Sylvia: It’s July 17, 2017 and I’m interviewing Lucinda Hites-Claubaugh. I know that you’re a Quaker, you’re 60 years old, and for over two years you were imprisoned for a crime you did not commit. Now you’re working to correct the system. Has activism been your main career or did you shift into it at some point in your life?
Lucinda: I was 14, 15 years old when I started becoming a political activist. I was a member of the National Organization for Women, I had a subscription to Ms. magazine and I read everything I could get my hands on about feminism. My great grandma, Jenny, was a suffragette. She ran for the Iowa state legislature back when women didn’t even have a vote. But, she ran anyway. And of course she didn’t win but she really raised a lot of consciousness.
My dad had some Mennonite background and he grew up very poor. He believed in leading a life of service. He was an engineering student and my mom was a teaching student and they decided to switch and go into medicine together. He became an M.D. and she became a registered nurse. And then they went out to Colorado to create free clinics, basically, in the late 50’s, early 60’s. My mom and dad were examples to me of living simply, being aware of your environment and then living a life of service. And so I figured everybody grew up that way. [laughs]
My dad charged $5.00 for an office visit. Then right before he retired he charged $10.00 for an office visit because he really believed that people should not have health care kept from them. And he never ever put anybody into collections and never made people pay him. So I grew up thinking, well, you just have to be really smart, study hard and get scholarships to go to college. I didn’t have any idea that my parents were just kind of unique that way.
I planned on taking over my dad’s practice someday and having his little black bag and going on house calls the way he went on house calls in the hogans. I grew up by the Ute Mountain, Ute Indian reservation. And he would go to these hogans. And I had never seen a person sweep a dirt floor before. [chuckles] I can remember a lot of pinto bean farmers down there. They would bring huge hundred pound sacks of dry pinto beans and pay my dad by giving us pinto beans or a big bushel basket of peaches or pickles. And a couple people wove rugs or made jewelry. And so I grew up with that. And I was also experiencing what it is to be a minority.
Because you were white?
Yeah. When I was 6, I had an experience that also shaped my activism. I was in first grade and they bussed these kids from the reservation that were only 3 or 4 years old who were Ute speaking. They made them go to the school with us on the school bus and they forced them to not speak Ute. They had to speak in English. And they made them stick out their hands and they slapped their hands with a ruler really hard. And it made them cry. And I can remember thinking, even as a 6 year old, I saw the injustice in that. I was angry that these children were not being allowed to speak their native language from home. And I became a bilingual teacher. [laughs]
Children from the reservation were my best friends in the Brownies and the Girl Scouts. I’d grown up in a unique place and I’d seen people being treated badly. Local people treating the Ute tribal members badly in the stores and other places and I can remember thinking, “Why do they do that?” You know? So I became an activist in a lot of ways.
I think I found some of my spiritual guidance and direction when I was very little. There wasn’t a Quaker meeting in that small place, but my mom went to a Presbyterian church and I can remember standing on the pew backwards and looking at the people and everything was silent and I can remember the sun shining through the stained-glass windows and then when people sang, beautiful music, beautiful colors, you know, quiet and peace, and people smiling at me. And I really felt the presence of Spirit.
Do you want to talk about some of the things you may have done in your teens that were activist?
Well, I was a gymnast. I was pretty good because I had been a dancer and so I qualified for the state [competitions] when I was in Junior High. The district meets and state meets on the balance beam and floor exercise. Each school sends a team of gymnasts. And our girls’ teams were not being treated the same as the boys’ teams. The woman who was our coach, she would hardly get anything as her pay, being the gymnastics coach, and yet our team qualified for State all four years in high school.
We were really good. We had an incredible record cause this woman who was our gymnastics coach had been on the Olympic team. We’d had to come up with our own money and fund raising for our own uniforms for the girls and our transportation in her Volkswagen van to go to meets. And pay for our own meals and the whole bit. Whereas the boys were taking money that the Boosters had raised and I was a Booster for supporting school teams and they were taking that money and they were going to carpet the boys’ locker room.
So, I thought this isn’t right. And then we were practicing for the State meet and we still had 2 weeks to go and we all of a sudden looked up and the boys were dragging our mats away and they said, “Well, wrestling team needs these mats.” And we said, “But your wrestling season doesn’t even start yet.’ And they said, “The coach says we get these mats.”
So, the injustice of those things really upset me. So I wrote a letter to the editorial page of our local paper, the Fort Collins Colorado and it got published. And here I was a high school student and I was criticizing the school district for allowing these policies, that our girls team was not being treated the same as the boys teams. And our coach wasn’t being paid the same amount of money. And the school board members starting calling my parents and upsetting my parents and criticizing me for “How dare I criticize the school district?” And I got hate mail.
And then I was nominated by somebody on the faculty for a scholarship. I guess it was my senior year and it was called The Honor Athlete Award. And they had a father/son banquet in which they would announce the winner of this good size scholarship. And you had to be both an athlete and also have a great academic background. I went in and I said, “How much do I pay, you know, for tickets for my dad and I?” And I was told I couldn’t go.
I was told that it was for fathers and sons and I was obviously not a son. And I said, “Well, my dad is very proud of the fact that I’m an Honor Athlete and is willing to go in spite of the fact that I’m not a boy.” And they said, “No. You can’t go cause they’ll tell some racy jokes that are inappropriate for girls.” So, again I called the press. I called media. I wrote another letter. They did a front page story on me in the Fort Collins Colorado.
The principal was telling me that I maybe was gonna be expelled from school but it made national news cause NOW picked it up. And there was an attorney that knocked on my front door and said, “I’m from the National Organization for Women.” She said that that they would take care of all the expenses but would I be willing to be a person to start a suit because of Title IX sex discrimination laws, which needed to be challenged in court. and I said, “Well, of course.” And my parents were a little dubious but they nodded OK.
If I may interrupt you for a minute, were there other children in your family?
Oh yeah, there were 4 of us. My brother was the oldest, and then I was the eldest daughter. There were 3 girls. And then my sister Kathy was killed in a head on car collision years ago. So, anyway, the school district backed down really fast, the moment that they knew the suit had been filed. And, they started paying our wonderful coach, who’d taken us to State every year, a better salary. And had money set aside as a budget for the team. That was kind of a big turning point.
But also when I grew up in Cortez, the Four Corners area there in Colorado, the Dolores river was the water supply for the towns of Dolores and also Cortez and on down. And they had a real environmental problem there. They did uranium mining in Southwestern Colorado. And they would leave these big piles, these tailings from the uranium mines, that were radioactive. They would just leave them blowing in the wind and then they even dumped them into the Dolores river which was our water supply. And all of the women in my family had cancers.
And we weren’t the only ones who were affected environmentally by the kinds of practices that they had. That set the tone for me that you have to care for your body and you have to care for your world that we’re all supposed to be listening to the rhythms of. And that shaped my environmental awareness partly because of the incredible vistas that were there. Those huge broad blue skies and high altitude desert and then the mountains. Incredible beauty and I felt close to God in those settings.
What are some of the campaigns that you’ve been involved in more recently?
My parents, of course, believed in the right for everybody to have health care. So, it came pretty naturally to me to support Dennis Kucinich’s campaign strongly and then Bernie Sanders.
Yes, and what part did you take in those campaigns?
Well, I was one of those people that called people, went door to door and then passed out literature and talked to people all the time. I really thought Kucinich should’ve won. And then with Bernie’s campaign, the moment I heard Bernie speak, I said, “Oh, this is it.” This is the man of integrity. This is who Quakers should be voting for, you know.
Yeah, personally, I was very much part of the Bernie campaign.
I went out and just started calling people because I speak fluent Spanish, and then I was a Spanish teacher and I speak a few different languages. I volunteered to help with bilingual campaigns and so I called all these states and talked to Spanish voters and also talked to other immigrants because I also speak Cambodian. I worked with Cambodian refugees for 5 years in California. I volunteered to work with English as a Second Language Immigrant Voters, first time voters, that kind of thing. Did a lot of calling for people in California and other states. I called a whole bunch of different states and called on their campaigns for hours and hours. Trying to help Bernie. And then when it came time for the State of Oregon to have their delegations to go for the Democratic National Convention, I was elected to represent the first C.D. for the State of Oregon.
You are the 4th person I’ve interviewed who was there. That’s really amazing to me! [laughs]
[One thing that shaped] how I went to college was I looked for the people that had been in the McCarthy hearings for Un-American activities. [the House Un-American Activities Committee, commonly called HUAC] Reed College professors had been challenged for their patriotism and some of them had even gone to prison and lost their jobs. And they were interrogated, a whole bunch of the faculty. So I said, “Oh, I would like to meet some of these really liberal, radical liberal people who were brave enough to stand up during the McCarthy era. And some of those people were still teaching at Reed. And so when I had scholarship offers from every school in the State of Colorado, my parents were so mad because I chose Reed instead, in ’74. And that’s how I got out here.
I looked at the states and it was either Vermont because of legislation that they had been passing, or Oregon. And Oregon had just passed the bottle bill [charging a deposit on soda and beer bottles] in ’73. And they had a beach bill [assuring public access to land along the coastline.]
The creation of the LCDC [Land Conservation and Development Commission] was starting to loom as well, and so I said, “I think that’s the place for me.” I thought that any place that valued farm land over development was important. Cause I’d seen prime agricultural farmland in Colorado being built over by houses and crying when I saw smog in the blue sky.
What interests me so much about what you’re saying, Lucinda, is that you not only had the right impulses, but you acted on them and found ways to make political statements and involve other people in doing that.
Well, it was what I saw my parents doing. When you have people model for you, it’s kind of a natural thing of Well, why not? And so I haven’t understood people playing it safe. People are fearful and they play it safe. But, for me, that hasn’t really been an option. Life was happening and I said, “I’ve got to try to live it.” The other thing was when I was a senior in high school, I had cancer. Everybody had been affected and I think it was environmentally caused, from the tailings.
So I kind of bargained with God that if I didn’t die I would try to do everything I could to live life as fully as I could and be of service. So, I guess, to a certain extent, I’ve been working towards a Bodhisattva kind of existence. You never know what will be your last breath, and who’s the last person you get to say, “I love you” to and that you care. And I’m not dead yet. [chuckles]
What are the most interesting or satisfying experiences you’ve had as an activist?
When I went to college at Reed I became very active. There was the Clamshell Alliance and the Crabshell Alliance depending on which coast you were on and I ended up protesting with both of them against nuclear power plants. Also, I was a volunteer with OSPIRG, the Oregon State Public Interest Research Group. The Ralph Nader’s Raiders PIRGS needed volunteers to testify at various hearings and I was asked if I would present some information with the Thousand Friends of Oregon. Companies were trying to develop condominiums out there. And they were cutting off the deer’s winter range from the water supply. And so I testified for them and then people from the PIR Groups asked if I was interested in becoming an intern and working full time for them. And my project was to [help] stop the Trojan Nuclear Power Plant.
So I stopped what I was doing, I didn’t go back to school that second year. I just quit and worked for Ralph Nader’s Raiders. And I can remember testifying, representing the people of the State of Oregon. There weren’t enough of us. It became really clear to me that we [needed] sheer numbers of people showing up to testify at a hearing, to overwhelm when there’s a public hearing called. Sheer numbers, peacefully. They don’t have to be violent in any way but sheer numbers can scare the pajeebers out of those guys.
But I worked so hard with my research on nuclear energy and nuclear power. What it was like in the mines in Colorado with the cancers and the black lung. And I did a cost-benefit risk analysis of nuclear power vs. solar vs. wind.
Well, lots of people tried to turn that one around. It was a big and long campaign.
It took years. It took Lloyd Marbett and a lot of people after me many years. And then finally there was enough momentum and enough people behind it. But, it took years. I’m glad that people got the momentum finally and were finally able to close it down. But at the time, I felt I’d failed. And so I started getting cancer again. So I saw there’s a body-mind connection. Body-mind-spirit connection.
Let’s move on to other campaigns you want to talk about.
As a Quaker I believed in everybody having a right to education and power and empowerment. But that experience that I had when I had failed to get Trojan stopped also became kind of a personal spiritual transformation point for me because it made me realize that maybe what I needed to do instead of trying on the large scale with testifying and legislators and so on, maybe what I need to do is become a counselor. Help people one on one and change people’s hearts and minds and souls that way. So, I decided I should become a performing arts therapist. Because counseling, when you use the arts, becomes another spiritual practice.
I loved music and I loved to sing and I knew that music had a very spiritual component to it. I sing for God and I sing for the perfection that I try to reach with it. And also dance movement comes from the very soul and I do Tai Chi and Yoga as practices. So, I started hitchhiking around the United States to look for a place where I could study. This was 1976. And I ended up going to Western Washington University where there was an Honor’s program and you could study anything that you wanted interdisciplinarily, if you could put it together and find 10 or 12 faculty advisors for it and write a thesis about it.
[Later] I was a part of a feminist artist collective in New York. And I took voice lessons and saw how breathing is important to health and centering. And then I took a lot of ballet and jazz ballet and studied dance techniques. And then I studied dance therapy. I met people from around the world when I was in New York that showed me how I could use music, theater, dance and arts spiritually and also for revolution. And I have applied that to education.
So, what would you say was your career path, in general? Because I know you’ve done bilingual education and you’ve done therapy using the arts.
I did therapy circles with dance therapy at Blue Canyon Institute for chronic schizophrenics and manic-depressives as part of my Senior project. I thought that was gonna be my degree work and I was all ready to get my B.A. in Performing Arts Therapy and 2 weeks before graduation I came to the realization that this was really draining, and I would burn out if I chose this as my career. So I ended up going for a fifth year and got my B.A. in Ed. degree.
Now, has there been a period in your life when you were not working at a paying job?
I’ve always worked in some capacity or another. Because I was from a poor family, I became a teacher. And I used creative methods to teach and I’ve taught every grade. I’ve taught everything from 3 and 4 year olds with the Migrant Head Start Oregon Child Development Coalition. As a reading specialist, I am a credentialed California Language Development Specialist. And I studied Cambodian for 5 years. So, I worked with Cambodian language and I also worked with Spanish.
I’ve worked with 6 different language groups of refugees in my California classrooms and I worked with tribes with Cooperative Learning Group Structures, people seeing a classroom as a beloved community and cooperating to learn. On the playground, I created little Desmond Tutu truth and reconciliation commissions where everybody would be in a circle and a person would take the talking stick and everybody would get to speak and everybody would get to say what they saw or heard in their own experience. But, only that. Not making presumptions, you know.
Now, please tell me how you got wrongly imprisoned.
Well, that’s related to the work that I had done with dance therapy….