Talking politics

It is possible to see the roots of  my personal political evolution in my parents’ devotion to the Democratic Party, the labor movement and FDR, and that devotion as directly attributable to their status as poor, rural people during the Great Depression. However, this is an academic kind of truth and has only an intellectual kind of meaning for me. Before events at Berkeley resulted in others designating me as political, I saw my activities through the lens of social justice. I do remember supporting Adlai Stephenson over Ike Eisenhower in the fifth grade, only because he was obviously the intellectual, and I did vote as soon as I was old enough and I did care about the outcome of presidential elections but I saw the Civil Rights Movement, my friends’ participation in it and my verbal support of them as an expression of the conscience I had been handed by my Baptist upbringing. It was not until after my two expulsions and my arrival in California that I began to understand how the word “political” could be applied to my personal history.

JFK–my first political cause

President John F. Kennedy during the Cuban missile crisis.

President John F. Kennedy during the Cuban missile crisis.

Historians who have studied the student movements of the sixties have often considered the assassination of John F. Kennedy to be some sort of a starting point, an event that disrupted public feelings of security and safety characteristic of the fifties. I think there might be some truth in this, even though my own personal political evolution had begun, in the academic sense, in 1960. It is only in retrospect that I realize how close the Free Speech Movement was to the assassination chronologically. I did not consciously connect them at the time. Yet, my JFK story supports this historical view in several ways, starting with the fact that his election campaign generated my first real, consciously political, act. Since the survivors of the 60s are so frequently asked about their memories of the assassination, I will tell this part of my political history in some detail for the benefit of  “people’s” historians ala Howard Zinn1 and to illustrate how deep was its emotional impact on me.

When JFK was running for president, I was one of several Florida residents attending Norman College in Norman Park, Georgia. Those Georgia students aware enough to care about voting were eligible to vote because voting age in Georgia was 18. Florida students interested enough to care, could not vote because voting age in Florida was 21. The point is, I was keenly interested and had vehement opinions on the subject, even though I was not even eligible to vote. That’s the start of my relationship to the Kennedys.

I was probably the only supporter of Kennedy to be found on campus, or at least the only one who copped to it. There was only one issue anyone cared to discuss and that was— do you want a Catholic to be president? It was a Baptist preacher-training college. Baptists are the most Protestant of Protestants. Catholicism in Baptist-land is only a step or two away from devil worship. So JFK was my first dig-in-your-heels political position and my defending him probably contributed to the values explosion that preceded my expulsion. When Kennedy proposed the Peace Corps, he did it only weeks after I had finished reading Burdick and Lederer’s The Ugly American.2 The Peace Corps seemed to me to be the exactly right answer to that book.

So, after my second expulsion, from Florida State University, I applied for the newly established Peace Corps, probably among the first wave of people to apply. Imagine my surprise when I was not accepted because of the two expulsions on my record that arguably related directly to my contributions to making peace between the races. In some degree, my public and dangerous defense of Kennedy, mixed in with my well-known integrationist sympathies, contributed to my being rejected from the Peace Corps, started by the guy I had been defending.

Not surprisingly, I had intensely conflicted feelings about JFK and I really, really despised Jackie Kennedy, the absolute epitome of decadent capitalism. I didn’t like JFK’s wife, I didn’t like the Kennedy dynasty and I didn’t like the unabashed and unapologetic conspicuous spending of the wealthy. But, he invented the Peace Corps and then saved us from the Russians. I learned a lot politically from having to wend my way through all these conflicting issues. It was not until years after his death that I learned that some historians blame him for the Vietnam War, so I was doing my wending without the war in the mix.

At the time he was killed, I was working full-time in a small office in downtown Oakland, planning to enter Oakland City College the following semester. In the office were two other women and sometimes a male boss, in his private office off the main office. That day the boss was gone. Every day at about 11 or 12, a courier came and delivered tons of mail to us. He was a young man, probably another in and out college student like me. Every day he had some kind of joke to tell us, always with a deadpan face. On that day, he came in and said, “Did you hear about the President?” and we all thought it was the start of a joke.

But then, we really saw his face. He said, “No, I’m serious. The President’s been shot. Turn on the radio.” We immediately broke rules and ran into the boss’s office, where there was a radio and turned it on. The radio was playing a piece of classical music, with which I was very familiar, having spent so much time in church. It is a piece played often by organists, even in Baptist churches, despite its Catholic roots. One of the women turned to the next station and the exact same piece of music was playing.

We all looked at each other amazed and went to the next station, where the same music was playing. We swept the entire dial before we finally found a station not playing the music but giving out the news. I later learned that Kennedy had once said that Bach’s “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring” was his favorite piece of music, so all the stations were playing it at the announcement of his death as a sign of respect. I can never hear that piece of music without being for just a moment back in the office with my co-workers, listening to the radio.

I was the first one to break from the radio. I grabbed my coat and said, “Hey, its my lunch break.” I walked out of the office, which was right downtown near the Oakland Tribune tower, into one of the strangest scenes I have ever been in. There was almost no noise. No horns honking, traffic sounds subdued and no speaking in an area that was usually full of people and people noise. Groups of people had gathered in front of stores selling TVs and the stores had turned up the sound so that everyone outside could hear. I stood at the edge of a small crowd, listening. I couldn’t see the screen—I’m short—but I heard the newscasters.

Downtown Oakland as it looked when I worked there and learned of Kennedy's assassination.

Downtown Oakland as it looked, more or less, when I worked there and learned of Kennedy’s assassination.

It was a very silent afternoon of work back at the office. We were doing mindless repetitive envelope stuffing, so we could talk while we worked and we did talk about it some, but I was really stunned and unable to talk much yet. That evening, or maybe the next evening, my husband and I decided we would like to go to one of the many memorial services being held in area places of worship. We ended up going to the largest synagogue in the East Bay, whose name I can’t recall, but it was huge. The only religious building I’d ever been inside that was as large as this synagogue was the First Baptist Church of Atlanta, so the building itself is a central part of my memory of the event. The service included a cellist, a rabbi and the first cantor I had ever heard. There was a long period of the cantor reciting the Kaddish in Hebrew, which put me into a very trance-like state, since I certainly did not speak or understand Hebrew, and so it shocked me physically when I heard the words “John Fitzgerald Kennedy” in the middle of all the Hebrew. I’m sure I even jumped a little and that is another memory that is seared into my brain from that time.

Temple Sinai in Oakland, California, possible the place where I attended a Kaddish service for JFK.

Temple Sinai in Oakland, California, possibly the place where I attended a Kaddish service for JFK.

In the years since, I’ve certainly had an opportunity to deepen my understanding of John Kennedy, which matters to me because he was my first political cause—and to get the context of the Kennedys. The end of my JFK story has to be the assassination of Robert Kennedy. Robert, now, I was much more open to, because of his civil rights connection. When he came to speak at the Greek Theater in Berkeley, running for president, I was not one of the Eugene McCarthyites. I wanted to hear what Robert Kennedy sounded like in comparison to McCarthy. And, I was still recovering from the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. Every single thing Kennedy said and every nuance in the way he said it told me that this was my guy. So when he was assassinated shortly after that, my grief for him was even greater than was my grief for his brother and there was, at that point, no way at all I could separate the grieving that came from Robert Kennedy’s assassination from the grieving that came from the other two assassinations. I surfaced from that grieving a much more determined and hardened activist.

PoliSci 101

At the beginning of my stay in Berkeley I never understood half the political arguments that took place around me. Unlike Mario,3 I usually did not know the details, the historical background and every nuance of the legal fights. I did not have the time to study the history and philosophy of issues extensively. Having no familial support or financial aid other than the work-study program, I was always working much too hard for research not related directly to my studies. I navigated my way on my faith in my ability to judge the motives and character of individual people, to choose wisely whom to be influenced by and whose understanding of the issue to trust.

This person, in the beginning, was largely C. William Clewlow, also an FSM bustee, a graduate student in archaeology and the center of the group of archaeologists I hung out with a lot in the anthropology student lounge. I may have been predisposed to trusting “Billy” because he was also from the south and was one of the few people in my world I believed could truly understand how difficult and painful my break from that background had been. I came to trust Billy’s analysis of anything as the best one available.

There were other influences on me, such as my boyfriend Gale Bach, a graduate student in City Planning and, later, my senior and graduate advisor, Gerald Berreman, but I valued Billy’s opinion over all others. This is not to say that I was a blind follower because I certainly did my own thinking. But, I did not have the time or the money or the quality education that most of my colleagues had, which meant that I had to budget my time much more than they did, just to stay even scholastically and emotionally. Trusting Billy saved a lot of time.

I learned everything I knew from my anthropology friends, from Billy, or from the noon rallies which, in my head, I liked to call “PoliSci 101” and, to the degree that I could, I took classes that I could make educate me on political issues. This was true throughout my college career. For instance, my feminism started intellectually with a paper I did for my literal PoliSci I class at OCC. We were assigned to do reports on any political figure of our choosing, current or historical, and I chose Susan B. Anthony. I knew nothing about the women’s movement before that, simply that there had been “suffragettes,” but I wanted to understand exactly what had happened and why it had taken so long for women to get the vote. By the time I finished the paper I was ready for the modern women’s movement and I had seen that you could use what little discretion you might have as a student to learn what you wanted to learn.

Similarly, I felt obligated  to audit an anthro class taught by controversial professor Ernest Becker because, in the wake of the FSM in 1965, my fellow students assumed that it would deal with political issues. I learned about Marx in an upper division class called “History of Anthropological Theory,” since Marx was considered, certainly by my advisor, as one of the fathers of social science. I was never part of any major decision-making, only small decisions made by students within my own department. I trusted those that were leading, if they had survived my own personal judgment of their character and values, and I considered my education to include whatever could be learned from them.

Over time, I became more sophisticated in political matters and confident in my own political judgment. I began to resent the way I was summarily shushed so often in vehement political discussions led by Billy and other male students anytime I tried to contribute my thoughts. I remember vividly one such discussion that took place my last semester at UC, Spring 1970, the same semester that students were shot at Kent State and Jackson State but, perhaps, before that happened. This conversation was between Chuck Dillon, one of Laura Nader’s students who had been one of “Nader’s Raiders” before he came to Berkeley, myself and Richard Cowan, an archaeology student who was a close friend of Billy’s and, being acquainted with many of the leaders on campus, including VDC leader Frank Bardake, was a direct line from them to the anthropology lounge. I was expressing my exhaustion with political activism and speculating as to whether it was time for me to simply stop it and focus all my energy on completing my PhD. I was admittedly directing much of this rant towards Cowen, who was historically the most vocal militant in the department and the person most willing to cynically manipulate me.

Cowen, for the umpteenth time in my acquaintance with him, had attacked me viciously for faltering. Reacting to my statements, he said, “if you don’t like the way the game is going you don’t just pick up your marbles and go home.” Chuck, whom I believe was also getting tired of it all, provided me with almost the only experience I had in Berkeley of being defended by a male from another male. He, bristling, said to Cowen, “Bullshit. She can pick up her marbles and go home. They’re her marbles.” I was pleasantly surprised to find such validation anywhere among my political male friends, particularly one whose political acumen and general brilliance I admired almost as much as I did Billy’s. Chuck was notably not among those who uniformly castigated me when I, in fact, did drop out or was kicked out, depending on your viewpoint, pregnant, at the end of that semester and when I moved to the country a year later with my baby.

Another incident that caused me to assert myself and question political activism as it was coming to be expressed in the late 60s, involved campus demonstrations calling for the establishment of a black studies department, among other things. It most likely took place during the spring semester of 1968, my first year in graduate school, though I can’t be certain about the exact date. I had been avoiding being drawn into anything political for a while, so I was really not up to speed on exactly what was happening with the demonstrations. What was happening was that off-campus black people were coming onto campus and training perspective protesters in more aggressive demonstration methods than I was used to.

Determined to succeed in graduate school, my entire attention was occupied with an important term paper. I was walking on campus carrying my books in my crossed arms with a big stack of index cards full of my library notes perched on top and bound with a flimsy rubber band. I happened to go by a group of people in a line being monitored by a young black man. I asked a student what it was and was told it was a march somewhere, or perhaps a training session for the new tactics, preparing to demonstrate in favor of a black studies department. I didn’t have to be anywhere for a while so I figured what the hell and joined the line. The monitor was urging us to go faster than I wanted to go carrying my books so I was falling out of line and getting back into line, getting further and further behind. The line turned a corner faster than I was ready to and my index cards went flying off the top of my books into the grass, breaking the rubber band and scattering my precious cards to the four winds.  I dropped out of line and frantically began gathering them up. The monitor came over as I kneeled in the grass and began berating me, yelling at me in quite a belligerent fashion, “What the hell are you doing? Get back in line.”

I stared up at him with unconcealed disbelief. Then something in my head snapped and I barked back at him, “I’m gathering up my index cards, asshole.” As he tuned up for another verbal assault on me, several students also dropped out of the line and began helping me pick up my cards. The monitor was clearly confused, I’m guessing because only a college student can truly understand the importance of a bunch of written-up index cards on a college campus. He began yelling at all of us, prompting several more students to drop out of line and either help me retrieve my cards or walk away in disgust. Another monitor, also black, but appearing to be older than the first one, came over and started reprimanding the first monitor and telling him to cool it and just focus on the part of the line that was still moving. The group went on past us and students remained to help me pick up my cards until they were all safely back inside another, donated, rubber band on top of my books. I noticed that none of them tried to catch up with the line but instead abandoned the march and walked away in different directions, suggesting to me that I was not the only one who liked to do things the old way.

That was a turning point for me in understanding my own priorities. I was certainly in favor of a black studies department and when one was established, I was among the first students in the first semester it was established to sign up for an anthropology/Black Studies class taught by an African graduate student, entitled Black History. My significant other at that time was a black man who had nothing but sympathy for me when I told him the story. I was accustomed to being one of the bodies at any demonstration whose goal I supported but I would be damned if I would take any unreasonable orders from anyone, particularly anyone male who clearly did not value my right to prioritize my hard-won education over any particular political action. This was a huge departure from the way I had always been treated in the past by the leaders of student movements. I believe it probably had to do with the Black Panthers and their influence on student movements in the late 60s, with the rise of “radical chic” and with the enchantment the Panthers worked on the men in these movements. And, with that statement, I specifically deny that I was enchanted by them and will state that my female political friends weren’t either. It was way too much testosterone for us.

Some indication of the level of political confidence I finally achieved is my experience of meeting Abbie Hoffman. During the time that the documentary film Berkeley in the 60s was being produced, a film in which I participated as one of the talking heads, there was a conference in San Francisco on the impact of the 60s on the culture of America, or some such thing. Sixties figures were assembled to give lectures and various related activities took place. A preliminary version of Berkeley in the 60s was shown, by way of fundraising to finish the film. I was invited to attend the conference as part of his crew by Mark Kitchell, Director and Producer, which is the only way I could have attended, since the price of admission, ironically, was far beyond the capacity of a poor hippie like me to pay.

One of the speakers was Abbie Hoffman, one of the leaders of the famous anti-war protest in Chicago during the 1968 Democratic convention. I was annoyed by his disparaging of “consensus procedure,” the organizing tactic developed by anti-nuclear protesters in the 80s, as I had written extensively about consensus procedure and its use by activists, in general, in my countercultural community and considered myself a bit of an expert on the subject. I mentioned my annoyance to one of the producers of Berkeley in the 60s, with whom I was sitting. She made it a point, by what means I cannot say, to introduce me to him after his speech as he stood in the middle of a crowd of admiring fans.

Abbie Hoffman as he looked, more or less, when I met him.

Abbie Hoffman as he looked, more or less, when I met him.

I took that opportunity to suggest to him that he might be unclear on the concept of consensus procedure. I said that he was exactly the kind of person consensus procedure was designed to circumvent in order to give voice to persons less assertive than himself and wondered aloud if that fact might have something to do with his objections to it. I explained that it had worked very well in my community, in appropriate situations, to ascertain the true will of all the participants in those meetings where it was used. He was not, needless to say, amused by this position and, once he had recovered from the shock of receiving what I considered a very mild criticism from a person he had assumed was another fan, presented his rebuttal, that it was too time-consuming, and returned to being admired by his real fans, many of whom were by then glaring at me dumbfounded.

The producer, however, was quite gleeful and considered the whole adventure something of a coup. When I downplayed her enthusiasm by saying I had had no effect on him whatsoever, she replied, “Are you kidding me? You held your own for 15 minutes with the biggest mouth in the country. That’s quite an achievement.” I counted that as high praise, coming from her, a person who had interacted with some pretty big mouths in the course of producing the film, and as objective evidence that I had come a long way from the relative timidity characteristic of my earlier Berkeley days.

Left and Right

How much the free speech movement and later movements were influenced by the left was always an issue for the opposition but it was never an issue for any activist I knew. It was certainly never an issue for me, except insofar as it provided a focus for our critics. McCarthy-era thinking had us typed as “dupes of the communists.”  I assume that was the only paradigm they had, coming out of the Cold War, but it was a shot that widely missed the mark. One person I knew liked to show us pictures of her father with Fidel Castro and joked about being a “red diaper baby,” i.e., the child of Communists or what were called “fellow travelers.” Her politics differed in no discernible way from mine or those of the rest of my friends and, in fact, I would claim that I turned out to be much more of a socialist in the long run then she did, possibly because she rebelled against being a red diaper baby.

I was acquainted with one person, active in one of the same groups I was, who identified herself as an actual Communist. We were both, at that time, students at OCC, not UC Berkeley. When I talked to her decades later at the 30-year reunion of the Free Speech Movement, she was chagrined that I remembered that she had claimed to be a Communist, and said she repudiated Communism shortly after she made that remark and had only been involved in the first place to please her then-boyfriend. Anything she said to me at that time, she said, was suspect for that reason. I never did learn if she had actually been a Communist or had only been claiming to be.

The general issue for me, at Berkeley and before and after, was and is social justice, which includes civil rights for minorities, women and students. Economic equality was an implied function of that issue, one that opened the Free Speech Movement and later, the anti-war movement, to accusations of ties to the Communist Party. The leadership role of Bettina Aptheker in the FSM, at that time a Communist, was the single piece of evidence pointing to such ties and everyone in my world deeply resented the accusation that we were “dupes” of anybody.  Our participation was based on our own reading, including Marx, the social scientist, what was said by a wide variety of leaders, what consensus emerged from our heated discussions of these sources and actual events in the development of these movements. I am not aware that I was even acquainted with anyone who could be called a dupe.

The communards I knew later, after I left Berkeley and moved to the country, had joined loosely organized communes mainly to annoy their parents, then decided it felt so good they kept doing it until something else felt better.  As I noted in my book on the subject, communes tended to die once they had made it to Mateel, the hippie community I now call SoHum. I was never part of a commune but was personally close to former communards and, like everyone in the SoHum community, was a part of many organizations that incorporated communal thinking into their activities. Like Mario,4 I got my ideas first from Christianity and considered all of my “political” activism to be, in fact, moral action.

To me, the similarity of Marxist ideas to the ideas of Christ himself, as opposed to the ideas to be found in the writings of some of his apostles, was fairly obvious, if not to say undeniable. (Ironically enough, it was vehement anti-Communist author Phillip Wylie5 who advised readers befuddled by Christianity to try accepting only the words of Christ, not his apostles, a piece of advice that opened doors for me.) I would include in this Marx and Christ comparison, Marx’s famous dictum that “religion is the opiate of the masses.” Organized religion, as I had seen it practiced, did indeed mostly function in the same way drug addictions do, to distract people from noticing structural injustice and inequality. From that statement I would, of course, exclude organized religion as it functioned in southern black culture as an organizing principle for the Civil Rights Movement.

I had no Marxist rap at all and I couldn’t stand to listen to anyone else’s for very long.  To me, it was all a case of right and wrong.  Everything I did, and most of my friends felt the same way, I did because I knew that the Vietnam War was wrong, racism was wrong, sexism was wrong, in loco parentis was wrong and so many people feeling so helpless and exploited all the time was wrong. In Berkeley in the Sixties, former rocker Barry Melton presents a view of the relationship of the counterculture to Communist ideas I have no difficulty applying to myself, even before the advent of the counterculture.  Melton says that he was a “pink diaper baby,” the child of “old left” parents.  He describes his parents as having unpopular leftist ideas but still being in their day-to-day life, materialists. They cared about the way wealth was divided up, Melton says, but he was at the point where he didn’t care about wealth per se.  Participants in the counterculture, according to Melton, were actually “living communally, rather than sitting around talking about communism.”

Barry Melton as he appears in the documentary "Berkeley in the Sixties" discussing the counterculture.

Barry Melton as he appears in the documentary “Berkeley in the Sixties” discussing the counterculture.

I heard similar statements constantly, about how bourgeois communists were.  That was one of the reasons why the idea that we were dupes of the communists was so funny – because the official Communist Party–American or otherwise–seemed old, brittle and trite to us, in addition to being corrupt, totalitarian, brutal, freedom-hating and sexist. We were all about individual freedom. Who would be so uncool as to throw in with conformity-demanding communists? Marxists, maybe, we were. Communists, we definitely were not. I forgave Bettina for her membership in the Communist Party when I learned that she had been born into it and she, indeed, later repudiated it for the very reasons I describe, as well as for its status as an exclusively patriarchal institution. The difference between us and communists was the difference between activism and complacency, with the added difference of the depth of the change at which we felt we were aiming.

The old left only talked economics, with a little “classless society” thrown in.  The “new left,” as some have called sixties student movements collectively, was speaking to changing all of the assumptions of the imperialist, racist military-industrial complex, only starting with economics. I was never against small-scale capitalism, only the strangle-hold of corporate capitalism on the democratic process. When, late in the sixties, things became so absurd that hippies and political activists began to overlap culturally, any conscious leftist leanings I had became, for a while, submerged under my countercultural leanings.

The counterculture, to me, went further than politics and spoke to rewiring the mind of the individual as well the collective mind, and living it, rather than waiting for some ephemeral revolution that would be, anyway, violent. Melton applies his statement about living communally instead of talking about communism to both old left and new left politicos, meaning, I assume, the Free Speech Movement, the Vietnam Day Committee, Students for a Democratic Society and similar groups. He says, “they wanted to convince Washington. We didn’t want to know that Washington existed.” That description is certainly accurate of the counterculture as Melton knew it, and the public should be advised that he ended up a successful northern California lawyer, so some people, like, for instance, me, who continued to try to live out countercultural ideals, to their own economic detriment, would question his credentials to speak for that part of the counterculture that continued to evolve. I specifically exclude from that statement the marijuana-growing agribusiness people who distorted that evolution in Humboldt County.

However, Melton’s is an excellent description of the exact split between the counterculture of the sixties and the “new left.”  Except for a brief period during the People’s Park movement, that split has never been fully eradicated, even in SoHum.  In my case, all of my political friends tried to stop me from dropping out and becoming a country hippie, accusing me of escapism, among other things.  I could as easily accuse them of cowardice and lack of vision.

Castigated early on as “apolitical,” some parts of my countercultural community recovered from the shock that propelled them out of increasingly non-pacifistic political movements and became, once again, politically active in later anti-war and environmental issues, as well as in local electoral politics. They look like hippies and are called hippies by the mainstream, and suffer from anti-hippie prejudice, but they are every bit as politically active as they were as student activists in Berkeley and elsewhere. The issues they are active in are, for the most part, unambiguously considered leftist by contemporary commentators, but in some cases involving individual freedom they are, as the phrase goes, “so far left, they are right.”

I think there is a bit of an age factor in both the split between the old left and the new and between the new left and the counterculture. We live in such a fast-changing society that a difference of just five years in age can represent a real difference in worldview. Very generally speaking, the counterculture was conceived by baby boomers and the new left was conceived by those born before the Baby Boom, which is considered by statisticians, who coined the term, to start at the end of World War II in 1945. We pre-Baby Boomers actually experienced McCarthyism, segregation and the Vietnam War at a point in our lives when we were old enough to think about them, perhaps even critically. Many of those people called the counterculture were children during the McCarthy era and still young for the Civil Rights Movement and the Vietnam War, what we called “teenyboppers” at the time.

To us, “hippie” was at first a derisive term, incorporating the idea of air-headedness, flakiness, anti-intellectualism and various kinds of irresponsibility. We used recreational psychedelics and marijuana, on weekends only, if we wanted to graduate, but they got stoned at every conceivable opportunity.  Later on, the word “hippie” was used by us in a more tolerant, perhaps even affectionate way, as if they were our younger siblings.  After People’s Park, some of the most political of the leftists discovered the politics of absurdity as an alternative to bloody revolution and some of us found that what the counterculture had to say was, in a certain way, much more revolutionary than what the revolutionaries had to say.

I dropped out when the People’s Park movement suggested to me that it was a choice between staying in Berkeley and becoming part of a bloody revolution or leaving and launching myself off into the unknown. I dropped back in, a few months after I thought I had dropped out, then dropped out again and the unknown became for me southern Humboldt County and the back-to-the-land movement, which I think of as the most political segment of the wider countercultural movement. My life since then has been such a series of dropping out, then dropping back in that I feel a lot like a ping-pong ball, but my basic values have remained consistent throughout and the line, if there ever was one, between “in” and “out” has become increasingly blurry to me.

Frank Bardake, a leader of the FSM and Vietnam Day Committee and a friend of my friends who also ended up continuing his activism in a rural area of California.

Frank Bardake, a leader of the FSM and Vietnam Day Committee and a friend of my friends who also ended up continuing his activism in a rural area of California.

The leftist thread continued in SoHum, as showdowns happened between nomadic communal groups who felt that individual landowning hippies had copped out and owed them something, and the sedentary back-to-the-landers working on their lives individually while retaining a more communal outlook and more leftist values than mainstream culture. Frank Bardake’s statement in Berkeley in the Sixties indicates the mixed feelings of the new left about the counterculture.  He says, “I was one of those who felt the counterculture could be a revolutionary event.” So was I.  His use of the words “I was one of those” shows that, within the new left, his–ours–was the minority position.  He is, of course, joking, when he says, “I can almost convince myself of that right now” because he has also, apparently, lived out his life, as have other country hippies, as if he still believes that the counterculture was and is a form of revolution. And, for some of us, there came a point when it was too late to go back. One could say to me that I better believe in the revolutionary nature of the counterculture or I will have to consider, at this point, that I have wasted my life and there is certainly truth in that, but I don’t believe that is the only reason why I still believe it.


1William J. Lederer and Eugene Burdick, The Ugly American. New York, Norton. 1958.

2Howard Zinn. A People’s History of the United States. New York: Harper & Row Publishers, 1980.

3Robert Cohen. Freedom’s Orator: Mario Savio and the Radical Legacy of the 1960s, New York, Oxford University Press, 2009. Page 48

4Ibid., p. 63.

5Phllip Wylie. Opus 21, by, Rinehart and Co, New York, 1949.


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