The marches on Washington were the largest assemblages of humans, I believe, ever up to that point. The entire Mall was filled with people from all over the US.
Wish I had more inside information for you, but I was just one of the troops.
The War set me off on a course that few others followed. It so disillusioned me about America and its values and lifestyle that I dropped out completely, ended up living as a voluntary peasant on the Farm for 12 years and only dropped in so far as to work for Whole Earth during the 80s. I was one of the founding directors of The WELL and kept my countercultural beliefs alive through managing that system into what it became. I still refuse to buy in to the American Dream.
I suppose your teacher also influenced a number of other students. What was so inspiring about the way she taught?
Dorothy Stefans was my civics teacher. After having been taught all of the orthodox US History all my life, she was a mind blower. But to my knowledge she never got in trouble over it. I'm sure if they'd questioned her, she would have either made a big stink or simply moved on to another job where she could act according to her convictions. She was strong that way. I don't remember what other media we might have studied to support the idea that Viet Nam was wrong. She basically wanted us to see what was really happening in the world. Viet Nam was only part of the world's problems.
You said the U of M "was far from a hotbed of radicalism." Could you tell me a little bit more about the school?
The University of Maryland was more a southern university than a northern one. It still had a large agricultural school at the time, it had a large number of fraternities and sororities and a very active ROTC unit. With around 30,000 students at the time, political activism was the province of a small number of fringe mentalities, at least that's the way it looked to me in my first two years. In spite of what I'd learned in high school, I was not drawn to be active in my opposition to the war. I was in a bit of a haze during that time, not knowing where life was leading me and holding in a lot of fear and anger about the war and my possible call to duty through the draft. The U of M was very benign, given its proximity to D.C., and there was little in the way of acknowledgement of the war even while other universities were becoming centers of activism and opposition. The act of blocking a main highway was so incredibly out of character with all that I had seen up til then that I think it may have even magnified my response to Kent State. It was doubly inspiring to see my fellow, formerly aloof students doing civil disobedience, that I felt spurred to even more demonstrative acts.
You and I both understand the anger that was all around us as college students after Kent State. Could you tell me a little bit more about the rage you felt after you heard the news about six students being murdered by a company of the National Guard as they exercised their constitutional rights to assemble? Why did it make you feel justified in throwing rocks at them and the police?
I was beginning to see the war not only as an immoral one against a people who were trying to sort out their own destiny, but as an unfair way to sacrifice the lives of people my own age. It did not add up, to me, that there was anything important enough in SE Asia for us to be killing people and getting our own people killed. The government was drafting cannon fodder, running the war dumbly, and we had nothing to say about it all. Nixon's admission of our Cambodian involvement was a great insult to those of us who were demonstrating our disagreement with just the Viet Nam segment of the fighting. Then, to have our own troops firing on and killing students who were demonstrating no more hostily than we had been was like a declaration that we and the government were also at war. Thowing rocks and taking whatever consequences came from that seemed like a defensive move to me at the time. I felt under attack. The National Guard stood for the government that was threatening me. I was pumped up with adrenaline. There is a line for each of us beyond which we would fight. That line varies widely and changes constantly through our lives. At that time, I was pushed over that line. I was in rebellion.
How did your family feel as you took a position in opposition to the war? Were they understanding? Sympathetic? Unhappy?
My parents were lifelong Democrats but they had a hard time believing that the US could have gotten things so wrong. They didn't like the war, but they believed that the political process was still working. When Nixon announced the Cambodian invasion, I was visiting my parents and watched him make his speech on TV. I went over the top, opening their window and screaming, "Fuck you, Nixon!!" to their neighborhood. That was too much for them. They thought I should cool it. But then Kent State happened and they understood my rage a bit more.
After you reached your own determination about the war, you said you were not an
organizer of antiwar rallies, etc, but served as one of the troops
"Joined" the antiwar movement... I think that is a very strange term. We didn't
have to enlist or enroll or anything. If the antiwar movement wasn't "joined,"
one merely "became" a part of it. Do you agree? How did it happen for you?
"Joined" the antiwar movement... I think that is a very strange term. We didn't have to enlist or enroll or anything. If the antiwar movement wasn't "joined," one merely "became" a part of it. Do you agree? How did it happen for you?
What I meant by "joined" is that I became a part of the people that did something. Being angry over having my friends drafted and being subject to the draft went nowhere. But getting out in the streets to demonstrate that anger was the first "activist" thing I'd ever done. After going through the pain of the Kennedys and MLK [Martin Luther King] being shot, after watching the obscenity of the anti-integration abuses in the South, just getting out on the street with thousands of others to express my outrage was a great release. To me, that meant "joining" the movement in a very literal sense. "Movement" means that we got off our butts and "moved." Seeing the war displayed on TV, knowing that the VC [Viet Cong] and the NVA [North Vietnamese Army] were fighting for their country and we weren't, realizing that I might have to go to jail rather than let myself be drafted all knawed away at me for the four years I was in college. Then having most of my professors honor the strike in my final semester seemed to vindicate what I'd been feeling all along. If even the U of Maryland profs would strike, it had to be significant.
I am trying to trace how a substantial number of our generation went through the changes that soured our perception of the American Dream.
I think we were soured, not in spite of our having had it easy, but because we had it easy. Growing up had been so smooth that the bad things that happened stood out in contrast. It was like Kennedy was the whole Camelot thing, then his head got blown off. [Martin Luther King] was our Ghandi. Then he got his head blown off. We lived comfortable, upwardly mobile lives, then many of our generation got blown to pieces--not to save the USA, not to protect what we had, but for some strange political dogma and the entanglements of the military industrial complex.
Although you were "just one of the troops," you were an active participant at the big antiwar rallies, such as the large marches in DC including the Moratorium and the post-Cambodian invasion gathering. What did you see and how did you feel during those marches?
It was inspiring to the point of tears to join so many people for a just cause. At that point, all I had was contempt for Nixon. That contempt had carried over from, I think, his opposing Kennedy in 1960. My parents had loved JFK and it had rubbed off on me when I was in my early teens. I heard of abuses by the police and the military, but I did not witness them. Instead, I witnessed provocation of the police by some of us. I was in a tree on the corner of the Elipse when some folks began throwing rocks and bottles at a phalanx of cops across the intersection. Suddenly the police charged and tear gas canisters started hitting the ground around my perch. I risked injury by jumping about 15 feet to the ground in the middle of a stampede to get outta there.
Why did they seem to warrant your rocks, bottles and jeers?
I was not involved in throwing things at the DC demonstration. I was in the tree simply observing the size of the crowd. The overall mood was peaceful but strong. The police, from what I'd seen, had not provoked the crowd. They were, in this case, provoked into charging by some of the crowd.
You were involved at U of Md. after Cambodia. Was that before or after Kent State? You say the students took to the streets and had to be dispersed by the National Guard.
The U of M thing was the day after Kent State. I had gone to visit a friend in Chapel Hill the day after Nixon announced the Cambodian bombing and heard on the radio on the way there that the ROTC building had been torched at U of M. When I got back on the day of Kent State, I swore that I would take part in whatever demonstration of rage was happening at the University. I got there around the same time that the National Guard did and took a position on the hill above Route 1 by the university chapel. Along with a couple hundred others, we began taunting the soldiers who were attempting to clear the highway. We began lobbing rocks from the landscaping toward them and they began marching toward us with tear gas canisters loaded. Then it turned to an allout war of rocks vs gas. I saw a few soldiers get hit. We all got gassed pretty good, but kept harrassing the soldiers as they chased us through the campus. Looking back, I am amazed at my endurance that day. There was no love lost between us and the guard. Later, my friends had to hold me back as I tried to hit a hovering police helicopter with rocks. I was trundled off by my buddies to cool off.
How close was the atmosphere at U of M on that day to open rebellion?
That was it. During that day in 1970 there were thousands of students in open rebellion. Challenging government troops is an act of civil disobedience and an act of rebellion, too. It was far from storming city hall, but the administration buildings of many campuses had been seized by that time and that of U of Maryland was likewise seized and held by hundreds of us that spring, too. Rebellion is a strong belief in the wrongness of those in power. So strong that action is taken to demonstrate that belief.
Did you go to DC for Mayday, '71?
By the time Mayday was happening, I had joined up with a group of spiritual non-violent hippies headed in a caravan of school buses for Tennessee to buy some land and set up the Farm. We were not allowed to stop in the state of Kansas because the cops there thought we were all political radicals headed for DC.
You said you "were not allowed to stop in Kansas" by the police on Mayday '71. How did you know? Did they stop your car and tell you that you weren't welcome on the state?
OK, long story. Around the New Year of 1971 I joined up with a group of non-violent spritual hippies that had just completed a grand tour of the US following their "guru," a guy named Stephen Gaskin. He was invited to speak on the subject of non-violence by ministers all over the country. He and his family travelled in a converted school bus. Many of those who had attended his lectures in San Francisco wanted to come along on his tour and he invited them to come as examples of his philosophy. So "the Caravan," as it was called, travelled during the fall of 1970 promoting an alternative to the political anger and violence that was drawing people like me into it. I was prime for just that alternative and when the Caravan came through D.C., I visited with some of its members.
I caught up with the Caravan again when it passed through L.A. in January and rode with it back to S.F. It was there that the members of the Caravan decided to travel back to Tennessee where land was cheap and the people were less jaded on longhairs than they were in S.F. The Caravan back to Tennessee was the occasion of our being denied the right to stop and rest in Kansas. We were about 100 vehicles and over 300 people then. For some reason, they thought that we presented a threat to the state; that we were political. Other states had extended welcomes and police escorts to help us find places to park our mobile village. Not Kansas. As we rolled on toward Oklahoma, cars full of reporters pulled up alongside our buses and shouted questions to us. We did interviews at 55 mph.
You said, "The War set me off on a course that few others followed. It so disillusioned me about America and its values and lifestyle that I dropped out completely, ended up living as a voluntary peasant on the Farm for 12 years and only dropped in so far as to work for Whole Earth during the 80s." I would like to know more about the ways in which you became disillusioned. It sounds like a lengthy, involved process to me. How did it take place?
After graduating from U of M, I went to New Haven with a few of my high school buddies for the summer. One of my friends had gone to Yale and he wanted us to start a magazine that would effectively present radical politics in language palatable to the mainstream. It would have probably ended up like Mother Jones. But we didn't get anything off the ground. Instead, we got involved with the Bobby Seale trial that was going on there at the time. The Panthers wanted us to be their allies, but they held us in contempt because we were white. New Haven was a very uptight scene. Near the end of the summer I did a heavy dose of acid at an outdoor rock concert somewhere in New England. After that trip, I knew that politics and violence were going nowhere. I didn't know what I wanted to do, but I was leaning heavily in the hippie direction, ready to drop out if I could find a place to drop IN to.
If you were disillusioned, how did you feel about the factions who wanted to overthrow the American government?
I knew that violence was not the direction I wanted to go. I figured that if I lived in America, I would live an alternative lifestyle because we had the room and the freedom to do that if we did it with enough of us. I became a part of the counter culture.
Last of all, you say, "I was one of the founding directors of The WELL and kept my countercultural beliefs alive through managing that system into what it became. I still refuse to buy in to the American Dream." That is a very interesting statement. How does the WELL still house the counterculture's values? You don't want to "buy in to the American Dream." However, you don't sound like a nihilist to me. I think your antiwar experiences have replaced the traditional values given to young Americans with a new set of values.
I lived for 12 years at the Farm without earning a penny for myself. I left there in 1983 with five kids and no savings or possessions at age 34. I worked at Whole Earth for another nine years for low wages. I now have about $10K salted away and I own a 15-year-old car.
Big deal. I don't think I can be described as a follower of the American Dream by those standards. I could get a high-paying job now at Pacific Bell if I wanted it, but I refuse to work within a bureaucracy. I want to know exactly who my work is helping. I don't own a suit and I might wear a tie once a year. I still stay in touch with some of my ex-neighbors from the Farm. Some of them are very well off. Most live modestly. And most still have their ideals. I would not be surprised if many of us end up living on shared land again before we die.
I think you dropped out to search for a NEW American Dream. Do you agree?
I agree, but bringing about a more democratic society begins at the level of what you can actually affect. The WELL was grown as a very democratic online society where the customers took part in designing the system both technically and ethically. Even the millionaire who now owns the WELL must put up with public debate about his every move in trying to turn the WELL into a large network of regional systems with a graphical interface. The culture of the WELL is one of the things I am most proud of having been involved with.
I think your comments about the Farm suggest to me that your disillusionment over the American Dream is really a recognition that it isn't the American Dream, at all. It's some kind of cruel parody of what it was like originally, and "we've just got to get ourselves back to the garden" (as Joni Mitchell said). The calls for revolution then were close to the rationale for rebellion that Jefferson wrote into the Declaration of Independance. I'll bet the Farm's original principles looked a whole lot like the principles our founding fathers ascribed to. Am I wrong? Were we then (or are we now) just trying to grab hold of the _original_ American Dream?
The Farm's principles were based on Zen teachings, teachings of Jesus, Buddha, Mohammed, Hermes, and every wise person who uttered the true lessons of life and living down through the ages. We didn't have a charter or a written code of rules. We had what we called Agreements that we discovered through comparing what had been observed and agreed on by all the world's major religions as being the real guidelines for humans living together. Boiled down, they amounted to the Golden Rule. It was amazing to us how far human systems of government had strayed from this simple rule and how thoroughly compromised politics as usual had become.
You have been searching for a new American Dream since everything got unstuck during Vietnam. This is a good time for upbeat parting thoughts. What kind of new American Dream do you envision? What kind of values do you think will (or should) be important to 21st century America? Do you even envision an America in the 21st century?
The American political machine is even further alienated from the public than it was in the Sixties. There is far more skepticism now than there was then. That's good. But there is now a cynicism in place that I think prevents even sincere and well-meaning politicians from making changes for the better. America has set standards now that it cannot possibly reach for standard of living for all of its people. There is and will increasingly be frustration from the shrinking middle class and from the growing lower class over the inability to improve one's lot in America. There is simply not enough affluence to go around and still the politicians promise that if some simple remedies are put in place, we will all be satisfied. That is bunk. Creativity in lifestyle is the best solution for many of us. We must learn to live with less, cooperate with each other on the grassroots level to a greater degree, communicate and build communities in the real world and in the electronically-networked world. We no longer have the Soviet Boogieman to blame for all our ills. But we must recognize that we are a part of a global system and that we must learn to live in ways that can best be shared with the rest of the world. Striving for the good life in America is a wasteful and destructive path.