Making a New Life and Speaking out after Prison (Patricia Coldeen)

Sylvia: It’s February 13, 2017 and I’m interviewing Patricia Coldeen. I know you’ve been through some hard experiences and in recent years you’ve made yourself a whole new life.

What do you think in your past led you to become an activist?

 Patricia: I was raised in a family where I was encouraged to believe in our system. Which sometimes can get very discouraging. But, to write letters and vote and participate in marches and things like that. The first thing I remember is a bill was introduced to pass legislation to make it legal for vehicles to be on Oregon beaches. And we were like, ‘No!’ I was probably like 4th grade or something? 5th grade? Grade school. And it was Senator Mark Hatfield.

So we wrote a letter to Mark Hatfield laying out all the reasons why we didn’t want this to become a law. How it’d be detrimental to the beach and we even got pictures. I remember commenting on California beaches and how trashed they were, that there were couches. There were old tires. I don’t remember how we got that information but we included it in our letter. Cause I remember thinking, “Oh my gosh, we don’t want our beaches to look like that!” And we sent this letter off and we got a response. “Thank you for” you know, “showing interest,” and he was in favor of not passing the bill as well.

It didn’t pass. And so I remember feeling that empowerment, you know? So, that was my first kind of experience with it.

Was this was a family project, to write the letter?

 Yes, definitely. And that instilled in me that idea that we can make social change and we need to become part of our system–which can be very overwhelming, you know? But I’ve always believed in our political system! Which sometimes can be very discouraging at times.

Well, particularly since you found yourself on the wrong side of the law.

 For sure on that. Definitely. I remember my mother trying to tell me, “Trish, you have to join the system to beat the system.”

What was your family background? What did they do for a living?

 My father was an air traffic controller. And they were quite older parents. My dad had fought in World War II, the tail end of it. He was in the Air Corps. He became an air traffic controller. My mother had been a bank teller. Raised four children. She did some different jobs, like clerical for a psychiatrist for a little while. Mostly just raised four children. Which was enough!

So you know, I got involved in drugs and alcohol. Part of that was kind of like rage against the machine. Which, you know, is like this term, there’s a band called that. It started in my junior high years. We got transferred away from Eugene into Yakima, Washington, which is a really close-minded, very small community. Lot of migrant workers there, you know? A lot of family turmoil going on and having to leave all my siblings.

 I’m the youngest. And my brother and sisters all stayed back in Eugene and went to college. But I got involved in drugs and alcohol and that’s a whole long story in and of itself. It took over my life for a very, very long time. But, I still remember at different times we would talk a lot about the goings on of the world. The next thing that stands out to me is I was with a Hispanic man who was 15 years older than myself and he taught me a lot about Cesar Chavez and the labor movement and what he had been through in L.A. And I was, always, “Oh! How cool that was!”

And then we went to war in the Gulf. The first Gulf War. And Frank was his name, Francisco, he found out about a march [here in Eugene] and we marched from the Federal building to I-5 and stopped I-5 traffic, North and South. So, we marched from the Federal Building to Glenwood and on to the I-5. And I felt like that really made a statement because we stopped I-5 traffic. It felt very empowering.

 And then we got tear gassed and I remember we had to go to Burger King and wash our face, cause it did burn. I didn’t get it bad. But, it was enough to make me wash my eyes out with water. So I’ve always felt compelled to be involved in things. But, then on the other hand, drugs and alcohol really takes that away from you. Takes your choices away, takes your ability to become involved in your community, you know? So I ended up in prison. Ended up in prison three different times. Cause I would just get out and do the same thing over again.

What were your drugs of choice?

 Heroin was my drug of choice. I did methamphetamine, too. Yeah. You know? It’s so weird. Now I help people recover. I work in an alcohol and drug treatment program.

You said you had two jobs, what else are you doing?

 I work at a Jackson’s. Connected with Shell and Chevron. It’s a little market in Glenwood. And they hire people with felony convictions. And they have a tuition reimbursement program. Helped me pay for going back to school and getting my bachelor’s at the University of Oregon.

And I’m on my way to transitioning out with them. I’m down to two days a week and I’m probably gonna be one day a week and I really want to write them a letter. Cause the owner’s out in Idaho and they’re expanding. I really felt a sense of responsibility to be a good employee, to speak out and tell the people around me that I had a felony conviction.

This is kind of a transition into the second part of my activism, to become part of Partnership for Safety and Justice and their work for sentencing reform. [Partnership for Safety and Justice works with people convicted of crime, survivors of crime, and the families of both to advocate for policies that make Oregon’s approach to public safety more effective and more just.] Part of it was like, once I got into recovery I felt a sense of responsibility to speak out and say, “I’m a person in recovery from drugs and alcohol. I have felony convictions and look who I am today.” You know? I’m not that same person. With help and support we do change.

 And the stigma that’s associated with it, and the shame that’s associated with it. Like, one of my co-workers was reading the paper and there was two people that were in the limelight. And she said, “Oh. I don’t like that guy. He’s got felony convictions.” And I looked at her and I said, “Lois. I have felony convictions.” I think she said, “He’s a felon. He’s a felon.” You know? And I look at her and I’m like, “Lois. I’m a felon.” And she goes, “Oh yeah!” [laughs] She knows, she just forgot! [laughs] It was a teaching moment.

When you were incarcerated, was there any way for this tendency of yours to speak out or to organize, to be used?

 In different ways, sure. It’s really hard when you’re really angry and you see yourself as a victim. I really believe there has to be a shift. And mixed in with addiction and not being ready and blaming everybody else. But I did some things that were really cool. The first time I was in, I was able to become involved with a writing group. It was called Write around Portland. They came in and we got published. And it was really empowering.

 I wrote a poem about where we bombed Baghdad. That was the second time. And writing poems and prose about my feelings. It was really a place to be heard — where, you know, you don’t have a voice? You really don’t have much of a voice in there. And we’d speak out, write letters [to publications of the Partnership for Safety and Justice that we received in prison.]

So then when I got out I was reading, living in a recovery house. I was 44. Cause I went to prison three times. I would just get out and do the same thing and, you know, be angry at everything that’s going on around me, feeling very overwhelmed. I think a lot of addicts and alcoholics feel things very intensely and we don’t know how to deal with it.

So this just kind of calms you down and makes you feel good?

 Yeah. Yeah. Where you can manage your feelings and they’re not so overwhelming. You know?

And how did you run against the law? May I ask what you were in for?

 Well, most of it was really just having possession. Or prostitution. I did sell drugs for a little while and they caught me doing that. Paying for my habit. It all came down to that. I didn’t do any violent crimes. You kind of push those morals and values about what you would never do. You push ‘em a little further and a little further till you do things that you think you would have never done. Which for me was prostitution and some of those things. You just do whatever you gotta do. I relate to that feeling of doing anything to get it, you know.

 So finally I was able to get some treatment. The first couple of times I didn’t get treatment. I had three years I went to prison the first time and did not get into any kind of treatment. I worked. I got out in the parks and that was a really cool experience and it gave me some confidence back in myself and my abilities.

In the State Parks we got to use chainsaws. We got to clear paths. Hard work. It was hard, physical work out in the parks, cleaning up after ice storms. Using wood chippers, clearing trails, all of it. I loved it. Cause I liked the physical and I love nature and it was really good for my spirit to get out there. So you got out of the prison for a little while. You had to return and every day you returned you had to do a strip search, cavity search, everything, to go back into the prison. But it was worth it.

But then the second time, I did get a treatment program and I almost felt like I was gonna get it. I did get quite a bit of support when I got out but I was just too scared to let go of whatever it is I thought drugs and alcohol was doing for me. You think it’s your lifeline and I just wasn’t ready to let go of that yet. Then the third time, I was like, OK, I don’t wanna go to prison anymore. I’m done. You know, in and out of county jails, in and out of prison and, I was like OK. I’ll do whatever it takes to stay out of prison. It took getting clean and sober.

And then I was 44. So I was living in a recovery house and I read the paper and it was by Ron Chase [then the head of Sponsors, a great program for rehabilitating formerly incarcerated people into the community. He was] talking about Partnership for Safety and Justice and their Think Outside the Box campaign to remove: “Have you ever been convicted of a felony?” from job applications. So far it was only Eugene and Portland, and Ron Chase at Sponsors was talking highly of Partnership for Safety and Justice. So I called Partnership for Safety and Justice and said, “What can I do? I need to get involved in this.”

At this point were you going to community college?

 Yes! I was going to Lane Community College and trying to figure out what I want to do. Part of me has often thought if I was younger I would’ve gotten more involved in the political system. I remember the Vietnam War and protesting that, and my sister had the M.I.A. bracelets. We loved Kennedy and when he died, and you know, the next Kennedy and Martin Luther King, and all that was going on in my house a lot. Time magazine was always on the table and I was a real news junkie. Anyway.

Partnership for Safety and Justice was such a wonderful fit for me. With them I was able to phone bank for Val Hoyle [then running for the Oregon House of Representatives]. I was able to go door to door and help, and KEZI came to my house and interviewed me about the Think Outside The Box campaign and I was on the news! And a couple of my customers commented at Jackson’s, cause I’m a clerk there and pump gas, and “Oh! I saw you on the news!” There it is again, that responsibility to talk about, “Yes, I am a person who’s formerly incarcerated. I have been convicted. And yet, I’m not just a ‘felon,’ I am much more.”

.I’m a human being who made some mistakes and now I’m trying to change my life and with support and help and if you offer me a job and you know, help me, let me have a house.

Food. You know? And my education. Which in some states you can’t get an education.

 Actually, no, I shouldn’t say that. The Federal Pell Grants, they do deny you at first, but now there’s a form you can fill out and say, that was my experience. But I had to say “Yes” and they would deny it and then I filled out a form that I’ve completed treatment and so then you can get it. I think that’s actually gotten better. I think that’s changed.

So you’re saying that it used to be that they refused you and they had a way of your getting over that hurdle and now it’s even easier.

 Yeah, I think they’ve made it even easier. But, in some states you can’t vote. In some states you can’t get food stamps. It’s the new Jim Crow. You know, Michelle Alexander, she’s an amazing woman. She’s an African-American woman who wrote the book, The New Jim Crow. I learned about Michelle Alexander by going to a three-day symposium. I got to go live up at Reed College for three days, stay there and do activism workshops. People came from all over the Western states. And we got to live there and we took workshops on telling our story, the best ways to make social change. The different social media, how to organize, how to reach different populations. And a woman came and talked about Michelle Alexander.

She was a prosecuting attorney. I think she’s now a defense attorney. And her book is amazing. And it’s very scary because she’s all factual. She just lays it out about history and how things evolved over time and if you look at the way African-Americans were treated even after the Emancipation Proclamation.

 Still not being able to buy land, get housing, discriminated against, all those things. So it’s very scary when you think about what’s happening today. When Michelle Alexander lays it out, it’s very telling–the disparity for all the African-Americans involved in our criminal justice system and the drug laws that punish crack cocaine–which happened to be, you know, in African-American communities–much [more severely] than the white powder cocaine of all the rich white lawyers who had that. And, so after you get these felony convictions you can no longer rent a place. People can legally discriminate against you if you have a felony conviction.

When we talked before you said something about having gone to Washington.

 So, a couple more things that are really awesome. Through Partnership for Safety and Justice, I got to work on that Think Outside the Box campaign and it was successful. And now I think the whole State of Oregon has made a law that they no longer have “Have you ever been convicted of a felony?” on their applications.

 You have to talk to the person face to face before you [can ask that question]. And then decide whether they’re qualified for the job. After that I got to go to Portland and talk about the obstacles and barriers for people who have felony convictions and to talk to a panel that came from Washington, D.C. There were doctors, some people in political office, some people in criminal justice.

 I think it was through Voices and Faces of Recovery. But Partnership for Safety and Justice helped me get there. And it just felt very empowering to be able to speak out, tell your story. When Sponsors was gonna be cut some funding, I went to the Public Safety Budget Committee meeting, and spoke up for what Sponsors had done for me. I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for that. And how prevention and recovery works, you know. And then, with Patty Katz [then on the staff of Partnership for Safety and Justice,] we got to go to Washington, D.C. And it was a gathering called Addiction Unite.

It was about lobbying for the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act that allocated money for prevention, aftercare services, and the education of physicians about the dangers of indiscriminate prescribing of oxycontin. Fortunately it passed.

The event was really cool, Patrick Kennedy came out and talked to us, cause he’s in recovery. [Patrick Kennedy, the youngest son of the late Senator Ted Kennedy, served for two terms as a congressman for Rhode Island.] I read his book. It’s called A Common Struggle. It’s a really good book. It’s about his overcoming addictions. And mental health issues.

So, we got to go march on the mall there. And there was quite a few people. I mean we expected like 30,000. But a hurricane came through. There was a couple states that couldn’t come and be represented and we barely made it through. But there was like 10,000 people there and we got to go talk to legislators. We got to talk to [Senator] Ron Wyden’s aide. And [Congressman] Peter DeFazio, we got to talk to his aide.

 So that was really empowering. It was really amazing. And all kinds of musicians came. And it was covered in the news. Washington, D.C.’s news, yeah. Not as much as we would’ve liked it to be. It was streamed live. My sister got to watch it on TV. Somehow, on one of her cable channels, it was streamed live. It’s just really empowering when you feel like you have a voice and may be heard, you know?

My most passionate work now is at the Willamette Family Drug and Alcohol Treatment Program. We have several different sites. We have a residential program where women and mothers live. We have a new dads program that we got a grant for–fathers can live there with their children. Which is just this amazing thing. The location is in Eugene.

We work really hard to have wraparound services where we offer mental health, medical clinic downstairs, [to deal with] whatever obstacles might come into your way to being successful in treatment. Like rides, housing–which is limited, not much. Peer support. That’s my job is to help them connect with different resources in the community. And we really want to make everything right there. Like the medical clinic is just downstairs. Mental health is just right there. So they don’t have to go, I mean, “You gotta go over here to get this. You gotta go over there to get this.” I sign ‘em up for Ridesource [an individualized transportation program in Eugene] right away. Get the bus pass nailed right there, so they have got transportation, you know. I really feel good about Willamette Family and the work they do in the community.

Who supports them? Where do they get the money?

 Oh my goodness. Well, we did get the Rotary grant. I think three places got that. One of ‘em was us. We’re a non-profit so there’s some federal monies that come in. Medicaid, OHP help, pay for a lot. The Oregon Health Plan. Medicaid. And whoever else we can ask for money from. I know that we’ve got a lot of people that are good at doing that. They go out to the different community members who want to support us. It’s Willamette Family Services. They’ve been around since like 1967.

 Buckley House, that’s how they started. That was the first, George and Honey Buckley, it was out of his house. He was an alcoholic in recovery and he would just take people in. And he had a sign in his house that said, “Not every human is an alcoholic, but every alcoholic is human.”

That sign still stands in Buckley House today. I don’t know if it’s the exact same one butabove the door there, when you walk in, that’s what you see. And we try to remain true to that philosophy. I went through Willamette Family. They’re definitely part of the foundation of my recovery. So, it’s pretty cool I work there.

 

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Opposing Rape Culture on Campus (Cimmeron Gillespie — Part 2)

Sylvia: Would you like to talk about current issues on the University of Oregon campus?

 Cimmeron: To throw in a story about fighting the patriarchy, [laughs] for a while the University of Oregon, in response to sexual assaults, would send out notifications saying, “Don’t get assaulted,” basically. You know. “Just follow these safety tips. Don’t go in dark alleys, travel with a friend, carry pepper spray.” And the problem with these sorts of things, it’s not like they’re totally unhelpful but it basically says to a survivor of sexual assault, “YOU did things wrong. This is your fault.” It doesn’t say this person who both broke laws and violated your personal safety and was not being consensual, this person is at fault. It blames the survivor. You did wrong because you didn’t follow these safety steps.

So there’s been a push from the Women’s Center on campus saying, “Hey, look. You’ve gotta change this.” They’ve been contacting a certain dean, again and again. There was no response. Basically he said, “Ah, well, we’re talkin’ about it, we’re working on it.” And he shut ‘em down. They talked to him for years, and he made no movement on it. It was clear, nothing was gonna happen.

So I went with some friends of mine who were involved, a friend who was involved in the Women’s Center, and we went to a senior administrator and we sat down and we said, we want a meeting about this. And the first thing he said was, “Oh! Well, didn’t you go talk to [this same dean they’d been talking to]? And we said, “Look! His role in this university is clearly just to silence dissent. His role is clearly NOT to take action.” It’s just to channel people’s feelings and emotions so you don’t have to deal with this. But, this is a real problem that needs to get dealt with. You need to change this!

What you’re, in effect, saying is that you’re essentially condoning sexual assault, blaming the victim. You’re telling the perpetrators, “You’ve done nothing wrong. These survivors did things wrong.” And we had a very good meeting. And the administrators who I talked with at that time, said you know, you’re right, this is terrible. [laughs]

 And by the time they sent out another report, that a sexual assault had happened on campus, they had begun making changes. It’s not perfect but I think it’s important to continue to push and think about the ways that we can oppose rape culture in our society. The culture of justifying rape, of blaming survivors, of not teaching consent, of not getting people on the same page. That just like normalizes that sexual assault happens. “Oh, it’s bad that it happens.” But, like never saying like “These people are sexually assaulting people!”

So, what actual changes came about on campus? Were there statements about rape is bad or whatever?

 Yeah, well, instead of having all the comments blaming survivors, instead, their first comment was, “this happened. Everyone should know that sexual assault is breaking laws. You should not do it.” [chuckles] And then went on to have some other suggestions and they made some changes to what they were saying. [sigh] In a lot of cases these reports just say, “This happened in this area.” It’s not like they’ve caught someone. It’s just letting people know that something has happened.

It’s far from perfect. I think there’s a broader conversation that our society has to deal with, talk about consent. That should be happening in every school right along with sex education. The fact that you can talk about biology, but not talk about how do you talk about permission about sex, that that’s not a part of every single sex education curriculum is to me horrifying, cause what that sets up is people wanting sex, knowing how to have sex, and not understanding how to have consent and how to have it in a mutually respecting way.

 

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Protecting Old Growth Forests and Ousting Neo-Nazis from Campus (Cimmeron Gillespie — Part 1)

 Sylvia: It’s December 3rd, 2016 and I’m interviewing Cimmeron Gillespie. I know that you’ve been an activist since you were in high school. You went to the University of Oregon and now you’re 28.

 Cimmeron: Yeah. Pretty much for the last decade and a half, I’ve been involved in social movements one way or another.

And what in your past led you to become an activist?

 I was a green diaper baby. You may have heard the phrase “red diaper baby.” They were the children born of communists, but my parents met in the environmental movement. So I joke that I’m a green diaper baby. I came up around social movements and I got involved very quickly. My parents met in the eighties and around that time there was big fear, a big transition in the environmental movement, fear from loss of local ecosystems, also fear of nuclear holocaust, the cold war.

So there was a very strong early understanding of the consequences of war and the environment and how these impacted each other and that led me later to very quickly be able to understand and adapt to the importance of different social movements and their interconnectedness.

Incidentally, I know that your father shows up at the Friends Meeting. So, he’s a Quaker, I suppose. Is your mother also?

 She’s not, no. She was raised religious and moved away from that in later years. My grandparents on my father’s side were both ministers. On my paternal side, both my grandmother and my grandfather. [laughs] And they had a very rich history. My grandfather was involved in the civil rights movement.

My grandfather was involved in the civil rights movement and my grandmother was involved in the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa. [She was an American but she was teaching in a school for black children there.] She had a number of stories, one of which was that she was called one night and told that one of her students had been picked up and so she went to the jail or whatever it was, British administration word for that. I don’t know. Whatever. Anyways, so she shows up there and he’s been killed. And so she has to inform the parents because the local police wouldn’t talk to the parents because the parents weren’t white. So they had to call the church people to do that on the parents’ behalf.

This is a horrific story but what church was this? What denomination?

 I’m not sure who she was with at the time. They were United Church of Christ later. I don’t know a lot about her early life but I know that she attended Oberlin. [The first American college to admit black students – it did so in the 1830s — Oberlin and its graduates have a long and proud history of support for civil rights and racial equality.]

 And she was also an early religious adopter of an affirming faith position. My grandfather was not and they had some arguments over that for some time. In the sixties and seventies my grandfather did not support same sex marriages and he believed that homosexuality was a sin and so on. My grandmother did not hold that position and I remember some heated exchanges they had in which she finally got him to come around to an affirming position. And a few years later they were co-ministering for a United Church of Christ church in Ohio and they told this congregation, we really need to be affirming. This is a moral issue. And that was very contentious, several wealthy donors pulled out.

So, that would be what’s usually called now a welcoming community or a welcoming congregation.

 Yeah. Exactly. An affirming community. A welcoming community. Ultimately, I think that church closed a few years later. So it was a very difficult position to take. It cost their religious community tremendously.

My parents both have lived in Oregon since the eighties. And the rest of my family is sort of spread out across the United States. There’s a lot of stories that my family have about different movements. One is that when my parents met it was around the logging of a site called Millennium Grove here in Oregon. It was called Millennium Grove because the trees, evergreens, had been growing for over a thousand years. I’ve been to the site.

 So what happened was — I’ll tell two stories. One is that there was a number of protests to try to save the stand. To discourage the logging companies from coming out, there was a tree-sit. And people came out. My mom went out to this, to participate in it. And some other people showed up who hadn’t been to any of the meetings before, and everyone in the group was suspicious that these new people who showed up may have been government agents. Police.

And so the whole group sat down in a circle, and everyone introduced themselves, and they all agreed that everyone had to say that they were not police officers. And everyone went around, and when it got to these people they sort of hesitated a little bit, and then said it, and that was enough for everyone there to say, “You gotta go.” So they drove with them and they drove them out cause, you know, all of these logging sites are up these pretty distant roads to get to, and so they followed them all the way back down to the main road. Next day they went to go sit down and then the loggers decided they weren’t going to show up that day. So, they went to lock down and nobody came. [laughs]

The other story from that tree-sit is that there was an injunction passed, there was a lawsuit about it that this was a special case and that this tree stand should probably be preserved and there was to be a hearing on it. And the day before the hearing, on a holiday weekend, I think it was like Easter weekend or something, they came in on a Sunday at midnight, turned on floodlights and cut it all down. And the story is that they didn’t even pick up the lumber. They just left it! It was just, you know, “We’re gonna cut it, just to spite you.You can have your injunction hearing, but it’s moot. It’s over. It’s already cut down.”

Which I think speaks to the drive in capitalism for profits, meaning that these corporations feel like they don’t have to follow the law. The law follows them. And I think that that really has been my experience, too, of the attitude of corporations. They don’t care what the law says. They just wanna do whatever will make them more money.

So that takes you from issues of the environment to your attitude toward corporate power.

And that leads directly to economic injustice as well. Right? Like corporations willing to do anything for profit means we have to ask what are they doing? Who may be getting hurt as a consequence of this? And it’s usually always workers. It’s usually always poor people. You know, you don’t often hear of rich people having gripes about, “Oh, this economy really isn’t going my way! Oh, these wages just aren’t enough for me with my million dollar bonus!” They never have to worry about having to go home and decide between buying cereal for their kids or afternoon snacks. You know. That’s never a decision that a rich family has to make.

So does this affect any groups that you’re involved with? I know that you’re certainly a non-violent activist. I believe that’s still your stance. Isn’t it?

 My stance on violence is this. I don’t personally engage in any acts of violence. But I recognize that there are situations of tremendous violence in the world. And I think someone facing tremendous oppression and violence, I’m not gonna condemn them for standing up for their rights, for defending themselves. We hear about private militias and we hear about police beating people. If someone is being brutally attacked and in fear of their lives, I’m certainly not going to condemn someone if they kick back or throw a punch or something. In the grand scheme of things that doesn’t matter to me. I choose not to engage in violence and that’s a decision that I have made but I also want to make clear that I do not judge other people for making a different decision.

In Latin America, when there was criticism of some violence on the part of the underprivileged, the tremendously oppressed, there were some people in the Catholic Church, people in the Liberation Theology movement, that were saying that economic violence is just as serious.

 I remember a quote from Friend Peg Morton, [a mutual friend of ours, a dedicated Quaker activist, recently deceased.]. There’s a section in her book to that effect as well. That was very moving for me. So I concur with that position.

Right. So why don’t you talk about some of the campaigns or efforts you’ve been involved in?

 The first major movement that I was involved in was the anti-war movement against the Iraq war. The war started in Iraq about 2003 and by 2006 when I was graduating high school, people were talking very seriously about back door drafts. People who had already enlisted and been released were being recalled. And that signaled to me that our military may need more bodies and I was in a very real way concerned that a draft could happen, that I was of draft age and I might be pressed into service in this war that from the very beginning I thought had the most dubious arguments. There was no real justification for it. So my first major political action was resisting that war. I participated in this sit-in of Congressman DeFazio’s office, calling on him to stop the war funding.

Since then I’ve been involved in movements around a variety of issues going forward. Ha! And you brought up Orval Etter. I should say he was a member of Eugene Friends Meeting, and he had started a group that met at the University of Oregon called the Pacifica Forum. It began as a discussion group, originally talking about ideas of war and peace and militarism throughout the world. And [pause] at some point in the late nineties, early two thousands, those discussions of war began to focus very heavily on Israel/Palestine. And took some very critical views of Israel, some of the presentations.

And that attracted some conspiracy believers. Their particular conspiracy of choice was that there was a Jewish conspiracy. That Jewish people controlled money and the world and so on and so forth. And so their belief was that the state of Israel had to be overthrown or something. And they were Holocaust deniers.

 I mean, they really thought that it was all made up. That there was no truth to it. Some of them said, “Oh there was a Holocaust but maybe only a couple hundred thousand people died,” or something, as if all the records were made up. As if all the testimonies and all the shoes, as if the death camps themselves weren’t obvious proof. As if the millions of accounts of what happened weren’t validation enough.

It didn’t happen all at once. My understanding is it grew over time. I don’t want to get too personal but there was a number of things, one of which was that Orval Etter, himself, I don’t think, held these views? At the time he was getting quite old. He was in his late nineties. I had several conversations with his family members. It was difficult for them, too, that their father was involved in this group that was discussing these abhorrent topics.

So as a discussion group it was kind of gross, but not necessarily a big concern. What happened was in 2010 they invited the National Socialist Movement, the NSM, to come and speak. And the National Socialist Movement was one of the splinter groups of the former American Nazi party. That event triggered a response. Because then many people in the community, many students that I knew, and community members were like, “Wow. Now you’re bringing Nazis to our campus. This really is unacceptable.” Prior to that time, Pacifica Forum was not very well known. It wasn’t very well attended. After that point there was controversy. There was regular stories published on it every week in [the city’s daily newspaper, the region’s most popular weekly, and the campus newpaper.]

Pacifica Forum was having weekly meetings. So myself and many fellow students formed an organization called Breaking Bigotry and we proceeded to have weekly protests. And that went on for eight months. Ultimately that resulted in the university changing its policy. Orval Etter had been able to reserve a room on campus as an emeritus professor but the university changed its policy, saying instead there had to be a department or a unit on campus that sponsored an event. And so that ultimately ended his ability to reserve the rooms and the organization broke apart. In the middle of that, there was extensive protests and threats.

Did you have demonstrations outside the meetings or what?

 We went into the meetings. And we would actively disrupt them. It was a dark time but we sure had fun with it. There was a number of things. The most prominent was we held a kiss-in, cause they were talking about homophobia and their thinking was that same sex couples were an abomination and they showed the degradation of our society or something, so we held a kiss-in. Many same sex couples and many heterosexual couples came and made out. And [the attenders] were so disgusted by this display of intimacy, they made more noise than we did at that protest.

So, you would be standing around and doing these things.

 We were sitting in seats. Yeah, and making out. And I remember there was one woman who was a regular Pacifica attender and she was sitting near me and the person I went with, and she just started making these disturbed noises like, “Ugh! Uhg! Owww! Oaah!” She just couldn’t handle it. [laughs] That meeting fairly well ended in total disruption. Yeah! They couldn’t do anything.

[laughs] This was a meeting on the subject of homosexuality?

Them promoting homophobia, yeah. Yeah. There was another meeting, they were talking about Martin Luther King, and they were accusing him of being a communist collaborator, trying to destroy the United States. The speaker was originally from Lithuania. And for that speech we agreed to do a silent protest. There was maybe a hundred of us in there or something. And we turned our backs to them as soon as they started saying something vile, which they did.

 He was speaking about Martin Luther King. Saying he was a communist and that he was trying to destroy the United States and that he was really a man of hate and all this. Of course, none of this is true. [pause] What I remember most about that speech was just a genuine feeling of like, evil in that room. For me, it was palpable. I could sense it, it was disgusting! Here were people in a very serious way, using that as a position, in essence, to justify the Holocaust. They’re saying, “Oh well, Martin Luther King was really a socialist,” and that tied him to the communists, and the communists killed millions of people under Stalin — which is certainly true.

Their claim was somehow that anything to the left of white supremacy was really just out to kill white people. That wasn’t the theme of the speech but that was the undertone of it. And I remember just being so disgusted by that. And also feeling sad for these people whose lives were so insular that they couldn’t understand that the lives of people of color were valid too, that they had a role in our society

 So we had a number of other protests at the Pacifica Forum. We had one, a call-in. We were in Agate Hall, and there would be two rows of protesters who would be sitting down, and the front row would have their phones turned up very loud with these very annoying ring tones, and the row behind them would call them and all the phones would go off and you’d hear, “Da duh dun da da da da duh dun dun. Da da da!” [singing] And all these other things. And the speaker, you know, couldn’t deal with all these cell phones. He’d be like, “Turn them off! Turn them off!”

 So we had some just really lovely disruptions. One of the things that came out of that, though, was that the campus police showed up and their position was that the room was legitimately reserved and so they had to defend the people in the room who were using it. And so, the police were suddenly in this position of defending white supremacists and neo-Nazis.

Well, you were walking a very tricky line there. When does disruption become limiting free speech?

 Well, exactly. I came to feel that [sigh] free speech — I think it’s an interesting thing because it’s really intended to prevent the government from censoring individuals. I don’t think free speech was ever about individuals censoring other individuals, you know? Like, if your neighbor has their music turned up really loud at midnight, it’s perfectly reasonable to go over to your neighbor and tell them, “Turn it the hell down. You’re makin’ a racket!” But, nobody would ever say you’re infringing on their free speech.

Yeah. Well there are regulations in many communities about how late you can have loud music play or something of that sort.

 Well, sure. But that’s just the point. We as communities do establish boundaries of what is accepted speech! And I think, for instance, in Germany, they have outlawed Nazi parties and they are certainly a free republic. It is possible to limit some extreme views in the interest of preserving a more free society.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Advocating and Mediating for Native Americans and Homeless People (Jennifer Frenzer-Knowlton)

Sylvia: It’s November 16, 2016, and I’m interviewing Jennifer Frenzer-Knowlton. I know that you’re trained as a lawyer and that for a time you lived with your former husband on an Indian reservation. And you’ve been active with Occupy Eugene [a complex program in the city of Eugene, Oregon, part protest and part meant to alleviate problems of the homeless] as well as other things. What do you think in your past led you to become an activist?

Jennifer: I think I really did feel empowered, having spent that time on the Indian reservation. I was trained as an attorney. I only served as an attorney for a couple of years. My first degree was about development and emerging nations and emerging economies. When I went to the reservation, the tribe decided that what they really wanted was for me to help them with their economic development. This was in the state of Washington and it’s the Makah nation.

They’re up at Neah Bay on the Olympic peninsula. That’s where I learned the day-in day-out elements of activism. I think I was just born into a time and place in the United States where it’d be very hard for someone not to have some sense of, well, what could my role be in change? I’m 52 years old, so I was born with Vietnam War demonstrations going on around me. The culture of my own household changed. My mom discovered that she maybe didn’t wanna keep practicing the religion she was practicing. Maybe she wanted to investigate what feminism was and she was very open about that with us, even though we were pretty little. Martin Luther King gets assassinated and I watch my mom get educated about what that means.

So those seeds got planted pretty young, either by the media or just by watching my own family members mature and grow and try to figure out what their roles were. And on the reservation, I learned the day-in day-out work of being an activist. Because, it didn’t occur to me how much of a daily effort it was for people who were disenfranchised. And it was a lot more than just legal cases and what role non-profits could play.

Just yesterday I was talking to a woman who said she’d lived on a Navaho reservation in Arizona, teaching in a local college. She said that the great majority of the roads weren’t paved and there were no stores. You had to drive forty miles to get to a hardware store. There were no places to get basic necessities, aside from Kentucky Fried Chicken or something like that.

 Yeah, I’ve been to one Navajo reservation and of course, every reservation has different dilemmas. It depends on what area of Navajo you go to, it can be very isolated. And the roads can be so incredibly rutted that most regular passenger vehicles struggle to get there. I remember, where I lived up on the Washington coast, it’s four hours from Seattle, the last beach in the contiguous U.S. We looked out at Vancouver Island. We were all the way out on the coast and as far north and west as you can go in the contiguous United States.

The roads would wash out regularly. We’d have avalanches and mudslides and no guardrails, but we also had a tribe that was diligent about using the legal system. And diligent about making sure they had young people with skills that were always being mentored to make sure that they could communicate with the Bureau of Indian Affairs, stay on top of their liaison work with the Bureau so they always got their budget from the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Not all tribes have that kind of people power. And not all tribes have that capacity to invest in their youth and make sure their youth get to go to college. It was a unique situation. I didn’t realize that was the situation I was getting into, but this is the tribe that fought the Boldt decision. And the Boldt decision went all the way up to the United States Supreme Court.

It secured the rights of Tribal Treaty Nations. That meant that the entire state of Washington’s tribes that had an interest in treaty fishing rights got their rights secured because the Makah nation cut down trees, hired lawyers, and made sure that that case was won, and eventually it was won. It took a lot of trees. It took a lot of lawyers. But they are diligent to protect those rights and they’re diligent about making sure dealings with the Bureau of Indian Affairs are taken care of, day-in, day-out. Their treaty has to be taken care of day-in, day-out. And that was the walk away message that I got, just because you have an agreement in place with a state government, a local government, or a federal government, you’re not scot-free. You have to protect the words in that document. You may not let the meaning of it be eroded by some future official or by some interest group that wants a piece of your action. You’ve got to stay on top of your rights. I had that driven home to me within about six months where I realized, “Wow! We cannot sleep here.” [laughs] It is an ongoing effort. Day-in. Day-out. Protecting budget line items.

How long were you there?

 For four years. It was like getting another degree. I had gotten my economics degree at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. Then I went to law school at Ohio State University. In between undergrad and law school I worked three years on Wall Street. I was in a business called reinsurance. Insuring insurance companies against high-risk loss, like an entire book of business getting wiped out by a hurricane, for example. They need coverage so that they don’t go bankrupt if there’s a hurricane. It’s legalized gambling. [laughs] It was really not my cup of tea but I sure liked living in New York City as a young person, you know. It was great fun.

Yeah. Well, you have a wonderfully rounded set of experiences. Would you like to talk about Occupy Eugene or any of the things that came in between?

 I’m happy to pick up at Occupy. From the reservation I moved to Eugene directly. I have a son who’s 19 and a daughter who’s 16. My life from that point forward has been a combination of parenting and activism and different kinds of odd jobs that I end up doing along the way to accommodate the parenting and the activism.

 One of the things I did learn in law school that I really wanted to take off with was mediation and alternative dispute resolution. I was in a corporate law program. That’s what got me into Wall Street; it wasn’t necessarily what I wanted to do, but it got me in. One of the few practicums was in mediation and it was interest-based, facilitated mediation. It’s the neighborhood mediation style that comes out of San Francisco’s Center for Dispute Resolution. That was a federal program. It was very helpful. I just didn’t get to use it until about twenty years later. [laughs] And then I took the mediation class again and got to volunteer in a mediation center in Eugene and eventually I ran the family program and got a paid staff position there.

This brings to mind the difference between mediation and arbitration. Because one of the horror stories of the current age is the way arbitration is foisted on many people. On many contracts, you deprive yourself of certain legal rights. Can you talk about that a little bit?

 With much knowledge? No. Probably not much more knowledge than any other consumer has. But I do know one of the areas where it could be helpful, and I thought about doing it, is with high conflict families. Up in Multnomah [Portland is in Multnomah county] they have a program where families come back to court over and over again to consider their custody arrangements or their parenting plan arrangements. They tax the system and they obviously need a whole bunch of assistance so what the judge offers them is someone who is a mediator, but in the end could be an arbitrator if they just can’t get through who’s gonna pay for lunch. These are high conflict scenario families, skill-wise or emotional or whatever, they just can’t parent together, so they actually do need an arbitrator. But arbitration has been overused, particularly in consumer contracts.

Meanwhile there’s a disrespect of mediation. It’s underutilized. Certain kinds of mediation are regulated in this state but it’s hard to make it a profession because the consumer doesn’t see it as something of value, the same way they would see legal services. I’ve been hopeful that being a lawyer practicing mediation would make people more inclined to pay for mediation services and that has not always been the case. So it’s a tough way to make a living right now. [laughs]

Right. [laughs] So would you like to talk about Occupy Eugene?

 Sure. One of the reasons I got involved in Occupy Eugene was the mediation element. A lot of negotiating needed to be done with government officials. Also within the Occupy movement itself, a lot of negotiating needed to be done between committees, between residents of the protest camp itself. So I got involved in the Peacekeepers tent and taking hours doing security at night and then also being part of a committee that helped relationship building within and without the camps.

Now, I know a little bit about Occupy Eugene, not a whole lot. But since this is for a blog where people may know nothing about it, would you like to describe the whole thing?

 Sure. Occupy Eugene was a protest camp that, like in most places in the United States, got created by social media. Complete strangers found out about the commencement of a protest camp under the Occupy banner through social media. This allowed it to mushroom very quickly, this new way of protesters getting together, complete strangers, no official 501(c) 3 that they were operating under or anything like that. Just a very grassroots group of public members getting together to protest things that they were seeing.

Economic issues were particularly distressing for people. They were seeing the banks getting bailed out of their poor decision-making and the economic impacts of those poor decisions but typical consumers who were in mortgages that were burying them weren’t helped, they were getting kicked out of their homes and ending up homeless. As government budgets contracted, services were being cut and people were losing services that were vital to their life, whether it was the subsidies for rent or entire programs that assisted disabled people. All sorts of programs were evaporating and yet somehow in the corporations and the banks, the executives were still drawing their salaries and, in fact, even getting bonuses to the tune of millions of dollars and not getting punished for their bad decisions, not expected to pay back their bailout.

The inequity of that and also more and more information about the income gap [was coming out about] who was benefiting from our economy. Who over the last 30 years, or even the last 10 years were seeing growth in their income and growth in their capacity to take on debt and pay off loans. A very small group of people, in fact, 1% while the rest of the population, 99% were in stagnant situations. So the inequality of how the economy was serving the nation was the primary thing that was highlighted in the Occupy movement.

Now, we’re talking about the Great Recession that started around 2008. And the first salvo of this whole battle was Occupy Wall Street.

 Occupy Wall Street in New York and Manhattan. But it was also patterning itself on movements that were happening in Europe. People were saying, “Hey, yeah, we got some of those same problems that people in Spain, for example, are pointing out and maybe let’s try one of those style protest camps here. What would it be like if we occupied the sidewalk but then didn’t go home. Stayed. And slept there, ate there, provided medical care there, took care of one another there, and just said, we’re not gonna go home until you offer us something different than platitudes. And toughed it out.

We had 3,000 marchers the day that the Occupy march was called in Eugene and that was in October of 2011. A rally was called. They had met about four times through Facebook. Their organizers had met four times to create the rally situation. Some subcommittees were created and then the plan to occupy a center location which was the park blocks downtown, but first we marched. And with the community members we had 3,000 people. And we had 3,000 people on our Facebook page following the event development and afterward. And people supporting and bringing food down to the Occupy camp and then the city wanted us to leave, of course. And so did Saturday Market, for that matter [which is set up each Saturday in the same area]. So we negotiated with folks to move in advance of the Saturday Market and we moved to Alton Baker Park which was a disaster, I have to say. [laughs] Yeah.

The move was difficult. The location was difficult. Because we had this honeymoon glow of the first week of the Occupy encampment. I’m not really sure what changed in the chemistry of things but I think just the reality of so many different kinds of people trying to put up a temporary village together and all having very different kinds of needs and very different objectives for even being there. Some of the people who were there were homeless and they wanted security but [for others] there’s territoriality. And the protesters knew nothing about it. Nothing. No clue.

One of the first things that happened is street families had to create agreements with one another. And then there was an alliance called The Street Family Alliance where certain agreements were made and disagreements were put aside in order to live together and have the benefit of a place to sleep without harassment. Food. Medical Care. They even had a library. Most Occupy camps had a library. We moved a couple of times. By the time we ended up in one place … we were there for a couple of months and so it allowed people to accumulate so we had about 200 people.

And where are they now? Do you have any idea?

 Oh yeah. I definitely know where some of the people are, for sure. There were people who were homeless who eventually got housed. They got into political activism. And some of the people who got housed became part of the first “rest stops” and became part of Opportunity Village Eugene. Rest Stops are legal camp spots for people who are unhoused and they’re managed through an ordinance by the city. It tells you the parameters of what that rest stop could be.

Is that living in your vehicle or what?

 That’s the car camping program. Rest stops are tents [or minimal, one-room structures that have lockable doors] on pallets. And it’s organized with agreements, applications, a vetting process. Nothing is run by the city. [laughs] None of the homeless emergency shelters that came out of Occupy are run by the city. They are all run by community members. Opportunity Village Eugene (OVE) came out of the Occupy movement and some of the people who were unhoused and living at the protest camp became board members and activists and eventually residents of that. Another component of Occupy that continues to live today is Occupy Medical. That’s a free clinic on Sundays that’s still operating. That’s a 501(c)3.

Some people involved in the Occupy movement, myself included, wanted to continue to just work on addressing the economic issues and the dilemmas of the banks. So there was a bit of a schism between those who felt called to continue to educate the public and get public support about, what about these banks? And what about this income inequality gap? And what are we gonna do about it?

So, you’re talking about working on it as a national issue?

 As a national issue. So there were people who wanted to continue working on that and they were frustrated by the amount of people and energy that had been pulled into working on the homeless issue. Because one of the most compelling things that occurred was a bunch of activists and do-gooders became suddenly aware of the gigantic population of unhoused, uncared for, and unheard people who actually were living the effect of the income inequality gap. Those of us who felt moved to continue working in the homeless movement in some way took a different direction. I ended up eventually being recruited to work on the Human Rights Commission for the City of Eugene. Commissioners are volunteers. So I’ve continued to do work on that.

I consider the work that I’ve been doing on homelessness a way that brings more and more community members awareness because we need awareness and compassion and people sort of thinking out of the box. I think there was a giant leap that Occupy was trying to make, an intellectual leap that was too fast for everyone to keep up with. People were at home trying to make ends meet. They didn’t have time to go to a protest camp.

So I think just getting people to accept that they had been holding onto myths about homeless people, ideas about poverty that blocked them from understanding the income inequality gap issue. And maybe instead of judging people who were not able to pay their mortgage and had been taken advantage of by the banks, seeing that they’re in the same boat with them? That the banks would just as soon take advantage of them as they would the poor people who weren’t making their mortgage. I think people getting the concept of “I am part of the 99%,” was a big leap. Not everyone was willing to go slow enough for the general public to jump on that bandwagon.

 I think one of the ways that we are reaching the general public about it is the tangibility of “come help us at camp, see what these myths are.” I’ve watched people’s minds change, definitely. It’s the day-in day-out, you know, exposure to it. The City Council has changed dramatically. Eight people who three years ago were just mad that we were even in the park blocks are now problem-solving the issue of homelessness in their community. Actively problem-solving it at their work session instead of politically grandstanding. That’s a major shift.

I’ve visited Opportunity Village and Community Supported Shelters. Do you have any feelings about Community Supported Shelters? A co-director of CSS was the first person I interviewed for this blog.

 Well, Community Supported Shelters and Nightingale Health Sanctuary are two of the organizations that have stepped up to run the rest stops. We need more folks willing to run rest stops because the city is now willing to have more of them and they’re willing to consider loosening up the restrictions about where they can be located. CSS and NHS can train more people on how to host a rest stop. They’re both very effective at doing that. The same ordinance governs them but they go about doing their work slightly differently. A church or a group of churches or some new non-profit or even just a group of neighbors could run a rest stop. It could be any size up to twenty people.

 What are the most interesting, satisfying experiences you’ve had as an activist?

 Well, I would say that every day I learn something. And for me, I have to be learning all the time to be happy. So the complexity of the issue has kept me very satisfied in terms of constantly learning about human nature, it challenges my skills as a mediator and as a facilitator. I’m constantly being asked to hone those skills further. That’s been very gratifying. I feel the work that I did on the reservation around thinking about someone else’s life from a different cultural point of view and trying to stretch my imagination and my knowledge about the day-in day-out hardships of their life has given me some good prep.

What are those hardships?

 I mean, I shared the same address as the people who lived on the reservation. So I know what it’s like to go into a store, write a check, and have someone decide that they’re gonna give me a hard time about my check, based on my address. That was a pretty eye opening experience. I know what it’s like to be standing at a homeless camp and someone comes up and starts talking to me as if I’m a disadvantaged person and I need to have a bunch of stuff explained to me. [laughs] That I really didn’t need to have explained to me, so it’s been interesting having that, it’s a cross-cultural experience. I really feel like the life on the reservation prepared me for more cross-cultural experiences and working in the homeless movement has definitely been a cross-cultural experience. Working with people in government. I worked for tribal government. It’s very different than working for mainstream Oregon government. That’s not the same thing.

I loved working for tribal government. I loved that work environment because people were genuinely respected. I did not feel like I had to constantly prove myself. I felt valued as a human being. I felt valued for the work I was showing them. I felt like it was a cooperative environment. People wanted to match skills and wanted to collaborate. They didn’t just give lip service to that. And I don’t feel like that’s what working in city government always is like.

Although you feel that people on the city council have been educated and have learned something.

 City council is different than staff. You have a bureaucracy that carries out the policies of the city council.

Right, right. Now that’s the end of my questions. Is there anything you would like to add?

 [laughs] Well, my comments are mostly gonna be about this [national] election we just had. Last night at the Human Rights Commission, we had a public comment period which we do once a month and we had a hundred people in the room. Normally we get two or three comments. So we’re gonna hold another meeting for a couple of purposes. One of them is just to give more people more opportunity to talk to the commission. They are worried about their human rights under the president-elect’s administration. And I’d like to find a role for the commission and for community members to all collaborate on what it looks like to create safety in our community so people aren’t living in fear, whether they’re living in fear of being deported and want a sanctuary city. Or they’re living in fear of someone harassing them for the color of their skin. Or they wear something that indicates they’re of some religion. Like here, the Interfaith Services was born out of someone who is Sikh who had their hair up in a turban, being attacked for being a Muslim.

 The level of sophistication and cosmopolitanism in this town isn’t always awesome. People get treated poorly. They don’t report it. So I’d like to see a community response that advances our human rights agenda, fast forward. I feel like we need to complete our entire work plan in a couple of months instead of an entire year. So the human rights agenda for the Human Rights Commission has been put on fast forward and a lot of community members are willing to roll up their sleeves and do that work with us. Instead of being paralyzed and distraught, I’m being propelled into a lot of action because the community members are willing to do that work right now. The only role that we have on the Human Rights Commission is as an advisor to the city council. That’s it. We do not investigate infractions.

But you’ve said that you feel that the city council has been moving forward because of their own education.

 For sure. All this work that’s happened since Occupy, about people who are homeless, people who are vulnerable, the mythology, making the city more compassionate. It has laid the groundwork in a pretty interesting way in this town. People are way more geared up to hear the fears and concerns and realize that there’s good community problem-solving that we can do around it. They’ve seen community problem-solving in action over the last four years. So I think it gives us a little bit of an edge, a faith that we can community problem-solve, come what may, in facing the administration that’s gearing up right now.

I think in America we’re still learning what human rights actually are. There was significant resistance to the 25th declaration in the human rights list [the Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted by the U.N. in 1948] and the right to housing and food was something that we had to educate the city council about. And quite frankly we’re still having to educate officials about it. That that actually is a human right.

 

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Promoting Diversity of Opinion in the Media (David Zupan)

Sylvia: It’s November 2, 2016 and I’m interviewing David Zupan. I know you’ve been a mainstay of the peace movement in Eugene and the director of Progressive Voices nationally. Has activism been your main career or did you shift into it at some point in your life?

 David Zupan: I shifted into it after a stint at teaching. I was an English teacher. Got my master’s degree in English and then started teaching high school and I did that for five years. I taught in California and then came up to Coos Bay, Oregon, taught at Marshfield High School for several years.

But then you switched to activism. What form did that take?

 I became more interested after I went back to graduate school here in Eugene. I’d always been somewhat politically involved, even as a teacher but I wasn’t really what you’d consider an activist. I think the turning point for me was when I was living in student family housing. That was a great experience because people there were organizing and they were collectively working to improve the living conditions by negotiating with the university to try to keep the rent down and increase the maintenance. This would’ve been from 1975 on up through about ’79.

There was a rent strike. Initially I was kind of on the sidelines, going to meetings, not really that active. But I got drawn into it more and more and saw how, as an individual, you couldn’t do much but as a group we had a lot of power. The rent strike culminated in us holding about $26,000 that was put into an escrow fund and we then negotiated with the university and got a rent freeze and a childcare center [on the premises.] So that was quite a victory. And that was my first real experience with mass organizing and how it can really work.

I was also getting involved in anti-nuclear power activities. I went up to the Trojan [nuclear power] plant. Was arrested there a couple of times. That’s where I met Norman Solomon. [Interviewed on September 30, 2016] and Charles Gray [Sylvia’s late husband.] Those were great experiences. Learned a lot about solidarity in and out of jail. We were arrested but we were released fairly quickly. And eventually we were found not guilty. Partly out of, I think, a technicality. But, it was a great moment. Years later when I got to see the Trojan cooling towers demolished, saw footage of that in the news, it confirmed what we’d been saying all along. That Trojan was dangerous and ineffective as a power source.

That obviously wasn’t the end of your activism.

 No. Then I got involved with anti-nuclear weapons campaigns of various types including we protested against the White Train, which many people have forgotten about or never heard about. That was when they used to bring hydrogen bombs on trains. Through cities. The train had all white painted cars and was very heavily armored. And I was part of the protest. Many people from Eugene would go up to Portland and participate in the non-violent direct action to block those trains and sit on the tracks.

Were there any military people on those trains?

 Oh, yes. They had armored cars and gun ports that they looked out of. People painted the sides of those trains with various peace slogans and so forth. That was a very successful campaign. It kept growing and then the government decided it wasn’t the best thing to be doing.

So they changed tactics. They went to trucks, semi-trucks. They started carrying the bombs, basically bringing these from Texas. I believe these were Trident submarine missile heads that were being brought from Amarillo, TX up to Seattle where the big Trident submarine base is. When they put them on the semi-trucks, for a time people were able to identify them because they were very distinctive. And they did similar kinds of protests. Then they made them so you couldn’t tell any difference. I’m sure they’re doing similar kinds of transports today, actually. People just don’t know.

What other issues have you worked on and what was your role in these actions?

 I was a participant as far as being part of affinity groups. I wasn’t an organizer of the actions but I was willing to do civil disobedience and willing to risk arrest. That evolved into going down to Nevada to the American Peace Test actions and I did a number of those as well. We were arrested but because there were so many of us, most of us were released. I remember being arrested with Martin Sheen and put on the school bus and their tactic was to take us very far away from the arrest site, in hopes that we would then give up and not come back. I remember that particular instance they went even beyond Beatty, that was about 80 miles. They decided to take us another 80 miles, almost 200 miles away from the site to Tonopah.

 But, of course, it was unsuccessful because we had our support people right behind us in cars and we just waited for them and we went out to the local restaurants and bars after we’d been released and hung out there waiting. The townspeople were very friendly. They were glad to see us. They said, “We haven’t seen days like this since the silver mining. You’re welcome back here anytime.” The support cars would just take us back to the site and we were able to go back and protest again the next day. It was interesting being on the bus with Martin Sheen because the guard that was guarding the bus came up to Martin Sheen, asking for his autograph. That kind of thing. It was a very positive experience.

Then years later, I got more involved in more grassroots, electoral type of organizing. We got involved in the Nuclear Free Zone movement. It was a group called Citizens for a Nuclear Free Oregon. There was also Citizens Action for Lasting Security, CALS. But, I believe it was the former that was involved in ballot measure campaigns. Probably the height of this movement was when we had five ballot measures. We had two state measures. One to close or restrict low-level radioactive waste at Albany at Teledyne. That was one of the measures.

 They would buy uranium or they would buy a certain kind of sand from Australia and then convert it into zirconium that was then used for part of the fuel rods that are needed for all nuclear power plants and reactors. So that was on the ballot and then one about Trojan and then down here in Eugene we had a nuclear free zone for the county and the city. And then another statewide measure which was to make the whole state a nuclear-free zone. And that was pretty intense because we had to collect signatures to get all those on the ballot.

We did that successfully and then we were very involved in the educational campaigns, to see if we could get those passed. And it was a mixed result because, of course, PG&E [Portland Gas and Electric] and other big companies spent a lot of money to try and defeat them, and they were successful at the statewide level, but on the county level we were able to get both the Eugene and Lane County measures passed.

And then, of course, that was the beginning of another campaign because then the city people resisted implementing what was really a very tough, strong nuclear-free zone ordinance, which basically said they couldn’t make nuclear weapons parts here in Eugene. Some of the establishment people didn’t like that, they wanted to make it more open, so they started this campaign and they used a very deceptive technique which was used nationally.

They got one company called Rohr to say they were thinking about coming to Eugene but they changed their minds when they heard about this nuclear free zone ordinance. So, that ploy allowed them to raise $80,000, especially from the business community. I think we only had like $6,000, so they put it back on the ballot, the city of Eugene. The same measure the people already passed, they basically put both measures up there. There were some slight legal technicalities that could’ve been easily remedied, but instead, they put ‘em both on the ballot and they were successful in getting the weak one passed. So basically it was a joke, the weak nuclear-free zone. So, that’s how the people of Eugene were cheated, hoodwinked.

Those were very interesting campaigns and I was glad to be a part of them. I was on the mayor’s task force that was reviewing that strong nuclear-free zone, along with some other pro nuclear-free zone people. And, of course, they stacked it with more anti nuclear-free zone people and that’s how they were able to turn things around and get it so we were looking at putting both measures back on the ballot. I believe it was 1988 that all those were on the ballot. And then, maybe as late as ’89, ’90 is when it got reviewed. We actually hosted the international nuclear free zone conference here in Eugene, I think, around ’91 or ’92. Yeah, the coalition of peace groups in town.

Were you at all involved with CALC? [CALC’s director, Marion Malcolm, was  interviewed for this blog on October 14, 2016.]

 Worked with them through PeaceWorks, founded around 1980. There were chapters of Oregon PeaceWorks throughout the state and Eugene was one of the chapters. Eventually they became independent and Portland PeaceWorks and Eugene PeaceWorks are still going and, I believe, Salem is still going in some form. We’ve worked with CALC and continue to do so today, we collaborate.

I’m trying to see how you got to be a media person.

 That came a little bit later. I started the Speakers Clearinghouse [now Progressive Voices] and Norman Solomon was one of my first speakers. I found speaking engagements for him and others at campuses around the country and then eventually became affiliated. He founded the Institute for Public Accuracy which is a national group that works on getting more media exposure for progressive analysts and activists and I still work — I was on the staff of the group for some time and then eventually we kind of slimmed down and consolidated. We still have an office in Washington and I volunteer as kind of as an outreach person for the Institute for Public Accuracy.

So that’s where I got more and more involved. As a broadcast media outreach person, I was doing a lot of outreach not only to radio but also to television outlets around the country. And was working to expand the database of IPA. It remains one of the best organizations for supplying media exposure for activists and analysts. One of the ways it succeeds in doing that is by putting out releases almost every day that list these people that the media outlets can then turn to when they’re doing like a breaking story and they’re looking frantically to find someone that can speak to that story. We have a track record of providing their phone number, their email to journalists who can contact them and interview them or have them on their shows. We’ve gotten thousands of people into the mainstream media that way. But it’s still difficult because as a whole the media establishment, it’s like an impenetrable wall, but there are cracks and that’s where IPA steps in. It’s finding those cracks and providing the people so they can get more access, more exposure than they typically do. Particularly if they were trying to do it by themselves.

So you contact people at various places, is that what you would say?

 That’s what I was doing more of, yeah. Now I’m listed on the release as someone the journalist’s producers can contact if they can’t reach someone at our D.C. office. And they’re trying to make a connection with an activist on the release, or an analyst. But that’s where I got more aware of the power of the media and the importance of media activism and locally I started a committee of Eugene PeaceWorks called Eugene Media Action. And that has been around for quite some time now. At least, probably 15 years.

Eventually PeaceWorks made the decision to not only work on peace and justice issues but to take a media focus. And that’s eventually evolved into our decision about 2 ½ years ago to take on the community radio station project that we’re engaged in now. It was a kind of a once in a lifetime opportunity that came up when the FCC basically opened the window for any non-profits that might be willing to sponsor a low power FM station and they did this throughout the country. That window has since closed. What it allows these groups to do is to raise the money necessary to buy the equipment to get on the air, and you have to do it by a certain time. And then you get your broadcast license.

You have clarified for me more of what the Institute for Public Accuracy does than Norman Solomon did. [Interviewed on September 30, 2016]  I sort of assumed it was something where you put out press releases, but it’s not that at all. It’s finding places for actual advocates or experts or something where you have a voice, directly. Am I getting that straight?

 Well, it’s both. I mean, one of the main ways that happens now is to use press releases, like I said, almost daily, that are put out and they list these analysts. And now that we’ve built this huge database of television and radio producers around the world – actually beyond the U.S.A., some are in Europe and Canada. And Australia, and so forth. So, that any of these folks can find what they’re looking for. It’s a wonderful opportunity. It’s a wonderful organization that Norman created. And he has since created another one, more of a grassroots one you may’ve heard of called RootsAction.

We talked a lot about that when I interviewed him.

 There’s a lot to take on. But, at least there’s some tools to work with that are effective, that we’re lucky to have.

Now, when you have all these advocates and experts, is any of what you’re doing connecting them with campus groups that want speakers?

 Well, that gets back to this Speakers Clearinghouse which I did for many years, and I still have the website going. I did place a lot of people, but that is dramatically changed since the rise of the internet because now it’s possible for the campus groups who may be looking for speakers to directly contact whoever they’re interested in and do their own booking that way. So, there’s less need of an intermediary than there was at one time.

I’m curious as to how that works. Does someone supply his email address or something like that, and then they just go follow that through?

 Well, a lot of the people on campus that are booking the speakers are young people, and they don’t use the phone so much to communicate. They’re more inclined to use tweets and texting.

So, they’re following through on tweets?

 Well, that’s one way that they can be done. But, it’s just a much more challenging market than it was. Personally, I’ve become more interested in documentary film. That’s become my latest, I guess you could say a hobby, so to speak. I’ve been going back to the U of O[regon], auditing courses and working to improve my filmmaking skills and collaborating with students on films. That’s been one of my main activities. And it fits in with what I’m doing with PeaceWorks and Media Action because we’re able to use these films to address certain topics that maybe otherwise wouldn’t be aired. So, for example, we’ve dealt with the homeless issue in a documentary production. Typically, they’re not very long. We’re talking about 10 or 15 minutes. I’ve worked quite a bit with Jana Thrift, who is a local homeless advocate. She’s a wonderful media activist and homeless advocate.

And then in the course of taking documentary production through the Journalism school, I’ve made several films with students there. The latest is on the subject of the students from around the country who are suing the U.S. Government over the lack of action on the climate crisis.

The federal courthouse here, that’s where the center of this hearing so far has been. There’s been two and they’ve actually made progress, they’re moving the case forward. Basically, it’s 20 young people, ages from 10 to 21, plus the scientist James Hansen, who was one of the first scientists to sound the alarm over the climate crisis as early as in the early ‘80’s. He told Congress about it. So, he’s one of the plaintiffs. And they’ve got a wonderful legal team made up of U of O ELAW [Environmental Law Alliance Worldwide, based in Eugene] folks, including Mary Wood who developed the principle of the public trust.

 It’s an area of law that she elaborated on to become the basis for their case. That the government has a responsibility to maintain the public trust when it comes to preserving the air, the water, and the land for its citizens. And these young people, obviously, are being adversely affected by the climate crisis. The argument of the case is that the government should respond adequately to the climate emergency.

So, you’re doing this in a documentary film? Will this also be 10 or 15 minutes?

[laughs] Interesting you should bring that up because we initially started off to do that length film and then we were thinking more ambitiously about doing something longer. But, then we learned that there was another group that has also stepped up because it is a very, very important case, it’s an important story to tell. What it boils down to is they’re going to make the longer one and we’re going to continue with our plans to make the short one.

And how do you market these, to whom do these go?

 It remains to be seen where this particular one will go but in the past we’ve aired them on Oregon Public Broadcasting. They have a series in the summer, I believe it’s called The Oregon Lens. They show a certain number of student films and then they also show it at the local Eugene International Film Festival. So that’s a possible avenue for showing films. I think this one on the climate crisis with the students actually could be aired more extensively. I’m going to the International Documentary Film Festival in Amsterdam in a couple of weeks and I’m going to bring a copy of this film and see if there might be interest in it there. It’s an annual international film festival.

That’s great. OK. What are the most interesting and satisfying experiences you’ve had as an activist? Have you already said that?

 Yeah, I think it’s all been pretty interesting. As far as being satisfying, the high points would be whenever we’ve worked collectively toward a certain goal and, even when we don’t necessarily succeed, there’s that satisfaction of being part of something that is worth doing, even if we don’t meet our goal. We have worked together for the good and the truth. That’s probably been the most satisfying.

One example being the campaign to save Amazon Student Housing — that was a 2 to 3 year campaign. It was a quite extensive community-wide effort of people to preserve low income family student housing. And we had broad community support. The U of O [response] was to save 8 buildings out of 48. Our argument had been that they could save ‘em all, renovate ‘em, and preserve the low cost status of the place but the U of O wanted to tear ‘em down and rebuild. So, they took 8 of those buildings which are still, you can see ‘em today, and they’re perfectly fine. They were renovated by private interests in one case, St. Vincent’s in the other, they’re both perfectly adequate housing serving people today but they had to pay extra, of course, to move them. Whereas, if they left ‘em where they were they could’ve been renovated even more cheaply. That was a huge campaign that included making the whole Amazon National Historic District, we got national status for that. The U of O, with the help of state and city government, basically rolled over that. But, it was still very satisfying to be a part of that effort.

You wanna talk to me more about the radio station? It isn’t up yet and running is it?

 It is running in the sense that we’ve started live streaming on the internet at kpew.org. And that just took place at our launch event Saturday at Whirled Pies [a pizza restaurant and event venue in Eugene.] It was a wonderful event. We had good turnout and people really seemed to enjoy themselves. From here, we’re on the final stretch to raise the money necessary to get the equipment to broadcast, which if all goes well, would be in mid-February.

Is there anything you would like to add?

 Well, I just encourage folks to get involved and to stay active. I think it’s really good for our collective mental health for citizens to be activists rather than bystanders or consumers. One way or another, we’re all involved. Whether or not we wanna be. Might as well be activists for the good.

 

 

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Longtime Community Organizer, Par Excellence (Marion Malcolm)

Sylvia: It’s October 14, 2016 and I’m interviewing Marion Malcolm. I assume you could call yourself a community organizer. Is that right?

 Marion: Community organizer is exactly the title I like. I was hired by CALC [now called Community Alliance for Lane County] in late 1974 when it was still Clergy and Laymen Concerned about Vietnam. I was hired to work 15 hours a week for $150.00 a month. It was founded nationally in 1965 and then a chapter was formed in Eugene in 1966. I’m so very much still with them, in part because it is CALC’s 50th anniversary and I’m one of the people who carries the history.

Originally it was basically an anti-war group, wasn’t it?

 Yes. Because it was Clergy And Laymen Concerned About Vietnam. And it was brought together with the idea of mobilizing interfaith opposition to the war. Although many of the people had also been involved in the civil rights movement at the national and local levels. And I think many people quickly shared an analysis that the war was, in the words of Martin Luther King, a symptom of a far deeper malady which he defined as the giant triplets of racism, militarism, and materialism in a speech that he made under the auspices of CALCAV a year to the day before he was killed. He was co-chair of CALCAV at the time of his death.

Yes, that’s extraordinary. CALC and you have been involved in so many community issues as they arose, over the years, and you’re a tremendous asset to Eugene [Oregon.] And then you became very active in Springfield [Eugene’s sister city] as well.

 That’s CALC as well. Springfield Alliance for Quality and Respect is a program of CALC, started in 1997.

So now we’re going to move on. What in your past led you to become an activist?

 The most important answer really is my family, my parents. For them it was about being Christian. But the kind of Christian that they were was seven days a week, not just Sunday morning. And it was very much rooted in what the Bible has to say about justice. And about love. And so I can’t take any credit at all other than having been fortunate to be born into that family for having values from the time I was very little. That included, and I think this is a really important, not thinking I was related to my own nuclear family but that there was a human family that I was part of. And that we share responsibilities within that human family.

Even as a kid I always knew that we didn’t get as fancy Christmas presents as my friends because, dollar for dollar, my parents matched what they spent on us kids with gifts that they made to help people who were less fortunate than we are. I remember one year there was a really gorgeous doll that I wanted and didn’t get, but I think we understood from an early age, and felt good about it.

 So, with that background, I was in college from 1957 to 1961 and that time period stretched from the cold war, anti-communist McCarthy era — the people in the fifties that were called the “silent generation.” Because if you spoke out you really risked a lot in terms of your job and your livelihood. It came into the beginnings of real big mobilizations in response to human rights violations in the South, the civil rights movement. I was involved in fairly minimal ways when I was in college and the first thing that I did as a naïve freshman, I signed an open letter that was published in the campus newspaper against the House Un-American Activities Committee. I have never sent for my Freedom of Information files but I imagine I probably landed myself in there, right back then. I’ve never sent for them probably because if I didn’t have a file I would feel as though perhaps my life had been wasted. [laughs]

[laughs] That’s a marvelous line! It hasn’t been wasted.

 No, I don’t think it’s been wasted. But, I didn’t do all that much in college. For one thing I was working most of the time that I was in college. But I somehow got to know the handful of campus radicals of that period. Some people that I was really quite close to were among the first northern college students to join the Freedom Rides. They were arrested in Jackson, Mississippi for trying to integrate the bus terminal. And they ended up in Parchman State Penitentiary – it wasn’t a nice place.

But, while they were doing that, I was in my senior year in college and I somehow got old-fashioned measles and landed in the college infirmary. While I was in the infirmary, in isolation because of the measles, someone brought me the news that my friends had been arrested in Jackson and were in jail. I had plenty of time to contemplate and what came to me very clearly was that my friends were in jail for values that I said I also held. And that if I did nothing to act on those values they were completely meaningless. So from June of 1961 I have to some extent or another, usually a very considerable extent, been involved in organizing for social change. And I don’t think I ever told any of them that, and some of them are now gone. I really should see who I can find and tell them, because they don’t know what a big influence they had.

I wanna backtrack because I went to the funeral for your mother and you told me at that time, or thereabouts, that she had herself been an activist.

 Yes. My mother was actually involved in CALC before I was. I moved here in 1966 and from 1969 to when I started working for CALC, the primary group that I worked with was Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom. We would co-sponsor things with CALC. So, I was very aware of CALC but I hadn’t actually been directly involved with them or gone to their meetings. They reached out to me and asked if I would be interested in this big position. [laughs]

This lucrative position.

 Lucrative position. I had the title of Executive Director. [laughs] And we had just been given free office space for a year in the Koinonia Center, because the Presbyterian campus minister at the time had started some organization about amnesty. And he really wanted somebody to implement what he had started. So if we worked on the issue of amnesty for war resisters then we could have free office space for a year. We ended up staying there from 1974 to 1980.

 Was your family’s background Methodist or Presbyterian or what?

 No. They were denomination jumpers. My parents were missionaries. My grandparents were missionaries. Multiple members of my family have been missionaries in India. My dad was born in India. My older brother was born in India. But my dad’s family was Baptist and my mother was Congregational. And I grew up in Presbyterian and Methodist churches. They kinda looked for which was the church that had some kind of social conscience whenever they went to a new community.

 Makes a lot of sense actually. I usually ask the question,“What issues have you worked on?” In your case maybe I should ask “what issues haven’t you worked on?” [laughs]

 [laughs] I’ve worked on many issues. For me, they’re all connected. I started out primarily as a peace activist. Concerned with the war in Vietnam and then concerned with the international arms race and the need for disarmament and international human rights. There was a period of time when the United States was supporting no fewer than fifty military dictatorships around the world. And CALC picked what we called “the dirty dozen” where the government was the most egregious and where our country had the biggest involvement. Cause we always thought our responsibility was to look at where our government was involved because that’s where we could have influence. So, that was international human rights.

 The Vietnam War ended in April 1975, and we spent the next five, six years with international human rights as a primary focus. CALC was a national organization, so we were doing things in concert with the national, which after the war changed its name and dropped the “about Vietnam,” and just was “Clergy and Laymen Concerned” until we had a little bit of a feminist uprising and got them to change it to Clergy and Laity.

 But the other thing we were doing in co-sponsorship with the American Friends Service Committee was the Stop the B-1 Bomber, national peace conversion campaign. And that was a campaign against a particularly expensive weapon system, but we also were doing it as a way of illuminating how the entire military industrial complex operated. So, the goals were stopping the production of that particular plane, but it was also about basically challenging military corporations. And building support for what we called “peace conversion.” Which is what should those factories be making that was of some use to human beings rather than the weapons.

This was a pretty big campaign. They campaigned in about fifty communities. And Charles Gray [Sylvia’s late husband] was one of the people that helped to put together a couple of different study action groups where we looked at how all of that got put together. They were always not just study groups but study-action groups, so a component was always saying to ourselves, “OK, what can we do about this?” So we did quite a few creative actions that were visible at a community level.

 I’ve often heard that Charles developed a giant bar graph of the U.S. budget that showed how military spending dwarfed virtually all other expenses.

 Oh yes, he developed that budget. And yes, CALC painted that down the entire closed block of 13th Avenue across the campus. I think it was there when we had Parents Weekend. So, that was that until around 1980 when there was a young man on the national staff of CALC who was African-American and he got really mad at people one day and he said, “You guys are looking at human rights everywhere in the world, and you’re not looking in your own backyard. That’s racist.” And that caused a bunch of soul searching at the national level but also at the level of the local chapters, and our particular chapter of CALC decided to take that really seriously. And began a process which is not yet finished of looking at racism and how that functions.

 That led to a rebalancing of our programs so that we were still doing at that point stuff around the international arms race and U.S. militarism and international human rights but we balanced that with looking at issues of racial justice and economic justice in the United States. And we’re still doing all those things. With probably the balance having shifted more to what’s going on here, including what’s going on in our own community where we can probably have the most impact. But, it’s a long journey and it’s a struggle because we’ve always all been so very affected by the racism that this country was founded on.

 This state [Oregon] has a history of racism, its own form of racism. And it’s still a relatively white state, white native-born.

All that’s true and that’s the situation in which we work. What CALC has tried to do is make sure that our leadership includes people from the communities that are affected by the issues we claim to care about. So most of the time since 1983 we’ve had at least a bi-racial if not a multi-racial staff. And ditto for the steering committee, now the board of directors. And it doesn’t mean we don’t mess up. And have people get mad at us. Cause we do.

 I believe CALC is held to a different standard by people who are activists in communities of color than the League of Women Voters or the ACLU, or any other of the organizations in the community because CALC says we’re trying to be an anti-racist organization, and people of color have every right to be a little bit skeptical about that because of everything they’ve seen. When we do something clumsy or mess up, we get called on it. Never easy. But, helps us grow. So, in terms of issues we’ve worked on, maybe I should highlight a few.

 The Vietnam War occupied, in a way, a decade of my life. And it wasn’t abstract, on two levels. I had three brothers-in-law who took turns being in Vietnam. And I totally reject the idea that the peace movement and veterans were always opposing forces cause that’s not my experience and we worked with veterans from pretty early in the war. And then the other way in which it was real to me is I was a mom of young kids. And I, because again of my upbringing and feeling like I was a part of a human family, I could not imagine that the Vietnamese mothers were any less in anguish than I was gonna be if I had a son in the war. That’s one of the reasons, I guess, I like working with the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, because we had this kind of woman to woman connection that felt very strong.

 Then the struggle for self-determination in Central America and against U.S. intervention in Central America was probably another decade, and that involved CALC organizing the first Oregon Witness For Peace delegation to Nicaragua. Also, the first delegation that had a teenager in it, which was my son, who is now 47? [laughs] Cause that was in 1985. And we were also instrumental in forming the Interfaith Sanctuary Movement when we had Salvadoran refugees living here with us in the community. And I feel really good about the way we did that, too. Because we didn’t just do it for them, some of the refugees themselves were part of that and we would have bilingual meetings and did some work that was of some national significance about cultural sensitivity in the sanctuary movement.

 Did CALC recruit congregations to be involved in sanctuary?

 No, we didn’t. This group called the Interfaith Sanctuary Network included people from the churches that were hosting them but also included some other people that were Central America activists to build support around that and to create opportunities for the refugees to tell their stories. That sort of thing. And we were part of a network regionally and nationally that was the Sanctuary Network.

 And we did a bunch of Southern African work, too. We did that while there was still apartheid. So, it was anti-apartheid work. And again that was a national movement and CALC as a national organization was very much involved in that national movement but we were very active here. We had a group at one point called People for Southern African Freedom, which again was CALC but it was also two or three other organizations. We’ve always believed in working in partnerships.

 What are you focusing on more right now? Or let’s say in the last ten years, what have been the main concerns of CALC?

 They, in a way, don’t change. And I feel two ways about that. Part of me feels just like sitting down and crying because are we ever gonna be done with any of these issues? Is any of this ever gonna be fixed? Are we ever gonna arrive at justice? And then the other part of me says, “I love this organization. It is not fickle. When it cares about something it cares about it deeply and for a lo-o-ong time.” So, we’ve been working for decades on issues related to racism, which to me has importantly included immigrant rights. And connected to farm worker justice.

 So, we have a long-term relationship with Piñeros y Campesinos Unidos del Noroeste, the farmworkers union in Oregon. That relationship goes back to the late ‘70’s. We’ve worked for a very long time for LGBTQ rights. We always work against war. Throughout the entire history of CALC we’ve provided counter-recruitment work, going into schools and helping kids see that there are alternatives to serving in the military. And in more recent years a lot of our work has also focused around the reasons for homelessness and pushing for policy changes which will make life a little bit better for people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness. I think we’ve done very important work on that issue in both Eugene and in Springfield. We’ve done a lot of work in the schools on racial equity issues.

 It’s taken a variety of forms, but I think one way to talk about our work is to say that we do our best to hold public institutions accountable to everybody, and more specifically including people that are at the margins, like people of color, or people that are there because they’re LGBTQ, or real poor.

 To see that they are served adequately or not discriminated against or whatever?

 Yeah, and then we’ll hear from people who work within the school system or could be the city about problems that are there or we’ll hear from parents or kids about problems and then we’ll take that information and without breaching people’s confidentiality we’ll take it to school personnel and say, “This is happening. And what are you gonna do about it?” And here’s some ideas we have about what you could be doing about it and we try to do it a way that doesn’t mean that the institution just slams the door in our face and doesn’t let us in anymore. So, we developed a mantra particularly in Springfield that’s “respectful but relentless.”

 And so we go in there and we talk in well-modulated voices. We don’t go over there and scream. But, we also continually take people in those kinds of positions beyond their comfort zones. We just nudge. And I think we are then the countervailing pressure to maybe more conservative groups which are also leaning on those districts. Certainly, around the LGBTQ stuff. They were hearing from the religious right and if they hadn’t been hearing from us, the religious right would have had a lot more…

 So, you are always like a countervailing force against the negative forces?

 That’s what we think we are. Yeah. I’m sure we are.

 When you say, ‘we’ — if you are going in to talk to the authorities at the school system or whatever, who would go?

 The programs at CALC typically have like a steering committee. Or a task force or some kind of formation of volunteers who are interested in that particular issue. So, for instance, yesterday we met with the city manager in Springfield and a couple other people from city government in Springfield and there were four of five of us there and we meet with them every couple of months and we have several theme issues that we pursue with them and we ask them to give us an update on what they’re doing that has to do with recruitment and retention of city staff — in that case because it was the city, and what are they doing with their hiring process. Are they involving any diverse citizens in that process in any way? What are their questions gonna be? That kind of stuff. We just had that kind of a discussion with them yesterday and we already have another meeting set with them for December. We meet with them about every two months and I think they consider us a resource. But they also know we’re gonna come in and nudge.

 The nice thing is they are open to letting us do that. It’s as though they welcome us providing that pressure. And when we didn’t do it because of a gap in our own staffing, nothing moved forward. We’ve been meeting again and now stuff is moving forward. It takes that. It’s the squeaky wheel. We insist that issues of justice are on the agenda. I’m talking about Springfield cause that’s where I’ve done a lot of my work but certainly CALC does that in Eugene as well. And testimony during public comment at a city council meeting or participation in a committee or something at a school district. Just staying the course and providing that pressure.

 And that’s pretty invisible. We do other kinds of more public stuff like an anti-hate rally or some public programming. But this other stuff nobody sees. And I think it’s really the most important part of the work.

 I’m sure it would be very informative and educational for anyone who goes to this blog and is working with a community organization or setting one up, to see that that’s a role they can play. You’ve really addressed this to a degree, but what are the most interesting, satisfying experiences you’ve had as an activist?

 That’s a simple answer because the most satisfying part has been the incredible privilege of working with people that care about the same things that I care about and that shared sense of values and that shared sense of commitment and just the camaraderie that goes along with that. I know very well that we have to reach people who are not already of the same perspective or not already convinced that they need to do anything about it or are just sitting home feeling cynical. Yes, we have to do that. But that isn’t something you should do alone. And working with other people is one of the most fun things in the whole world for me.

 There’s an issue that needs to be addressed. We have a meeting about it. Somebody has an idea. That idea sparks something in somebody, it’s a small group of people probably! Six, eight people sitting around and somebody throws out an idea and somebody else says, “and then we could also…” And then somebody else adds on to that, “Well then let’s think about it this way…” And by the end of the meeting you’re on your way to doing something which was not any single person’s fully thought out idea. It was a combination of a number of ideas, it was taking that shared commitment and also that creativity to come up with a project that people own. And that to me is fun. I think there’s a lot of people who would hate doing the work that I’ve done cause we deal with heavy, serious issues and the world is still a mess no matter how much we do. But there’s nothing I would rather have done.

 It sounds contradictory to say we have fun along the way but we do. We do. And part of it is that we’ve done the work in a way that we’ve embraced our creativity and imagination while we do it. Just to give a couple of examples, there’s a stunning new mural in the front yard of the CALC office now that was painted by youth in August. And we gave them a broad theme. We gave them CALC’s 50th anniversary, we gave them a broad theme of “struggles for social justice.” But then they decided how to depict that. We’ve done plays. We’ve done dramatic readings. We’ve done poetry events. We’ve done music events. We’ve done that kind of creative stuff which I think really helps us sustain ourselves. And I just came now from where we have an altar set up at the Maude Kerns Arts Center where they do a Dia de los Muertos exhibit every year. So we have an altar there to a part of CALC. After 50 years there are people who aren’t with us anymore. On the planet. But they’re still with us, we haven’t forgotten.

 It’s an altar tradition, for departed people who’ve played significant roles in CALC. And that too is creative. It feels like a nice way to honor the people that have been there. And we did it [with people who] have done lots of them so they know how to do it in a culturally appropriate way.

One time, someone in town who is an activist in a very specialized area said that I should ask this question. Often I don’t but I just thought maybe you would have an interesting response. When things get rough, what sustains you?

Stubbornness and defiance. [laughs] I really think it’s defiance. It’s like, “Yeah. Like, you’re gonna do this bad thing and I’m not gonna make it okay. And I’m gonna say so.” I think that gets me through some rough spots. And then like I said, the camaraderie, the sense of connection with other people who care about the same stuff. And sometimes we weep together. I remember, Dan Goldrich [a local political scientist and activist] and me hugging and crying with each other when the Sandinistas lost the election [in Nicaragua in 1990.]

And we saw such a beautiful dream being crushed. But again, you know, I never feel alone. I don’t ever feel alone. And then, it’s about balancing your life, too. Sometimes I think that if I didn’t have a family and kids I would’ve been a zealot and then whenever anyone saw me coming they would just run the other way.

That being sort of normal in those ways has made me a better organizer cause I understand when people say, “I can’t do that. I don’t have the time. And my family…” I don’t make them bad and wrong for that because I know what that’s about. And then way back during the Vietnam War, realizing, OK, this is not just about ending this war. This is about being part of a country which is trying to control the whole world and we’re not gonna be done with that anytime soon. I was at that time only doing things as a volunteer. I had no idea I’d ever be working in a paid position, however meager, on those issues. But I knew then that I was gonna be in some capacity or another working on issues of justice and peace the whole rest of my life. And that was a liberating feeling!

Because that meant, OK, I can take a weekend off. I can go for a walk by the river. I can go camping. I can go hear some music. I can take a vacation. Because, I need to sustain. Sometimes people have asked me, ‘How come you don’t ever burn out?” I don’t ever burn out. I get tired. Angry. Frustrated. But not burnt out.

Well, I think you have a wonderful support system and a rational approach to what you’re doing. I don’t have a lot more questions but is there anything else you would like to add?

I guess only to encourage anyone who sees some of these concerns but just feels heavy about it and discouraged about it, that if they come forward and work with other people, we can make a difference here where we live. Can we get to where we wanna be or where we want the world to be? I think not in my lifetime. Can we make a difference? Absolutely we can, and when we do it with other people, it’s a wonderful experience, the journey itself. The journey itself is really worth it.

 

 

 

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Empowering Thousands Daily to Speak Out on Current Issues (Norman Solomon)

Sylvia: It’s September 30, 2016 and I’m interviewing Norman Solomon. I know you’ve accomplished many things in your life. How would you summarize your career?

 Norman: There’s certain labels that could be put on it, writer, author, activist, organizer? Political strategist, yeah. In this culture, you know, journalists can’t be activists. But I’ve been both for just about my whole adult life.

 What in your past led you to become an activist?

 Certainly I had role models. My mother was a liberal minded person. She did a lot of work for local liberal Democratic candidates in Maryland when I lived there in the ‘60’s. Passed out fliers, stuffed envelopes, and she organized what they called coffee klatches for candidates. She was courted by the local state legislature candidates for support because she would do that sort of thing and, as someone who has run for office, I understand that wonderful energy that people can bring to a campaign. My father was of a similar political bent but he was busy as a professional economist and working for the government.

I imagine they’d expected you to have a more square life than you chose to have.

 [Enticed by the sixties’ counterculture and “The Movement” for civil rights and against the Vietnam War, Solomon dropped out of high school in his latter teens. He already was an accomplished writer and political observer; soon articles of his appeared in a San Francisco weekly and the Washington Post. His complicated, nonlinear career had begun.]

 Well, I think there was a hope that maybe I would be a lawyer but certainly a professional, whatever that meant. Yeah, that was the expectation. They certainly thought I would go to college and graduate from college and that I should be a professional. Certainly my path was somewhat different. It’s been sort of a long winding road overall.

Yeah. Now, I have this question I generally ask, what issues have you worked on, and this is relevant for most of the people I interview but with you, I realize, we’d be on the phone for weeks. You’ve worked on many issues in many situations. You’ve written articles and books, you’ve worked with programs and projects and whatever. But what are the main issues that you feel you’ve worked on?

 War has been a pretty recurrent focus for me since I was in my late teens. So, I would say, anti-war work. Certainly anti-nuclear work, anti-nuclear power. Nuclear weapons issues. Environmental beyond nuclear power. Social justice, anti-racism, anti-poverty, international affairs, human rights.

There’ve been certain high points, like working with atomic veterans who cleaned up in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. They were U.S. Marines who were sent into Nagasaki about six weeks after the atomic bombing. They were not provided any respiratory protection or any other safety equipment and they were told that it was all safe which was, you know, a horrible thing as it turned out but also a snapshot, a metaphor for assurances that nuclear weapons were really manageable.

Most of these veterans I talked to who were sent in to clean up, they had a typical attitude toward the bombing of the Japanese people who lived in Hiroshima, and Nagasaki. “It was unfortunate but, you know, it was necessary and that’s the way it went, and it was a good thing that the bomb was dropped overall.” But quite a few of them, as they struggled with their own health problems which were quite likely correlated to the residue, they began to empathize and connect with the people who had been bombed. Harry Coppola, the former Marine who I got to know, went to Nagasaki and spoke there and a lot of the survivors of the bombing were very effusive and warm towards him which was tremendously moving.

What exactly had the Marines been cleaning up?

 They were sent into the ground zero area by the U.S. military because at that point the war was over and they were part of the occupation forces. They were moving debris around. There was rubble. They were working with bulldozers. They were trying to clear away the massive debris from the bombing.

 Aside from talking about all these thing in your past – since there is so much and you’re involved in different things now – why don’t you talk about RootsAction and about Our Revolution, and what you think about where we go from here.

 Sure, sure. In terms of RootsAction, I co-founded it almost six years ago. And we began with zero. We had zero online members — we didn’t take up from another group or anything. So it was really a challenge because we felt there was a need for an online action group, an activist group that would open up a multi-issue, anti-war, challenge corporate power, strong environmental and social justice organization, that would be willing to challenge, in this case the Obama administration and many Democrats. We wanted to be beyond any party loyalty and focus on issues. We really felt and I still feel that the large online action groups such as MoveOn are a very mixed bag and too often have been deferential to the Democrat in the White House or deferential to Democratic Party leadership in Congress. So we consciously set out to raise issues from an unabashedly progressive standpoint.

At this point we have 730,000 active members, people who have taken action through RootsAction and never unsubscribed. If we included people who unsubscribed it would be quite a bit more than that. We’re the largest multi-issue, strongly progressive organization with our politics.

We’re able to do a lot of petitions and emails that people can send. In a few hours, several thousand constituents can send emails to members of Congress on specific issues with a specific message. There’s sort of a cumulative satisfaction to me that RootsAction.org, together with my friend Jeff Cohen, who co-founded it with me, and David Swanson and other people involved, that we’ve been able to be part of this process of building RootsAction. And if you go to RootsAction.org and you go to the bottom of the home page, there’s a link that says “Blast from the Past.” And if you click on that “Blast from the Past” you’ll see hundreds and hundreds and hundreds, it’s in reverse chronological order of actions we’ve done. I think we do maybe 250 actions a year.

We take on a very wide variety of issues and types of actions. I mean, we were the first sizeable group to go online in full support of Edward Snowden after he went public, it was just a matter of hours. We don’t just take polls of members, see what’s safe. A lot of times MoveOn and other groups will test it out with their members, “Are you gonna get mad at us? Are too many people gonna get mad at us?” We generally just go ahead. We try to pursue what we believe in. So, you know, I’m happy with what RootsAction is doing. I work on it part time. And then I also work on the Institute for Public Accuracy which I founded 18 years ago.

And Our Revolution — are you involved with that?

 I’m not involved in that. I was elected as a Bernie Sanders delegate to the Democratic National Convention and then I coordinated the Bernie Delegates Network; many of the 1850 Bernie delegates were in our network. We’re continuing to do some post convention work. Our Revolution, of course, has come out of the official Bernie Sanders campaign and it has spun off. The Bernie Delegates Network that I was part of, and that RootsAction helped to launch along with Progressive Democrats of America, had always been totally independent of the Bernie campaign. We thought it was better for us, better for him. And there’s a little bit about it on my Wikipedia page that at this point is accurate.

Let’s talk about RootsAction again. What form does this take? Is this done by conference calls or are you all emailing one another or are you each preparing things and then clearing them with other people, or what are you doing?

 We have three people who are spending most of their time on RootsAction. Myself, as coordinator, David Swanson as campaign coordinator plus a coordinator for our tech work. Jeff Cohen also is on our board of directors and does a lot of work. So it’s a constant consultation. Rarely do we talk on the phone. It’s overwhelmingly by email and text.

If you look at that list on “Blast from the Past,” you’ll see that our email blasts really come out of very fast consultation. What’s the breaking news? What’s our evaluation? We don’t always agree on what we should prioritize and exactly what to say but we hash it out. Something that I’ve learned over the years is that if there are people who are committed, who have talent, have good values, if they can work together, the results are just gonna be so much better. RootsAction is always a process of evaluation and editing and sharing ideas and critiquing and fine-tuning. I’ve partly learned that because for 17 years I wrote a weekly syndicated opinion column. Part of that time I co-wrote it with Jeff Cohen. It was a co-byline.

 Well, that’s our main thing at RootsAction. Whether it’s petitions or being able to, in your case, push a button and send a message to Merkley and Wyden [senators for Oregon], for instance. That’s a lot of what we work on. You know, from talking out options to researching to putting together the petition and the content of the email blast. Often there’s follow through — for instance, we had this petition to shut down the Ramstein airbase in Germany. And just yesterday we had two whistleblowers presenting the RootsAction petition in Berlin at the Bundestag.

 So that takes a lot of work and some fundraising because we had to figure out how to pay for their plane tickets and hotel. The petition really isn’t an end in itself. It’s to help build momentum, to inform people, to create some media energy, some messaging, some political pressure, hopefully. So, that’s been the case ongoing.

One of the many things we focus on is whistleblower work. All the other major email action groups, they don’t support whistleblowers. A couple of them have come to support Snowden, but there’s a whole raft of other ones from the NSA from the CIA, whether it’s Tom Drake, whether it’s John Kiriakou, whether it’s Jeffrey Sterling. There are several people — one of them currently in prison, Jeffrey Sterling — and progressive liberal action groups have taken a pass on this. They don’t want to engage on that issue and we just don’t hesitate. So, that’s been one of our distinctive areas, for RootsAction.

Here’s another question about RootsAction. May I ask what is your budget?

 Our budget is now, I think, about $180,000.00 a year. It covers the income of several people but also a lot of it is tech charges. Because we are on contract with technology firms that provide services like, well, you’ll see when you click a petition and it gathers the comments and it does the thermometer and it distributes and then emails, for instance, our lists. We don’t send everything to everyone on the lists but if we did, which we occasionally do, in a matter of five minutes it goes out to 700,000 people. So, we’re paying the tech firms to do all that.

You’re getting a bargain. (laughs)

 Yeah!  I’m very impressed. I’m still awestruck about what’s feasible.

So, we were talking about the Bernie Delegates Network and how far did we get on that?

 If you were to Google, in quote marks, “Bernie Delegates”, Bernie Delegates Network and my name or just Bernie Delegates Network, you’d see we got a fairly large quantity of coverage at the convention in Philadelphia. Since then we’ve done a number of additional surveys to Bernie delegates and we’re gonna continue to do that and see if we can play some kind of role in the coalescence of the energy from the Bernie campaign.

Well, of course, you were there. You were on the ground. You are now the third Bernie delegate I’ve interviewed. Each one has different things that they remember.

 Yeah, it was quite diverse, though not racially very diverse. In terms of politics, it was no one line or two lines that Bernie delegates had. It was quite a range of people from some who were quite happy to fall in line behind Hillary Clinton all the way to people who were walking out for Jill Stein.

Yeah, I have another question that popped into my head before. You know, I’ve been in leftwing politics all my adult life. To the extent of contributing money to Black Panthers, particularly when they were in legal trouble or in prison. I’ve signed any number of petitions, thousands of petitions, I guess. And I’ve never had any difficulty with anybody in the government. There probably is a dossier about me somewhere. (laughs) But, I never had any repercussions. And I know any number of people who have been very timid all their lives who would find that kind of amazing. They haven’t done all the things that I’ve done. And you know, I demonstrated with Charles against the WTO in Seattle and all kinds of other fairly hairy stuff.

 I was probably standing a few feet from you in Seattle.

Anyhow, have you ever had any follow-up from the government? Any hassling?

 No, not that I’m aware of, other than when I did a Freedom of Information Act request a long time ago — and I haven’t in a very long time — I discovered there was a file opened on me when I was 14. And there was some file when I was around 20 years old and living in Portland because of what I was mailing out and that was the most tangible specific thing. I was mailing out sort of a poetry and prose news service to what we called underground papers and apparently somebody at the post office where I kept mailing it was reporting what I was mailing.

 So that’s in the files. But we’re talking early seventies. That’s still in the [J. Edgar] Hoover era. I just assumed with things I’ve done, particularly going to Baghdad three times and so forth, that I was monitored. And now I work with a lot of whistle blowers so I have to assume I’m monitored. And I’m totally open. I mean, everything I do is legal and non-violent. So, it’s never been a real worry of mine. And I certainly would be offended if there was no surveillance file on me in the U.S. government at this point!

(laughing) Well, it would show that they were not doing their job, I guess. 

 You, know, that I wasn’t considered in the least bit of a menace to the corporate/military system.

I think both of us have had the experience that there are different ways of being on the left.

 Oh absolutely! I totally agree with that. I compare it to a healthy forest. A healthy forest doesn’t have just trees or underbrush or whatever. And I really disagree with people who say, “Everyone should do X.” Or “Everybody should do Y.” It’s absurd! I’ve done a lot of civil disobedience in my life but I’m not saying that’s the only thing to do. There’s a vast variety of things that need to be done.

Right. Would you like to talk anymore about where you see the Bernie movement going?

 Well, I think that there’s been tremendous energy from the Occupy movement and that helped to energize the Bernie campaign. And I think the Bernie campaign, unlike most progressive election campaigns, actually strengthened the progressive movement while the movement strengthened the campaign. So, I think that’s all to the good and it’s about the oligarchy and so forth — it’s just hard to know.

I like to emphasize that campaigns are not movements and election campaigns are episodic. They tend to be boom/busts. Whereas, social movements have a longer cycle so it’s really hard to tell. One of the things we’re gonna do at RootsAction is to [demand a lot of a Hillary Clinton presidency.] We don’t want to give her a nanosecond of a political honeymoon. We are going to be challenging her from day one. It was horrible how so many people on the left were not willing to challenge Obama for so many years. That’s a very bad pattern that we need to break.

You could argue that people who live in Eugene have one of the best combinations of a member of the House and two members of the Senate. And they all have to be pushed. And they have to be supported when they do something good and they need to be challenged when they do something that’s not good. And unfortunately a lot of it is inaction. If you look at Wayne Morse [the iconic former senator from Oregon, the only senator who spoke out against the Gulf of Tonkin resolution that gave then President Johnson a free hand to wage the Vietnam War], there’s not a single person in the House or Senate now who measures up to him in terms of war issues. Not a single one. I saw him speak. I don’t know if I heard him speak in Oregon in the early seventies but I’m certain I saw him in D.C.

We’ve been all over the map here. Is there anything you want to add?

 Well, I would say that fear is a very important factor to come to terms with and to overcome. So much of what we do and don’t do is mediated by fear. And I certainly think that fear is often very valid. We have reasons to be fearful or afraid. But we shouldn’t let it run our lives. We shouldn’t let it circumscribe our willingness to push the envelope, to explore new areas and to challenge authority. And so much of what is malfunctioning that prevents good and so much of what is functioning to impose terrible situations has to do with people internalizing their own fears. And being unwilling, unable, maybe not consciously aware of how they’re policing themselves.

But, when we let fear dictate and set the parameters then we often are policing ourselves. And that’s what the war makers and the exploiters want. That’s really how we are kept in line like lemmings to march off the cliff.

I really believe that legitimate authority is legitimate. And illegitimate authority is illegitimate. I was in jail once after one of the occupations of the Trojan nuclear power plant, and a friend of mine at the time said, “You know, when you’re out of jail you’re still in minimum security.” There’s always threats held over our heads. Or at least fears that we have, that if we step out of line something could be done to us. And that’s always the case.

Whether we’re in the jail or we’re not in the jail, there’s ways that we are easily intimidated. And again, I don’t want to discount fear as being legitimate but I do think that whether we talk about nuclear weapons or climate change or racism or economic exploitation, it’s really imperative that we challenge authority and think for ourselves and so for collective humanity. And I suppose, in retrospect, that’s an ethos that has guided me during my adult life.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  

 

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