was overcast. I was given a reel-to-reel tape recorder and shown how to use it. As students gathered, demonstrators set rubber dolls on fire to graphically dramatize the destructive effects of napalm. Angry speeches began on the steps of what I think was an old campus administration building. In the winter cold, I lugged my tape recorder up the steps to be closer to the speakers and the restless crowd. Suddenly one of the speakers shouted, “Let’s go get Dow Chemical!”

The front door to the building was locked, but students surged like a wave of water to the left side of the building. Someone opened an unlocked door. Protesters streamed into the building. I followed them, trying to stay in the middle of the crowd with the tape recorder.

I remember hurrying down a hallway. I remember seeing double doors burst open at the far end of the hall. I remember a wall of law enforcement officers running toward us, carrying batons.

One of them arrested me, and confiscated my tape recorder. I remember saying, “You’re making a mistake.” Reporters were supposed to have some immunity from arrest, but I didn’t know how to make that point, and anyway the officer who arrested me wasn’t listening.

I was handcuffed, led outside, and forced down on the sidewalk with some other arrested students. We were put into a police car and taken to jail. I wound up a group of about twenty other student protesters in a cell at the Iowa City Jail.

We were held for several hours. I remember all of us being walked into a small crowded courtroom, to enter pleas. Photographers were there, with flash cameras. Most of us were charged with disorderly conduct. I pled not guilty, as a lawyer I had never seen before advised me to do. I remember the rather distraught face of Robert Coover, who gingerly approached me when he had a chance and asked me how I was holding up.

Somebody posted fifty dollars bail for me. We were all released. The police kept the tape recorder, even though over the next several months I heard that the university made great efforts to have it returned.

My student life went on. I found another part-time job as a fry cook, working Friday and Saturday nights at an all-night diner and truck stop just off Interstate 80. I also stayed busy at school, where I had a full load of classes. A couple of my poems were published in little magazines. I worked on a novel. I reviewed visiting poets for the Daily Iowan, the university newspaper. It was a kick to see my articles in the newspaper, and wondered if I could do that for a living.

Although I had registered Republican, in the 1968 presidential election I voted for Hubert Humphrey, the Democrat, because I felt he was most likely to end the war. By 1969, the Vietnam War was raging. Lots of young men were getting draft notices, or joining up. A few weeks before I graduated, I was called to a pre-induction physical in Iowa City. My classification was now 1-A, which meant that I could be drafted as soon as I got out of school.

I had decided I didn’t want to serve in the military. However, I didn’t want to move to Canada. I didn’t want to amputate my trigger finger, or pretend that I was crazy. I didn’t want to find a psychiatrist who would write me a letter stating I was unfit for military service, as some of my friends did. My grandfather had hinted that he might pull some strings with the draft board, but I didn’t think that was right. My mother was urging me to volunteer. I wasn’t sure what I was going to do.

My second wife and I drove cross country to San Francisco, where we rented an apartment on Haight Street. While in San Francisco, a draft counselor with the American Friends told me that if I changed my address every three months that the draft board would never catch up with me, since it took at least three months for them to update their records. Other options for avoiding the draft included applying for conscientious objector or CO status, which would keep me out, too.

Changing addresses worked for a while. After San Francisco, I lived briefly in Lake Tahoe, California, in two different apartments in Reno, Nevada, and in Los Angeles, always waiting until the last possible minute to send in change of address notices. Finally I got on at a newspaper in a small town in the San Joaquin Valley. I was hired as sports editor for the Madera Daily Tribune, the first job I’d had in which I was actually paid to write.

In Madera, I learned journalism the old way, by practicing it on the job. But the draft board caught up with me. When I received an induction notice, I filed for conscientious objector status. I submitted a written statement to the board, and I was granted a hearing with the local Madera County draft board. Basically, I argued it wasn’t Christian or right to kill other people.

Before the draft board could decide my case, President Richard Nixon cleverly split the antiwar movement. The first lottery in December of 1969 assigned potential draftees numbers according to birthdates drawn from a hat. Number one was the first to go. My birthday was drawn number 318, meaning that it was unlikely that I would ever be drafted for anything short of an all-out nuclear war. I never heard from the draft board again.

At the same time, politics beckoned. An organizer for the George McGovern presidential campaign blew through our dusty little town, desperate for someone to chair the long-shot campaign. All the old politicos in Madera County were committed to Ed Muskie, a senator from Maine who was heavily favored to win the nomination. On a lark, another reporter and I volunteered to co-chair the McGovern campaign. I had more enthusiasm than he did for the job, and I more or less ran our long-shot campaign in Madera County.

McGovern’s campaign was a continuation of Bobby Kennedy’s very progressive 1968 presidential campaign, which ended with his assassination. A former Methodist minister turned senator from South Dakota, and a personal friend of Bobby Kennedy, McGovern was campaigning on immediately ending the Vietnam War, drastically slashing the Defense Department budget, and more. In order to vote for him in the primary, I changed my voter registration to Democratic.

By late 1971 and early 1972, great numbers of Americans were staunchly against the war. Local people of all ages and races volunteered to help our campaign. Volunteers streamed into California from other parts of the country, and we put several of them to work canvassing precincts for the Democratic primary in June. McGovern won the California primary, and the Democratic party nomination, but unfortunately he lost the 1972 election to Nixon, who continued the war.

Sometime in there, I was surprised to receive a check for $50 from the Iowa City courts. Without explanation, they returned the money that had been posted for my bail. I wondered for years if Robert Coover ever got that tape recorder back, and if he was able to complete his film. Just last year, I corresponded with him and learned that the answer was yes. His 29 minute documentary film, “On a Confrontation in Iowa City,” was completed in 1969 and posted online in 2011 by the University of Iowa’s Digital Library. The film includes a brief shot of me and two other protesters being led to a police car just before the closing credits. I was also credited for helping with the sound.

After my political turnaround, I’ve remained more or less an antiwar liberal, or a progressive as it’s now called. I’m conservative in spending money, but I have marched in many demonstrations and given money to many good causes. As a registered independent, I now vote for the most sensible progressive Democrats or third party candidates I can find.

Like any good citizen, I read and think about the issues. I write and email my elected representatives. As I have done in the past, I sometimes jump up and demonstrate for a good cause when I hear the call.

END Part 2 of 2

A Political Turnaround by David Drum, Part 1 of 2

4 Dec

David Drum 007

 

 

David Drum is the author of eight nonfiction books in the health area, as well as one book of poetry and many magazine and newspaper articles. He is also the author of the satirical novel, Introducing the Richest Family in America.

 

Part 1 of 2

Like many other young men of my generation, my politics turned completely around in the Sixties.

I was born at the tail end of World War II into a fairly conservative family. My father was a test pilot during the war. When I was in elementary school, America was fighting Communism in Korea. I grew up ducking under my desk in elementary school to prepare for an atomic bomb attack and watching Joe McCarthy on TV. Later, I attended high school in conservative San Diego.

After I flunked my entire junior year and half-heartedly repeated it, I was expelled from high school at the beginning of my senior year. After working briefly as a gardener, I was kicked out of the house and sent to live with my paternal grandparents in Conover, North Carolina.

My North Carolina relatives were southern Republicans, more progressive on race issues than the segregationist Democrats of that day. My grandfather, D.S. Drum, was a strong family man who owned a well-known funeral home. A respected local businessman, he had never borrowed a dime from a bank. My grandfather walked me into Newton-Conover High School, announced that I was his grandson, and got me re-admitted to school.

Like every other 18-year-old man in the United States, I was required to go to the post office and register with the Selective Service. I was mailed a draft card in the summer of 1963. With President John Kennedy in the White House, the first young men my age were being drafted for our undeclared war in Vietnam. Some guys I knew from high school volunteered for the Marine Corps or Green Berets, while I was struggling to finish high school.

My southern grandfather kept me busy. He took me to church every week, and I worked at his funeral home and at the ambulance business after school and on weekends. And finally, after five years and summer school, I graduated from high school.

With the help of my family and a Methodist minister who was a family friend, I was admitted on probation to a small junior college in the Pisgah Mountains, south of Asheville.

I surprised everyone by doing well. Brevard College was a small, private, two-year liberal arts college affiliated with the Methodist Church. About seven hundred students lived on campus. As a college student, I received a student deferment, meaning I couldn’t be drafted while I was in school. I knew there was some kind of war in Vietnam, but I didn’t understand it. Like most of my friends, I presumed we were the good guys, fighting for truth, justice, and the American way.

President Kennedy was assassinated my freshman year. I still remember sitting around that little black and white television set in the dormitory lounge, watching the horrible events unfold.

My college girlfriend, Isabel Dixon, nominated me for class president my freshman year. I had never considered the possibility I could be president of anything, but later that year I decided to run for student body president. I won my first election as an outsider candidate, but the administration invalidated my victory. When the school nominated someone else to oppose me, I ran a second time and beat him too. My only memorable campaign stunt was to be carried into the school cafeteria in a coffin, borne on the shoulders of several students in suits, and to leap out of the coffin in the middle of the cafeteria proclaiming, “I’m not dead yet!”

It was still America, the land of opportunity. While the Beatles and the Rolling Stones were taking the country by storm, I began thinking of myself as a conservative. Another student gave me a copy of Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead, which swept me away. As exemplified by the architect-hero Howard Roark, the book argues that superior individuals with will power create things their own way. Selfishness is a virtue, according to Rand. At this point in time, Rand’s “objectivist” philosophy seemed the right way to live. My political reading in those days was far to the right of the political spectrum — Barry Goldwater’s Conscience of a Conservative, Robert Welch’s The Politician, John Stormer’s None Dare Call It Treason, and books of that ilk.

In 1964, the year I was president of the student body, I supported Barry Goldwater for President. The Republican senator from Arizona was an outspoken conservative and a colonel in the Air Force Reserve. Although I wasn’t yet 21 and couldn’t vote, Goldwater’s honesty appealed to me. I saw him as a political straight-shooter, like John Wayne. I did not think the same of Lyndon Johnson, who took over as president when Kennedy died. Goldwater boldly called for escalating the war in Vietnam, while Johnson painted him as a reckless warmonger.

The Goldwater campaign opened a small headquarters in Brevard, and I did a little righteous footwork for his losing campaign. I hadn’t considered volunteering for military service, since I was still in school, but as much as I’d thought about it, the Vietnam War seemed like a righteous venture at that time.

I graduated from Brevard in 1965 and attended the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, majoring in political science and planning to become a lawyer, and after that perhaps, a politician. I was married by now, but I wasn’t getting along with my first wife. She was pregnant; we lived together in married student housing for a short time. I remember the ferment on the historic old Chapel Hill campus, the impromptu gatherings and speeches as students hotly debated the war in front of old, ivy-covered buildings. I remember stopping to listen to speeches, sometimes in the rain or snow.

A turning point in my political thinking came in February of 1966. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearings held public hearings on Vietnam. Chaired by Arkansas Senator William Fulbright*, the hearings were nationally televised, and I watched them with interest. By this time, my wife had gone back to her mother and taken our infant daughter with her. This left me alone watching the hearings in an empty apartment that I would soon vacate.

Testifying were a great many historians, retired generals, and other experts including George Kennan, who developed the containment strategy that set the strategy for the Cold War. Kennan was among others who recommended withdrawing from Vietnam as soon as feasible.

I do remember being surprised to learn that the people of South Vietnam would have overwhelmingly voted for the Communist leader Ho Chi Minh if the United States had given them a chance to vote. But instead of allowing the vote, the United States created South Vietnam as a separate country, set up a puppet government, and made two countries out of what had been one.

I moved into a rooming house in Chapel Hill. My life was changing. Two writing instructors had encouraged me to think about becoming a writer, and I was leaning in that direction. One of my short stories and a poem had been published in a Chapel Hill literary magazine.

At the end of the 1966 school year, I picked up my portable typewriter and boarded a Greyhound to New Orleans. I had seen The Glass Menagerie several times at Brevard, and I was fascinated by the sad lyric of Tennessee Williams’ play, set in New Orleans. That summer in that crumbling southern city, the oldest and most interesting city in which I have ever lived, I supported myself as a street vendor — selling ice cream, tamales, and hot dogs from a push cart on the streets of the French Quarter and living in a tiny room at the Lee Circle YMCA.

I spent hours pounding the typewriter in my small room. One day a guy told me about the writing program at the University of Iowa. He mentioned an article in Collier’s magazine, which I looked up in the New Orleans Public Library. Iowa’s graduate writing program was famous; it sounded good. On a whim, at the end of the summer I hitchhiked up through Mississippi and Arkansas to Iowa City. Most of the way I travelled with a jumpy bearded guy from Detroit I met at the YMCA who seemed to believe that every person in the deep south was secretly a Klansman who would probably kill us.

When I arrived in Iowa City, the small building that housed the Writers Workshop was closed. But it was a lovely old campus, with a river running through it, and beautiful trees and hills. I slept that night in a laundry room under a campus dormitory. The next day I hitchhiked across the country to see my family in San Diego, the second time I had hitched across the United States. I didn’t own a car while I was an undergraduate, so I did a lot of hitching during those years.

I attended the University of California at Riverside my senior year. I changed my major from political science to English. I worked two jobs to pay my way through school. Since I lived off-campus, I wasn’t too involved in campus life. But I did write a couple of articles for the school newspaper, my first attempts at journalism, and my poetry was published in a small campus literary magazine before I graduated in 1967.

I sent off an application to the University of Iowa’s Writer’s Workshop. That summer I headed for Las Vegas to divorce my first wife. I had become involved with another woman at Riverside, and she wanted to marry me, too.

I worked at the El Cortez Hotel Casino on Fremont Street, dealing craps on the night shift. Although I had nightmares about numbers, it was fun to watch the dice, observe the night life, and to earn cash tips. I remember feeling exhilarated when I emerged from that dimly-lit, smoke-filled casino into the bright early morning sunlight with cash in my pocket. My Las Vegas divorce came through at the end of the summer. Five days later, always the optimist, I married again.

To be continued.

*Editor’s Note. J. William Fulbright was the Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, who in February 1966 initiated a widely watched and televised series of “educational” hearings. Witnesses included retired generals and foreign policy analyst George Kennan. Kennan recommended that the United States withdraw “as soon as this could be done without inordinate damage to our prestige or stability in the area” to avoid risking war with China. His testimony provoked President Johnson to order FBI director J. Edgar Hoover to investigate whether Fulbright was “either a communist agent or a dupe of the communists.”
The hearings resulted in a significant shift in public opinion. The president’s ratings on his conduct of the war dropped from 63 percent to 49 percent. It was now considered respectable to question the war.