Token Follower

B 60s poster

There are people who are and were mystified that I was one of the interviewees in Berkeley in the Sixties, given that I was in no way a leader or an expert on anything and, in fact, was not even a student at Berkeley when I was arrested in the Free Speech Movement. The answer is that Director and Producer Mark Kitchell wanted to include at least one person who could represent the ordinary student who was simply drawn into the events by a combination of circumstances and moral makeup. I happened to end up being that person through a series of flukes that led Mark to me and because, according to him, when he first interviewed me, years after the events themselves, I was still mad.

The series of flukes are as follows: In the early 80s (forgive me, historians, if I can so seldom dredge up an exact date for anything that ever happened to me. Don’t know whether that’s due to Lyme disease or post-traumatic stress syndrome. Its not old age because I’ve been like that a long time.) I was on leave from my doctoral work at Washington State University. Technically, from an academic viewpoint, I was doing my fieldwork, but, since no one was financing it, I was also working. I was teaching high school full time at Briceland Community High School, an alternative school in Briceland, California, where I had been both a resident and a researcher for the preceding 15 or so years. That was where I finally landed after what I experienced as exploding out of Berkeley in 1970.

In the school were some students who had transferred from Whale Gulch School, another alternative school in the area. Their teacher had been Ray Raphael, author of many history books and one of the first hippies to settle in the back-to-the-land community I lived in and studied in southern Humboldt County. Ray was at that time beginning work on his book “Cash Crop.” One of the students with whom I was especially close told me one day that she had just had a conversation with Ray in which he had described this book. She then described it to me.

I went into an instant funk, believing that Ray was going to write “my book” before I could and, possibly because I was even then greatly impacted by undiagnosed Lyme disease, which can make you emotionally vulnerable. I began to sniffle and whine. This student was very concerned (we were in a private place) and began comforting me and dragging the whole story out of me. Ray has so much more going for him than me, I told her. He’s male, he’s tall, he’s good-looking, he’s got a supportive spouse, he has connections and knows what he’s doing, he’s going to write my book before I ever get a chance to, etc. ad nauseum.

Ray_2012_small

Not long after that, I got a call from Ray on the pay phone outside the school, the only phone we had. My student had immediately called Ray and Ray was calling, like a good hippie, to see how he could fix it. He invited me to breakfast the next day (we were friends already) and wormed it out of me that I also felt he had an advantage because he had not been set years backward by living through all the conflict at Berkeley and being both sexually and politically harassed out of grad school because of it. I told him the conflict in Berkeley had ruined any chance I ever had for a career, small as it was to begin with, and that I hoped the dissertation I was now working on for my doctorate from WSU could be written enough as a book for the general public that I could publish it as such. (I did.)

Ray and I came to an agreement that fully satisfied both of us and broke my depression. He assured me that he only intended to cover the marijuana industry and would emphasize the 1980s and I told him I would only cover marijuana peripherally but intended to cover everything else and would emphasize the 1970s. In addition, he would interview me for Cash Crop (he did) and I would interview him for Beyond Counterculture (I did.) We have been good friends ever since.

Soon after this, Ray went to Berkeley and was courted by Mark Kitchell at a party, to write a book to accompany Berkeley in the Sixties. Ray declined, but told Mark he should come to the Briceland area because there were many Berkeley refugees there and he told him especially about me. Mark came, interviewed several people and chose me. He later said I had the best “sixties story” and my story covered more of the events in Berkeley than did anyone else’s. We attributed that to the fact that, just because I was not a leader, my focus could be wider and I was not as likely to have been expelled or harassed or to have burned out any earlier than I did all three, the expulsion being not technically but in effect.

In addition, there were some pre-Berkeley events in my life in the South that seemed relevant at the time but did not make it into the film. I obtained the transcript of that first interview from Mark and have relied on it, to some extent, in my writing about Berkeley. I was not actually interviewed on film until 1986 and, according to Mark, mine was the first and the longest interview. He flew me to Berkeley from Pullman WA for it. So, the point of all that is, my information is pretty much useless to historians wishing to reconstruct the specifics of the Free Speech Movement, the Vietnam Day Committee, People’s Park and later movements to establish a Black Studies Department. (By the time the Women’s Movement got started, I had already left, though not before reading certain materials that greatly influenced me.) All I can tell you is what happened to me, what I saw, what I felt, and how it affected me. It should be regarded as oral history without the interviewer (though I am guided by the questions I have been asked by many interviewers since Berkeley in the Sixties came out.) I guess what I’m good for is what reporters call “color.”

In spite of my status as “token follower,” or perhaps because of it, I had another opportunity to represent FSM bustees in a well-known historical documentary. This one was ABC’s series “The Century,” which covered the highlights of the 20th century.

century

I am shown, briefly, once again describing the beginning of the sit-in in Sproul Hall which led to its successful culmination. The producer who arranged this interview had contacted me because of my participation in Berkeley in the Sixties but she later told me that what had motivated her to choose me for the series, rather than others she had spoken to, was that when she asked me, during our phone conversation, about Mario as a person, I immediately choked up and had to be given a minute to “unchoke”  before I could speak. It was not unlike Mark Kitchell choosing me because I was still mad, decades after the 60s. From this, one could surmise that I have ended up being something of a spokesperson for the non-leaders of the sixties student movements at Berkeley because I can’t seem to get over them emotionally, and that would be a conclusion I would be hard-pressed to deny.

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